The United States Grows

Rails across America - "Done!" The Last Spike

Rails across America - "Done!" The Last Spike
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 9
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.78

     challenging words:    brigham, discrepancy, payed, portly, roadbed, subsidiary, suppliers, jupiter, best, scandal, telegraph, spike, completion, dealt, fanfare, hijacked
     content words:    Native American, Thomas Durant, Union Pacific, Leland Stanford, Union Pacific Railroad, Central Pacific Railroad, Humboldt Wells, Promontory Point, Sierra Nevada, Jack Casement

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Rails across America - "Done!" The Last Spike
By Toni Lee Robinson

1     Two huge locomotives faced each other on the track, huffing like great, shiny beasts in the sun. An odd mixture of men surrounded the engines. Some perched on the round bellies of the big rail cars, and some hung from the tall smokestacks.
2     Portly businessmen mingled with dusty, ragged workmen in the crowd of six hundred or so. The face of a Native American or two could be seen, and here and there the dark skin of a black freedman. Very few women and children were present. Hanging back from the main group but still there were the Chinese in their long blue tunics and conical hats.
3     The crowd was rowdy, many infused with the whiskey that was readily available in the dirty canvas saloons that lined the track. Speeches had been made by various important men. A minister had offered prayer. In the background, two bands succeeded in making some thin musical notes heard over the crowd.
4     But no one appreciated the song. Everyone's attention was riveted on the few feet of track that separated the two engines. Two spikes stuck up from the rails whose ends lay between the locomotives. One spike was silver and the other golden, engraved, though none of the crowd could see the tiny lettering.
5     Finally, Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific picked up a specially made silver hammer and tapped in one of the spikes. The crowd applauded. Then the Central Pacific's Leland Stanford took the hammer, swung, and missed. The crowd of railroad workers guffawed.
6     Stanford swung again, and finally the spike was pounded down into the rail. The crowd roared. "We all yelled like to bust!" one of the workers reported. Champagne bottles were smashed against the smokestacks of the engines.
7     "Done!" the telegraph operator tapped. One word alerted the nation and the world. The transcontinental railroad was finished! The greatest race in American history was over.
8     The Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad had each built hundreds of miles of railroad track. Both crews had overcome tremendous obstacles in an incredibly short time. The best guess had been ten years to do the job, but the UP and the CP had done it in seven. The big question was: Who won the race?

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The United States Grows

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