We Were There at the Driving of the Golden Spike

We Were There at the Driving of the Golden Spike


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We Were There at the Driving of the Golden Spike by David Shepherd, William K. Plummer

Travel back to the 1860s to witness the dramatic track-laying contest between the Union and Central Pacific Railroads. Join Irish immigrants Sheamus and Nora Cullen and their children, Mike and Feena, as the family travels westward by freight car and riverboat to begin a new life on the American frontier.
The We Were There series brings history to life for young readers with engaging, action-packed entertainment. These illustrated tales combine fictional and real-life characters in settings of landmark events from the past. All of the books are reviewed for accuracy and approved by expert historical consultants.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486492599
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 11/21/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 8 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

We Were There At the Driving of the Golden Spike

By David Shepherd, William K. Plummer

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-78253-9


A Fair Wage for a Young Lad

Mike Cullen stamped his feet on the cold cobblestones as he looked up at the fence. A man was writing on it with a piece of yellow chalk:

Jobs in the West

Callahan Construction Co.

The man put the yellow chalk in his pocket and took out a green piece. He wrote:

See Mr. Ryan at THE GREEN.

"Are you Mr. Ryan?" asked Mike, his teeth chattering.

The man turned around. He had a broad red face that glowed in the cold.

"That's me," he said, smiling. One of his teeth, Mike saw, was gold.

"Do you have many signs to write?" the boy asked.

Mr. Ryan nodded.

"I'll write them for you," Mike offered eagerly. "I'll write them all over New York City. I'll work for a quarter a day."

Mr. Ryan laughed and said, "That's a fair wage for a young lad, but I'm not giving jobs writing signs. I'm giving jobs building the Union Pacific Railroad." He moved off along the fence under the bows of the clipper ships moored in the harbor beyond.

Mike walked up to the fence and looked through a crack at the harbor. The water was gray and misty. When he had left Ireland and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America, only six months before, the sea had been green and warm.

He ran past Mr. Ryan, who had his chalk out again, and stopped in front of a warehouse. A sign read: "NO HELP WANTED." A man in a bowler hat was counting the crates that two boys unloaded from a cart. Mike tipped his cap. "Beg-gin' your pardon, sir. Any help wanted?" he inquired.

"Can't you read?" asked the man, jerking his thumb at the sign.

"Not very well, sir," said Mike. "But I'm strong as an ox, and I'm willing to work for—

"Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty," the man counted. The two boys, who had been staring at Mike, mumbled to each other in a foreign language and went on unloading the cart.

Mike ran on, sparks flying from the cleats on his shoes as his thin legs hopped over the cobblestones. His small, pointed nose was getting red in the cold.

"Mach schnell!" cried a voice above him. He brushed the brown hair out of his eyes and looked up. A boy was sitting on an anchor, painting the bow of a ship. He was about a year younger than Mike—perhaps thirteen.

"Need any help?" Mike called up.

"You paint ship? I go see New York? Sure." He flipped some paint off his brush at Mike.

"What will you pay me?" asked Mike.

The boy took off his red cap and scratched his head. His hair was so blond, it looked white. "A piece of old cheese," he said finally.

Mike laughed and ran on. But the thought of cheese made him feel hungrier. There would be nothing to eat in the house until his father came home with his week's pay. That wouldn't be before seven o'clock.

Mike stopped in the middle of a square. There was something familiar about the park on one side and the enormous stone castle on the other. Suddenly he recognized it: Castle Garden, the place where he and his family had first set foot in America. They had spent a whole day in the gloomy building waiting for officials to stamp their papers so they could pass through. The first man they had met outside had stolen two dollars from them ...

"Hot knish! Potato knish!" An old man passed hunched over a cart from which a fragrant steam trailed.

Mike called to him. "Going home? Can I push your cart home for you, mister?"

The pushcart vendor stopped. His leathery hand reached for a knish as he looked at Mike.

"Hot knish?" said the old man. Mike realized he didn't understand English.

"Give me seven!" said a voice behind Mike, as a man brushed past him and laid a dollar on the cart. "Bitter cold today," the man said, rubbing his hands. He had a stocky build and a squirrel face. Mike recognized him. It was the same man who had guided Mike's family to a boarding house the evening they got off the ship.

Mike reached for the man's shoulder. But he had slipped away through the crowd. Mike hurried after him.

