Thursday, August 6, 2020

The First Transcontinental Railroad

Photo: Free-photos/Pixabay
We all know travel can be exhausting. Arriving at the airport hours in advance, slogging through security lines, and being shoe-horned into an plane make for a long and difficult day. However today’s trips are much easier than journeys made during the early days of the US, especially during western expansion. Expeditions held great risk and took weeks or months regardless of whether people chose to go overland in wagon trains or via ship around Cape Horn.

The industrial revolution changed a great many things, including transportation. In 1826, British engineer George Stephenson successfully applied steam technology to create the first locomotive. Two years later, the first U.S. chartered railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio, commenced construction when the 91-year-old Charles Carroll (that last living signer of the Declaration of Independence) turned over a spadeful of dirt in Baltimore.

Photo: Martin Winkler/Pixabay
New railroads came quickly, and by 1850 nearly 9,000 miles of track had been laid east of the Missouri River. As settlers moved westward, Congress was approached many times about offering federal funding for a railroad that would reach the Pacific. Unfortunately, the growing sectionalism within the country squashed all lobbying attempts.

Recognizing the importance of a transcontinental railroad, in 1861 an engineer named Theodore Judah managed to pull together a group of private investors to form the Central Pacific Railroad. He then went to Washington, DC where he convinced government leaders to provide support, and in 1862 President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act.

Terms of the act designated that the Central Pacific Railroad company would start building in Sacramento, California and continue east to the Sierra Nevada, while the Union Pacific Railroad would build westward from the Missouri River, with the two lines of track meeting in the middle. Each company would receive 6,400 acres of land (later doubled) and $48,000 in government bonds for each mile of track laid.

The race was on.

From the beginning, the project was fraught with challenges and setbacks: financial troubles, labor shortages, attacks by Native Americans, disease, the Civil War, and Judah’s death. Finally, by 1867, the Union Pacific had reached Wyoming, covering more than four times as many miles as the Central Pacific. Both companies sped toward Salt Lake City (cutting many corners along the way which would later require repair).

By early 1869, there were only a few miles left to complete, but the companies had yet to agree on a meeting point. President Grant announced that no more federal funds would be forthcoming until the decision was made. After much discussion, Promontory Summit was chosen, a spot north of the Great Salt Lake. On May 10, the final spike made of 17.6-karat gold, was driven into the ground, linking the two railroads.

The gold spike was replaced by a traditional iron spike, and telegraph wires lit up with cables announcing the railroad’s completion. The gold spike is now part of a collection at Stanford University.

I love railroads and have taken many trips over the years. Have you ever ridden a train?

Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library. She is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and was born a stone's throw from Fort McHenry. Linda has lived in historic places all her life, and is now located in central New Hampshire where her favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. You can connect with her at

Dinah’s Dilemma
Will she have to run from the past for the rest of her life?

Dinah Simpkins has no chance of making a good marriage. Her outlaw brothers and her father’s gambling addiction have ruined the family’s reputation. Then the Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency provides an opportunity for a fresh start. After Dinah arrives in Nebraska, she discovers her brothers played a part in the death of her prospective groom’s first wife.

As a former Pinkerton detective Nathan Childs knows when someone is lying. The bride sent by the matrimonial agency may be beautiful, but she’s definitely hiding something, and he has no intention of marrying her until he uncovers the truth. But an easier solution may be to send her packing. Then his young daughter goes missing. He and Dinah must put aside their mutual hurt and mistrust to find her.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Carom and Crokinole

by Anita Mae Draper

The deciding shot, 1903. Public Domain, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

While researching images for my series of board games posts, I came across this photograph of children sitting around a table playing a board game. Half of a stereograph, the caption reads, The Deciding Shot, with the image summary as, "6 children playing board game - caroms?" 

I hadn't heard of caroms, but it looked like they were playing crokinole, a game I've played many times as a child as well as an adult. According to Wikipedia, caroms, carroms, or carom, is a tabletop game with its origins in India and is still very popular in southeast Asia where tournaments are commonly held.

A carrom board, undated, Public Doman, Wikipedia

The Asian game board didn't look like the crokinole board I'm familiar with, although it did have the corner pockets, wooden playing pieces, and center hole. The method of play is also different which starts with all the pieces in the center ring and uses a larger, heavier piece called a striker to push opponent's pieces into the pockets, much like the start of a pool game. Also similar to pool, is the red piece which is designated as the queen and acts much like the eight-ball in billiards. 

