Readers are likely familiar with the famous meeting of competing rail lines at Promontory Summit that first ushered in American transcontinental railroad travel. Part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Cultural Resource Series, Rails East to Ogden explores Utah’s place within this history. The publication is part national railroad history, part regional railroad history, and part field guide documenting each stop along the original transcontinental route in Utah. It is a follow-up to an earlier BLM book on the same topic, Rails East to Promontory: The Utah Stations (first published in 1981, updated in 1994, and still available as a digital download from the BLM website), updating that work with new research data as well as documentation on public outreach celebrating the contributions of numerous ethnic, racial, and religious communities whose history in Utah is fused with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Ambitious in scope, this 322-page book brings a wealth of historical detail to its topic.

The book is divided into five main sections covering the general history of the transcontinental railroad, railroad infrastructure, the specific history of the Promontory Route, details on the stations along the Utah route, and information on archaeological work conducted along the Promontory Route. It also provides a comprehensive bibliography and several appendices, including a glossary of terms. Although quite wide-ranging in scope, the book lacks a comprehensive, unifying argument tying all its disparate parts together. This seems by design, as the authors credit the strength and popularity of the earlier BLM publication, Rails East to Promontory, to its lack of an “overarching narrative with individuals and places used as place settings” (14). The authors follow in their predecessors’ footsteps by not articulating a specific argument, choosing instead to unassumingly extend the previous book’s reach with new data while adding in a layer of public outreach. The authors’ overall goal is to create a work that the public will use to “explore Utah’s incredible railroad history and share these stories of strength, perseverance, and engineering feats [with] the next generation” (16).

The absence of a specific argument, however, results in the omission of crucial aspects of transcontinental railroad history. The book also wanders deep into the weeds on certain subjects while providing shallower coverage of others. The first section, “History of the Promontory Route of the Transcontinental Railroad,” rightfully begins with the long presence of Native Americans in the area prior to the construction of the railroad. However, it makes no mention of the many violent conflicts between Native Americans and American settlers prior to and after the arrival of railroad construction crews. The book also omits any mention of the numerous other conflicts between Native Americans, settlers, and the U.S. government related to transcontinental railroad construction throughout the West (18). Other curious choices include mentioning the acquisition of western lands that made construction of a transcontinental railroad line possible but glossing over the details of how much of the West came into American possession. The text specifically explains how the United States acquired Oregon and Washington through the Treaty of Oregon with Britain. However, in reference to the other western states, including Utah, the authors simply state they came “from Mexico” (18). The complete omission of the Mexican-American War and its role in the expansion of the United States westward is especially glaring, since this is a well-documented event that even a casual reader would know about. Similarly, the authors mention the numerous financial solvency issues that plagued the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, but the text glosses over the numerous scandals connected to them. The authors briefly mention how the railroads created “numerous indirectly held companies that carried out construction work” (20), without mentioning well-documented aspects of these arrangements like the Crédit Mobilier scandal, which was directly connected to the Union Pacific and the construction of the transcontinental railroad line through much of the West, including Utah.

The text gains focus as the authors shift their attention to the Promontory Route. The significant Mormon involvement in the construction of the rail line through Utah is a fascinating aspect of this history that is not well documented elsewhere (23–24). A detailed account of construction through northern Utah is a similarly valuable addition to railroad scholarship. Likewise, the book’s extensively documented information on the labor force, including their ethnic and racial characteristics and details about how they lived while working in the area, is another noteworthy contribution. The presentation of detailed demographic data in numerous charts, graphs, and diagrams is also to be commended (24–41). Frustratingly, this material is interrupted by an unnecessary section on general railroad economics and operations before concluding with a discussion of the Lucin Cutoff, which shortened the route of the transcontinental line but inevitably doomed the original northern route to abandonment in 1942. This part also includes a description of efforts to commemorate the northern route beginning just after World War II (41–43).

The book’s true strength, however, lies in its discussions of railroad infrastructure and the stations along the Promontory Route. The section on infrastructure provides extensive details on the engineering and construction of the original transcontinental line. This section presents discussions of various aspects of railroad construction, such as the engineering and construction of cuts and fills, railroad trestles, and hydrologic engineering, including specifics on the diversion and impoundment of water. Numerous detailed historical drawings and plans are included, as is a discussion of current archeological efforts to document and preserve these features (48–63). The heart of the book, meanwhile, lies in the “Stations on the Promontory Route” section, which provides an exhaustive accounting of data for each station along the original route in Utah (64–268). These two sections are particularly useful to both professional and amateur historians, since this type of detailed information on small locations like railroad stops is rarely included in historical works focused on the larger history of transcontinental railroad construction.

Readers interested in the general history of the transcontinental railroad are likely better served by the numerous other titles available on the subject. However, when used primarily as a Utah transcontinental railroad encyclopedia, Rails East to Ogden provides a wealth of information difficult to find elsewhere. Readers looking to research the Utah portion of the transcontinental line in detail, or perhaps visit it in person, will find in this volume a useful compendium of data on the subject.

Daniel Milowski