When he caught up, the guide was passing out the knishes to an immigrant family. "And as soon as you get your land legs, I'll take you to your new home," he was saying in a friendly, authoritative way.

"You there!" Mike shouted. "You're the one took us to Magnolia Court six months ago, and my father gave you two dollars for the landlady, and you ran away."

"I've never seen you before in my life," said the squirrel-faced man.

"Give me back the two dollars!" Mike shouted.

"I make an honest living," said the man. People were beginning to gather about. "Now get out of here." He pushed Mike away roughly. The family began to talk excitedly together. Mike recognized the language as Yiddish.

"Gonif!" he said, pointing to the man. The family's father opened his eyes wide. "Gonif! Thief! Gonif!"

The father seized the guide by the arm. There was a flurry of excitement. The squirrel-faced man stopped grinning. He pulled himself free and started to fade into the crowd. "Do people a favor," he was saying, "and see what you get. I'm an honest man, I am. I fought three years with General Grant, I did. Nobody calls me a thief." Some people in the crowd hissed, and some laughed.

Mike realized there was no way he could get back the two dollars. He stood there helplessly as the crowd drifted away. The family was still babbling. The mother moved her bags closer together and put the children on top of them. The father was counting and recounting the money in his hand.

"Let me see," said Mike. He counted money in the man's open palm. There was a fifty-cent bill, a silver quarter, a three-cent bill, a five-cent postage stamp encased in brass, and a token from Lord and Taylor's Store worth one cent.

This was the money that was being used in March of 1867. The Civil War had come to an end only two years before. Silver and copper coins were rare because people were hoarding them. Times were so bad that people distrusted the new paper money coming out of the treasury.

"Eighty-four cents," said Mike. "You should have ninety-three cents. He stole nine cents from you. Neun cents. Gonif." He walked away.

At the side of the square he turned and looked back. The family was still there, waiting. The father was still counting the money in his palm.

Mike walked back. "Where do you want to go?" he asked. The father shrugged. Two of the four children had finished their knishes and were crying. The grandmother was coughing in the dry cold.

"You want a place to stay?" Mike made a sign of sleeping.

The mother looked around wildly at the bustling street and the counting houses and warehouses. "Ja, ja!" she said.

"All right," said Mike. "I'll take you."

An hour later Mike was running up the stairs at Magnolia Court with a one-dollar bill in his hand. His sister Feena was running behind him.

"Where'd you get it?" she shouted. "Let me see it."

Mike knocked on Mrs. Thomas' door and then burst in. "Mrs. Thomas, I have a boarder for you," he said. "Mr. Moisha Cohen. Here's his money." Feena watched in puzzled silence as Mrs. Thomas wrote out the receipt for a week's rent and gave Mike a big iron key.

When they were back in the hall, Feena wailed, "Tell me! Tell me!" until Mike pulled her red pigtails and bounded down the stairs ahead of her. Feena clattered behind him. Her legs were even thinner than Mike's. She was one inch shorter than he was and one year younger—just turned thirteen.

Out in the street, the Cohens were waiting by a wagon. Mike counted out money for the driver and gave Mr. Cohen the receipt and the key.

"Six-K," said Mike, tapping on the steel key tag. "Six-K. Six-K. That's your flat."

"Six-K," Mr. Cohen repeated.

"Take them up to Six-K, Feena," Mike commanded, and soon a straggly line of children and bags and boxes began to crawl up the six flights to the Cohens' new home. Then Mike took Mr. Cohen to the grocery store while Feena showed Mrs. Cohen how to arrange beds and baggage to make some room in their tiny quarters. Cracks in the windows had to be stuffed to keep the cold out. Water had to be brought up from the basement, seven floors below. And finally, the stove had to be coaxed alive.

It was dark when Feena and Mike finally stepped out into the smelly hallway and pushed the door closed. A shoulder stopped it short.

"Boy," said Mr. Cohen. He fumbled in his palm, counting to himself, and the next thing Mike knew, he was holding a silver quarter in his fist.

"Thanks!" Mike said, and he and Feena ran into the street and down to their own entrance. Little Pat Brady was just going in, carrying a covered pail.

"Look what I have!" said Mike. "A quarter! My mother can make the best stew in New York for a quarter. That's what we'll have tonight for supper—lamb stew."

Pat put down the pail and turned the dull silver piece over again and again. "It's heavy. It's bigger than a shilling," he exclaimed. He flipped it into the air, and Mike caught it.