Carrom men and one striker, arranged at the start of a game. Public Domain, Wikipedia

Further research on the Library of Congress website brought up a photograph of boys playing caroms in a Boys Club recreation center, yet they were using what looks like pool cues. It seems that in the late 19th century, missionaries to Asia brought the game of carrom back with them and altered it as an attempt to lure young boys away from hanging around the pool halls where gambling was a regular occurrence.

Scenes in Boys Club Recreation Center: playing caroms in junior play room, ca 1910; Public Domain, Library of Congress prints and Photographs Division 

In fact, there is another carom game which uses pool cues, two white balls, and a red ball which is played on a billiard table and was available prior to 1869 which may have been the inspiration for the version created by the missionaries. 

New rules for the American Carom game. as played on the standard America Carom billiard table. 1869; Public Doman, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

As I continued my search for early crokinole boards, I found an image of a 1915 advertising pamphlet from The Carrom Company of Ludington, Michigan, showing a carom game board with the game pieces and cues, and selling as 'Pool Crokinole', however due to copyright, I can't post the image here.

Finally, a page out of the 1905 Holiday Catalogue from the John Wanamaker store shows a crokinole board, as well as a combination board where a variety of different games could be played on either side. It's interesting to note that although the crokinole board shows a hand without the cue stick, only the combination board shows pockets.

1905 Holiday Catalogue, John Wanamaker. Public Domain

1905 Holiday Catalogue, John Wanamaker. Public Domain

Instead of a cue stick, crokinole involves flicking your finger against the inside of your thumb to gain the force necessary to propel your playing piece across the board and enable it to not only hit, but push your opponent's piece off the playing surface. 

Crokinole shot, 2010. Flikr, wafterboard

According to Wikipedia, the first known crokinole board was made in 1876, Ontario, Canada, when Eckhardt Wettlaufer crafted a board for his son Adam's 50th birthday. Then in 1880, a similar crokinole board game was patented in the United States by Joshua K Ingalls. It is thought that crokinole is the marriage of British and Asian games that were popular in the 1860's, which makes sense when we find that the carom versions were present during that time as well. 

Crokinole sets can be found with plastic or wooden playing pieces. There are even crokinole travel bags to carry your huge board with you when attending family gatherings, or playing in tournaments, like the World Crokinole Championship (WCC) which is played annually in Ontario every June. 

To get back to the image at the top of this post then, due to the 1903 designation, the children's hand positions, and the playing piece, my guess is that image shows a group of children playing crokinole.

What do you think?


Anita Mae Draper lives on the Canadian prairies where she uses her experience and love of history to enhance her stories of yesteryear's romance with realism and faith. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Yellowstone Trail--One of the US's First Scenic Routes

Last month I wrote about a foot race that ran from California to New York, and this month I want to share about the first transcontinental automobile highway that stretched from Seattle to New England.

When the first gas-powered automobiles became available, those who could afford the cars basically used them to drive about their neighborhoods, or if they lived in the country to drive into town. But, it wasn’t long before people realized that if they had a halfway decent road to drive on, they could travel to the next town, or to a tourist destination for a vacation and not have to depend on trains. The problem was that most rural roads were in bad shape. And there were only a few federal roads that were well cared for, such as the National Road that ran from Washington D.C. to the Mississippi.

In April 1912, Joseph William Parmley of Ipswich, SD wanted a good 25-mile long road built between his town and Aberdeen SD. He suggested the idea and out of that the notion grew to include a route to Yellowstone National Park.  Dubbed the Yellowstone Trail, the route eventually extended beyond Yellowstone to Seattle on the west and east through Minnesota and Wisconsin, then south through a sliver of Illinois that included Chicago. It then turned east through Indiana, Ohio, and on to the east coast. The route in the West generally followed the same route as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad. The train company had already chosen the most efficient route and local roads already existed near the train tracks that could be used for the Yellowstone Trail.

If you go to the website,, you can read about the history of the trail and the railroad which later became The Milwaukee Road. Communities along the “trail,” which was marked out by yellow signs, loved having the travelers pass through their communities, and most joined the Yellowstone Trail Association. Belonging to the association ensured they would be included in publicity about the highway. Many communities along the trail held events called Trail Days where whole families became involved with promoting the trail and even helped out with improvements to the road.

