My Great-grandfather Ray Barker wrote a memoir of a family trip across North America by train in the late 1880's. He was 14 years old, and diligent about recording the smallest details of the strange and wonderful places they visited. I'll spare you the exact dimensions of the California State House and the Morman Tabernacle - although his description of the latter as "something like the half of a lemon split lengthwise" is a marvelously revealing image. Instead, here are just a few track side curiosities observed during the journey:
"...While we were at the depot we saw at one end of it a large section out of a Colorado tree. We went up to it and read this inscription: 'This is the old Monarch, its age is 380 years, its circumference was 28 feet and its height 88 feet. it was cut down in south Pueblo, June 25, 1883, at the cost of $250. It was known throughout Colorado as the oldest landmark in the state. During the Pikes Peak excitement this old tree sheltered many a weary traveler. In 1850 there were 36 persons massacred by the Indians while camping near this tree. Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, Wild Bill and other noted Indian Scouts have built their campfires under this tree. it was said that 14 men were hung on one of its branches at different times. The first white woman that died n Colorado was buried under its branches.' After we had read it over we thought it was quite a relic..."
"...Papa, Lloyd and I took a bus this morning and went out to Hot Springs. They were about four miles from the center of the city [Salt Lake City] and we passed them coming down from Ogden, but did not know it. We arrived there a little after 11 A.M . and had a grand bath in the naturally heated water. There is a large cave in the mountain side and the water bubbles right out and the cave is filled. John Beck, the owner of the springs, has built large bathing houses with connections with the springs so that there is a big plunge and also private ones. The water is a little over four feet deep and is always nice and hot. I went over to the springs just where it came out of the mountain and saw it bubbling and steaming and nearly boiling. If you take a glass of it and put a little pepper in it, it tastes just like egg broth..."
"...When we were about 35 miles from San Francisco we commenced to go very slow and all at once I noticed four large smoke-stacks at the sides of the train. Then our train stopped and I went out to see what place it was. There was some freight cars on the track beside our train and I climbed up on one of them and to my surprise I saw that were were on a great ferry boat and slowly crossing the Sacramento River. I was thoroughly astonished at this for I never knew that a whole train of cars could get on a ferry boat. A gentleman told me that this ferry boat was the largest in the world and that its capacity was 48 loaded freight cars, 24 passenger cars and four engines. It has four large side wheels and two engines. Sacramento River is very muddy which is caused by hydraulic mining a good many miles up the river. It is very wide though and it would be too expensive to run a bridge across so they use a ferry. After crossing the river we came to a great swampy prairie all covered with prairie grass. Off at the distance we saw a great prairie fire hurling great clouds of smoke into the air..."
And what remains of these scenes today? One hopes the section of the Old Monarch survives in the collection of some historical society or museum, but the site where it stood for 380 years lies near the train tracks between C and D streets on South Union Avenue in the heart of Pueblo. This was bottom land, and the historic photograph of the old tree looks like it may have been a cottonwood. If so, it was a truly ancient one. It reminds me of Holling Clancy Holling's illustrated children's classic, The Tree in the Trail.
The Railroad Ferry Steamer was the pride of the Central Pacific. It crossed the narrow Carquinez Straights between Benicia and Port Costa until 1930 when it was replaced by a railroad drawbridge. The great ferry steamer "Solano" was towed to Antioch California the following year and scuttled to serve as a breakwater. A 4th of July fireworks display on her decks set fire to the old wreck and burned her to the waterline in 1983. The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum has a wealth of information about the ferry.
The site of Beck's Hot Springs, also called the Wasatch Springs Plunge, is now under Interstate 15 surrounded by oil refineries, junkyards, and scrap metal recycling centers. Salt Lake City has recently restored Wasatch Warm Springs and its accompanying wetlands, now part of the city's expanding Warm Springs Park.