"Is that your supper in the pail?" asked Feena.

"No," said Pat as he picked it up again and started up the stairs. A wisp of strange smelling steam curled from under the lid.

Feena nudged Mike and whispered in his ear, "It's soup from the police station. Mrs. Brady doesn't have any money."

"Let me see what they give out at the police station," said Mike as they caught up to Pat on the landing. The little boy stuck out his tongue and slammed the door behind him.

"Michael Timothy!" Feena exclaimed. "Hold your tongue." Mike ran up the stairs three steps at a time and burst in the doorway to their flat.

His mother grabbed him and sat him down in a chair. "Where have you two been?" she cried. "I was along the street a dozen times looking in the alleys for you and down those holes in the street. Even looking under the horses' hoofs! Where were you?" Even with Mike seated, his mother's head was only a few inches above his. She was a tiny woman with a knot of black hair on the back of her head and bright green eyes.

"We were helping a family move into 6-K." Mike held out the quarter in his dirty hand. His mother took it, wiped it on her apron, and put it in a small jar, the one for the rent money.

"That's more than your father made today," she said, stirring a pot on the stove.

"Come here," said a deep voice by the window. It was their father. Something was wrong. It was too early for him to be home from work.

His thick fingers curled around their shoulders as they sat on the cot beside him. The dying daylight brought out the wrinkles in his red neck and his freckled forehead.

The family across the alley was eating already. Nobody said anything until Mike's stomach started to speak for him.

"What are we having for supper?" he asked.

"Potato soup," said his mother.

"I thought we could have lamb stew," said Mike. His father put his hand on his shoulder. There was a long silence.

"You'd better get used to potatoes for a good while," said Mrs. Cullen. "Your father lost his job at the factory today."


Sheamus Cullen Makes His Mark

That night Mike woke up with a start. His mother and father were talking at the table a few feet away from his head. They stopped when they saw him move, and his mother pulled the blanket over his shoulders. He knew it was almost morning because he could hear Mr. Polachek on the other side of the partition getting dressed to go to the bakery. Mike closed his eyes, but he couldn't go back to sleep.

After a while his mother started whispering again. "Sleeping with other people in a hole no bigger than a cow stall! And no space outside either! No room even for the sun to shine down. Just walls everywhere. Why did we come here, Sheamus? Why didn't we stay in Ireland?"

"Because the land was against us," Mr. Cullen said.

"But my brother would have helped us for another year."

"The poor helping the poor."

"At least, there we had friends. This year the crop would have been good. Who do you have here? A. S. Smith Sons? They gave you the door today. That Pearsal Furniture factory? They wanted you for a month, and then they didn't want you any more."

Mike's father sighed. "When they need men, they'll run through the streets looking for them, Nora. And an hour after the job is done, they close the door on your back."

"But Finnegan has held a job now for four months."

"He's a skilled man."

"And O'Hara? He pushed a plow on the patch next to your father's these fifteen years. He has a job here in America."

"His cousin helped him, Nora. His cousin that works in the city office." Mr. Cullen sighed again. "Anyway, it's all luck. You know that. The day we moved into this place, my luck turned."

"Then let's move out. Let's go away where we can see the trees again and the soil God made to walk on. Even if we worked for a farmer like four animals and got a pot of stew and a crust of bread, it would be better than starving here."

"I need a job I can count on for from now to Christmas. I need a man to work for I can trust. That's what I need!" Sheamus Cullen hit his fist on the table.

"Shhh now, Sheamus! You'll wake up Michael again."

But Mike was awake. He was thinking of the sign he'd seen:

Jobs in the West

Callahan Construction Co.

See Mr. Ryan at The Green.

The Green opened at seven o'clock. The first customers in the coffee house were junior clerks on their way up to ice cold offices where they had to have stoves lighted and glowing by eight o'clock. A little before eight, senior clerks dropped in to the restaurant for coffee to warm their insides—"just in case the junior clerks didn't do their jobs." Between eight and nine you heard conversation about iron works and weaving mills, about secondhand rifles and firsthand biscuits—about any stock or bond that was being bought and sold by the brokers. About ten o'clock the brokers spilled out onto the sidewalks and started trading with each other and their customers. In the Green there was an hour of peace. It was this hour that Dr. Thomas Durant, managing director of the Union Pacific Railway, took to have his morning cup of coffee.