In 1918, the state of Wisconsin began numbering their highways and the American Association of State Highway Officials followed along in 1926, by selecting the best roads in each state to be designated as federal highways. The designation formed a sort of highway layout that was a forerunner of today’s Interstate system. With the roads being numbered, the need for the colorful yellow signs evaporated. Shortly after that, the Great Depression hit and the merchants could no longer afford to pay their association dues, causing the association to diminish. However, the lure of the Yellowstone Trail still exists today and many along its route have embraced its history and celebrate it with yearly events.

A sign indicating you are on the Trail in North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

When I was a child I always thought traveling a trail or scenic route by car would be fun, but my dad wasn’t a scenic route kind of guy so we’d drive straight through, taking the Interstate highways from Point A to Point B with only quick stops for gas or food. One time, on the way to Southern California we saw signs saying the turn off for the Grand Canyon was just ahead. I did my best to convince him to take the turn, but he didn’t. 

One of my favorite designated scenic routes is Snake Road near my hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It is actually the access road for many of the lakeshore estates I've featured on this blog. Beautiful during every season, it's especially spectacular during October when it becomes a riot of color along its two-mile stretch. 

If you Google scenic routes, followed by a state name, you can find similar routes wherever you are. 

Snake Road in Fall- Lake Geneva, WI
Photo taken by author

What is a favorite scenic route of yours?

Photo credits for the Yellowstone Trail: Wikipedia, all are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Pamela Meyers has been writing since she first received a diary at the age of eight. She loves writing historical stories set in her hometown of history-rich Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Pam lives in northern Illinois with her two rescue cats and loves being close enough to her native state where she can often be found nosing around for new story ideas. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Ulysses S. Grant at Fort Humboldt, California

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the future eighteenth President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant wasn't currently serving in the army. He worked at a family-run store in Galena, Illinois. In his earlier life, however, he had a military career--one that began at West Point, continued through the Mexican-American War, and ended in 1854 at a small, fog-shrouded fort in Northern California.
File:Ulysses S. Grant 1870-1880.jpg
Ulysses S. Grant. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress / Public domain

Grant's orders to go to California came in 1852, when he was serving as a quartermaster in Detroit. He and other members of the 4th Infantry Regiment set sail from New York to Panama.

Grant's wife Julia, eight-months pregnant with their second child, did not accompany him on the journey--a wise choice, considering the cholera outbreak that hit their company in Panama. The surviving members of the regiment sailed from Panama to San Francisco, arriving in September of 1852, five months after setting out from New York.

Grant was stationed at a few forts, including those in Benicia, California and  Vanouver, Washington, before he was promoted to Captain. In January of 1854, he was sent to Fort Humboldt on Humboldt Bay, north of San Francisco, to serve as quartermaster.

File:Fort Humboldt House.JPG
Fort Humboldt State Historic Park as it appears today. JP Smith / Public domain

Fort Humboldt was about a year old when Grant arrived, commanded by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Buchanan, a fellow veteran of the Mexican-American War. Comprised of just over a dozen buildings surrounding a central quad, the fort was not fenced, but it sat on a plateau overlooking the bay and Pacific Ocean. 

There were approximately forty men stationed there at the time, as well as a few wives and children (the fort doctor, Assistant Surgeon Simpson, lived in a house with his family). While the soldiers were called upon to intervene between conflicts between whites and the local populations, (most notably the so-called Red Cap War in 1855 and the Indian Island Massacre of 1860, when whites murdered up to 250 Wiyot people), it was fairly quiet during Grant's time at the fort.
File:Historic American Buildings Survey From Al Sondag Painting at G.G.I.E. (Taken from old photos) - Fort Humboldt, Eureka, Humboldt County, CA HABS CAL,12-EUR,5-1.tif
Historic American Buildings Survey From Al Sondag Painting at G.G.I.E. (Taken from old photos) - Fort Humboldt, Eureka, Humboldt County, CA. Public Domain.

By all accounts, Grant was good at his job as quartermaster at the fort. He procured the standard rations of salt pork, salt, vinegar, sugar, and other staples, but also supplemented the soldiers' meat by purchasing local goods and hiring a hunter, Seth Kinman, to bring elk and other game to the fort. 

Grant was not happy at Fort Humboldt, however. The area was isolated. Though a decorated soldier, Grant had little use for protocol, and he did not get along with his commanding officer, the strict Colonel Buchanan. 

Worse, he did handle his separation from his wife Julia well. During his absence, she gave birth to their second son, Ulysses Jr. (later known as Buck). Lonely, depressed, and bored, Grant began to drink. 

