HomeBad Ass AsiansWalking the Bittersweet Trail of Tears Along Monumental Transcontinental Railroad

Walking the Bittersweet Trail of Tears Along Monumental Transcontinental Railroad

Central Pacific Railroad Grade
Central Pacific Railroad Grade

Photos & Story By Raymond Douglas Chong (Zhang Weiming)

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH-During a chilly spring dawn, a band of 55 souls embarked on a tour of the original grade of the first Transcontinental Railroad, from Salt Lake City, Utah at the recently concluded 2019 Golden Spike Conference. As their descendants, we traced the road traveled by the Chinese Railroad Workers 150 years ago in 1869.

In solemn still, we trekked between the awesome Great Salt Lake and the snow-capped Wasatch Range of the high desert of the Great Salt Lake Basin. We attentively listened to tales of the wildlife, and plant life. This land teemed with beavers, badgers, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and antelopes amidst boundless sagebrush.

Tale of Terrace Ghost Town
Tale of Terrace Ghost Town

We explored the Transcontinental Railroad National Back Country Byway, the Central Pacific Railroad Grade, the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad. The path mostly follows the railroad grade created by Chinese Railroad Workers in 1869 as they raced to finish the monumental line to Promontory Point. It became a secondary line in 1904 after Lucin Cutoff was built. This legacy route was abandoned in 1942. We saw decaying remnants of the Transcontinental Railroad:  wood ties, iron spikes, wood trestles, stoned culverts, and rocky cuts; as well as artifacts of ghost towns.

Transcontinental Railroad Connie Young Yu and Russell Low
Connie Young Yu and Russell Low

This entourage included fellow descendants Connie Young Yu, Russell Low, and Leona Lau.

Retired Major General William Chen
Retired Major General William Chen

Other famous figures included:  Jean Quan, past mayor of City of Oakland; William Chen, retired Army Major General; Sue Lee, past executive director of Chinese Historical Society of America; Mabel Menard, past executive director, Chinese American Museum of Chicago; and Gerry Wong, past columnist for Asian Week.

In sacred awe, I saw a vast and bare desert, where Bein Yiu Chung, my great great grandfather, from Hoyping of Kwangtung province of Cathay, had achingly toiled from California thru Nevada to Utah, from 1865 to 1869.

Transcontinental Railroad Peplin's Cut
Peplin’s Cut

Key highlights along the Byway were:

  • Ghost town of Terrace – Central Pacific Railroad “division point” (operations base). It included a roundhouse and a switchyard. A community of 1,000 with a Chinatown.
  • Ghost town of Matlin – a section station on track section
  • Peplin Cut – a canyon-like pass that Chinese Railroad Workers carved
  • Ghost town of Kelton – a section station on the track section

In my lonesome muse, I gravely felt a “bittersweet trail of tears along monumental Transcontinental Railroad.”

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  1. RE: Walking the bittersweet trail of tears along monumental Transcontinental Railroad: Whoa! Lots of adjectives build a whole lot of purple prose.


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