On this day he was tired and peeved. He had been up half the night trying to persuade some friends from Newport to put money in the Union Pacific Railway. They had turned him down. And this morning he had learned that the snow was still thick in Nebraska. Work on the section running westward into Wyoming could not begin for weeks yet. But in California, where the Central Pacific Company was building a railroad eastward from Sacramento, the weather was fine.

The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific were already fierce rivals.

Dr. Durant was hanging up his coat when Mr. Ryan rushed over to him and tipped his hat.

"Good morning, Dr. Durant," he greeted. "Fine cold weather, isn't it?"

"I'm not at your service now, Mr. Ryan," Dr. Durant said snappishly.

"But Major Callahan is very worried," said Ryan, as fast as he could speak. "He's bought materials to build your railroad bridges. He's hired men. But he's afraid you're angry with him. He can't understand why you won't sign the contract you promised him."

Dr. Durant snorted. "You know very well why I'm angry. I found out Major Callahan bought secondhand wooden piles out of New York Harbor to use in Union Pacific Railway bridges. Tell him never to buy anything secondhand if he wants work from me. You may pick up his contract this afternoon in my office."

"Thank you, sir. I will," said Mr. Ryan. He bowed and turned away. Dr. Durant stooped over to flick some mud off his shoe when the door behind him opened, and Sheamus Cullen walked in with Mike.

"Good morning, sir," Mike's father said, tipping his hat. "Are you Mr. Ryan?"

"No, sir!" exclaimed Dr. Durant. He stalked back into the tavern where his coffee was waiting for him.

"Welcome. I'm Tom Ryan," said Ryan to Sheamus Cullen, in a friendly whisper. "Are you a man from County Sligo?"

"I'm from County Clare."

"What part?"

"Ardrahan in Carloe parish."

"I know it well. Lovely land. And you're looking for a job with Major Tim Callahan?"

"Yes, I am."

"You couldn't do better. Tim is the salt of the earth. Why, he'd give you the shirt off his back if you were working for him. Sit down at this table. And this is your son?"

"Michael. Yes. And I'm Sheamus Cullen." "A fine young man; and Sheamus, he looks just like yourself."

Mike was surprised that Mr. Ryan didn't recognize him from the day before. "Everyone says I look more like my mother," Mike said. But no one was listening to him.

"Mr. Ryan—" Mike's father began.

"Call me Tom," said Ryan. "And so you wish to join in the great work of America today which is to bring the West and the East together. Trade between them now must pass through the fierce waves of Cape Horn. Passengers must go by the uncomfortable stagecoach. What America needs is a link of steel rail between Omaha and the West Coast—the Union Pacific Railroad." He took a sheaf of papers out of his pocket.

"And the wild Indians, Tom? Do they still live in the West?" Mr. Cullen inquired.

"A vanishing race. Do you know, you'll find bits of land out West that look just like County Sligo? A whole acre of land can be bought for almost nothing. Now. Here's the contract, Sheamus, that will take you to the West at no cost to yourself."

"Contract?" said Sheamus, looking at the long white paper with the tiny words printed on it. "In County Clare a man's word is worth a dozen contracts with his name marked in ink on them."

"Your word is good enough for me, Sheamus, but here in America everything must be done by contracts. Everything must be written out."

"What's that thing say?" Mike's father asked.

"It says you go to work for Tim Callahan, the best boss in the world, as soon as you get off the train."

"And how long will the job last, Tom? I had one job here in New York that lasted only from lunch to suppertime."

"I give you my word, Sheamus, it will last till the completion of the great Union Pacific Railroad. A pen and ink, please, waiter." Ryan glanced at his pocket watch.

"And how long will that be, please?" asked Mike's father.

"Oh, at least a couple of years if they don't have to drill any tunnels," said the waiter, putting a sharp pen and a pot of ink on the table.

Mike blushed as his father took the pen in his thick, calloused fingers and studied the paper. It was upside down. Mr. Ryan could see Sheamus Cullen didn't know how to read.


Excerpted from We Were There At the Driving of the Golden Spike by David Shepherd, William K. Plummer. Copyright © 2013 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


I A Fair Wage for a Young Lad,
II Sheamus Cullen Makes His Mark,
III Rolling West,
IV Attack!,
V Boom Town,
VI End of Track,
VII The Excursion,
VIII At the Bridge,
IX The Decision at Great Salt Lake,
X Playing with Dynamite,
XI The Meeting of the Rails,
XII A Home in America,

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