He spent significant time at a nearby Eureka tavern, and it did not take much alcohol for him to become inebriated (a problem that would follow him into the Civil War, when he was likewise separated from Julia). Colonel Buchanan reprimanded him, and Grant is said to have responded that if he couldn't or wouldn't quit drinking, he would resign.

He didn't quit drinking, though, and facing a court martial, he resigned his commission, effective July 31, 1854. Buchanan never submitted a formal report against Grant, who returned to St. Louis, Missouri to reunite with his family.

Soldiers remained at the fort through the Civil War, and Fort Humboldt was formally abandoned in 1870.

File:Fort Humboldt Hospital.tif
Fort Humboldt hospital building, abandoned and dilapidated. Date unknown, Author unknown. Public Domain. Today it has been restored.

Today, the site is known as Fort Humboldt State Historic Park. The restored hospital still stands, and other buildings have been rebuilt, including Grant's former residence.

Despite the unpleasant memories of his time here, Grant is said to have thought California beautiful and hoped to return, which he did on his World Tour after the presidency. 

In an interesting twist, the son born after he set off on his California journey, Ulysses Grant Jr., did make California his home. He settled in San Diego in the late 1800's, where he became one of its most prominent and influential citizens.


The Soldier's Lady: 4 Stories of Frontier Adventures by [Susanne Dietze, Janette Foreman, Gabrielle Meyer, Lorna Seilstad]Susanne Dietze's latest story, Frontier of Her Heart | The Soldier's Lady, is set at Fort Humboldt during Grant's time there. Captain Grant is a minor character in the story, as is Colonel Buchanan and a third historical figure, the larger-than-life hunter Seth Kinman.

A California native, she is the award-winning author of several award-winning romances. You can learn more on her website,

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The History of the Peridot - August's Gemstone

Author: Amber D. Schamel
The August birthstone is one of the most beautiful, and as it turns out, the peridot stone also has a rich history and I'm excited to share it with you today!

The word "peridot" stems from the Arabic word "feridat" which means "gem." Most gems are formed in the earth's crust, however the diamond and the peridot are different. Peridot is formed in magma of the upper mantel of the earth. About 20-55 miles deep! Volcanoes did us the service of bringing them up to where we could find them. Some peridot gems also came to earth in meteorites, however this form is very rare and not likely to be sold in jewelry stores. (I tried to find one for my sister who is born in August, but they are thousands of dollars and usually sold out.)

The peridot has always been linked to light, in fact, the Ancient Egyptians believed it was the "gem of the sun." Perhaps that belief stemmed from the fact that it arrives in meteorites or lava. Some ancients believed that the gem could ward off evil spirits, or that the wearer was protected from the terrors of the night. Other cultures believed that peridot could dissolve enchantments. Medical uses have included placing the gem under the tongue of a person with fever, which was supposed to help lessen their thirst. Others believed the gem could cure asthma if used in powdered form.
Topazios Island, Egypt

Similar to the emerald, the peridot was mined as early as 1500 BC and seems to have first been discovered in Egypt. Early records and legends tell us that peridot was mined in Ancient Egypt on an island called Topazios (now known as St. John's Island or Zabargad) in the Red Sea. Although, given the name of the island, they probably didn't realize what stone they had. According to the legend, the island was infested with snakes, which made mining dangerous and difficult, until a clever pharaoh found a way to drive all the serpents into the sea.

People throughout most of history confused the peridot with other stones, such as topaz and emerald. Some historians believe that Cleopatra's emerald collection consisted of peridot rather than genuine emerald. People in medieval times confused the peridot with the emerald as well. The 200-ct. gems in the shrine of the Three Holy Kings in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany was believed to be emeralds for centuries...turns out they are actually peridot. 
Shrine of the Three Kings
Arminia / CC BY-SA (

The breastplate of the High Priest of Israel contained twelve stones, one to represent each tribe, and one of those gems is believed to be peridot. 

Today, there are five main sources of this rare gem. The best specimens come from Burma. Arizona and New Mexico source much of the commercial grade peridot for the United States. China, Vietnam and Pakistan are also among the sources. 

Between the peridot's beauty, unique formation, and rich history, it is a highly prized gem and one you can be proud of if you are born in the month of August. 

Comment below if you were born in the month of August and you may be the lucky winner of a free ebook from me! (Winner will have their choice of my ebooks.)


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for Christian Historical Fiction, Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

Between enjoying life as a newlywed, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples. Find her on any of the major social media sites.  Amber is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers.
Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!