Jeb - Rails West
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||edHelper's suggested reading level:
||high interest, readability grades 5 to 6
||Flesch-Kincaid grade level:
||bunks, outdo, bedroll, lasting, amidst, bugles, half-built, striking, westward, brutal, chaos, rails, chasm, giddy, span, bolted
||Union Pacific, Central Pacific, Dale Creek, Dale Creek Canyon, Then Corky, Reb Boy
Jeb - Rails West
By Toni Lee Robinson
1 Jeb sank into his bedroll. Four miles of track they'd laid today. His body felt like it was still moving. The rhythm of the day's work pounded in his brain. Pack the heavy ties. Set them in the roadbed. Trot the tracks up and into place. Set the spikes. Then, the arcing swing of the sledgehammers.
2 Jeb's brain echoed with the ringing thoing! Thoing! The sound of the heavy hammers striking the spikes rang through the day. Now it made a ragged melody in his sleep. And he was asleep. Even the cold couldn't keep him awake. His aching muscles relaxed.
3 "AaaaaaaHEEEEEEEEEaaaahhhhh!" The darkness was torn by a raucous scream. Jeb bolted up out of his bed. Bone-jolting screams filled the night. Indians! Jeb heard his bunkmates around him. The men cursed, fumbling in the dark for clothes and weapons.
4 Then, amidst the chaos, came the sound of bugles. Horses pounded off into the distance. The frantic movement around Jeb slowed. There was a sigh of relief. The soldiers were pursuing the raiding party. The workers would be safe now.
5 Jeb lay down and tried to go back to sleep. Bunks built into boxcars were their living quarters. This bunkhouse on wheels followed them along the tracks they built. When it was time for breakfast, they would eat their meal in another made-over boxcar. Then they'd head out to another day of grinding labor.
6 "Faster, faster!" was the order of the day. The lifting, carrying, and pounding went on from sunup to sundown. Hundreds of miles of track had to be built. The rail line must be laid over ravines, rocks, and rivers. It would span the continent. Brutal winter cold, the blazing heat of prairie summers, or attacking natives – nothing could be allowed to stop it.
7 Success was measured by miles and by rivalry. Jeb's Union Pacific crew built toward the west from Omaha, Nebraska. The Central Pacific crews were building toward the east from Sacramento. Big money and lasting fame went to the winners. The crews labored to outdo each other. Three miles a day, five, seven-faster, faster, faster!
8 Before the war, this life would have seemed like hell itself. But now Jeb was glad to be here. Hell lay behind him now. He'd gone to fight the Yankees at fifteen. Two years of war were a nightmare in his memory, a weary blur of fear, hunger, pain, and blood. Now, building a railroad across the continent seemed like a walk in the park.
9 Tomorrow they were laying track over Dale Creek. The longest railroad bridge on the Union Pacific line arched over the canyon. One hundred thirty feet in the air, the workers would build track. The rickety bridge would be their only support. The wind in these Wyoming hills tore at the landscape. It raged constantly-forty-five, fifty, sometimes seventy-five miles an hour.
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