Winston Ho 何嶸.
University of New Orleans,
Department of History 紐奧良大學歷史學系.
2020 Jan. 31, Friday.
[Sunset Limited Magazine Advertisement, c. 1950s.]
The Southern Pacific 南太平洋鐵路 was the second transcontinental railroad completed in North America. It ran from San Francisco south to Los Angeles, then west, across the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, to the Texas cities of El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston, passing Lafayette and the swamps of South Louisiana, before ending in New Orleans. As the Southern Pacific line approached New Orleans, it crossed the Mississippi River between Avondale and Harahan. Trains originally crossed the river on a railroad ferry – the largest in the world. The ferry was replaced in 1935 by the Huey P. Long Bridge.
[(Left) Southern Pacific Railroad Ferry at Avondale (New Orleans News Company, 1906); (right) Southern Pacific at the Huey Long Bridge (A. Hirschwitz, 1930s)].
Most of the Southern Pacific line between New Orleans and Houston had been part of the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, which was completed before the Civil War in 1861. It was probably built by either Irish or enslaved African workers. The line between Houston and El Paso had been part of the Houston & Texas Central Railway, which was completed in 1883. However, the line between El Paso and San Francisco was completed in 1881, mostly by Chinese workers, especially veteran workers from the Central Pacific and the First Transcontinental Railroad. The Chinese also built spur lines of the Southern Pacific, which connected to all the cities of the American Southwest.
Railroad construction was difficult and dangerous work, and most of the rail line between Los Angeles and El Paso passes through scorching deserts. Many Chinese laborers died during its construction. One day, the stories of these workers should be recovered… perhaps something for future researchers in the Southwest.
[Sunset Limited Brochure (c. 1950s).]
For the next seven decades, the Southern Pacific was the primary route of travel between California and the Deep South. New Orleans connected the Southern Pacific to the Port of Orleans and the Caribbean, to the Mississippi River and the Mid-west, and by railroad to the cities of the East Coast. It was also the primary route for Chinese Americans traveling between the Deep South and San Francisco, until the onset of bus travel, private cars, and affordable air travel in the 1950s.
[Sunset Limited Magazine Advertisement, c. 1950s.]
In 1894, an express train on the Southern Pacific was created between Los Angeles and New Orleans, known as the Sunset Limited. Sunset Limited was the longest distance train route in the United States, and for much of its history, it was considered a luxury route and Southern Pacific’s premier line. It took two full days to ride the Sunset Limited, and passengers once enjoyed fine dining and spacious and elaborately decorated cars. The Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Los Angeles remains in operation to this day, as one of Amtrack’s lines.
[(Top) Sunset Limited Magazine Advertisement (National Geographic, 1954 Apr.); (second) Sunset Route Advertisement (1922); (third) Sunset Route Advertisement (1921); (bottom) Sunset Limited Advertisement, 1911.).]
NolaChinese: Southern Pacific (https://nolachinese.wordpress.com/).
Amtrack Sunset Limited official website (https://www.amtrak.com/sunset-limited-train).
Spurgin, Steve. 1990s. “Southern Pacific Roll On.” Written for the Southern Pacific Company. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3q3Xjq5P2s).
Yen, Robert. “Chinese immigrants built a lot more of America than the Transcontinental Railroad.” Arizona Central (2019 May 19). Accessed from Arizona Central (https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2019/05/19/transcontinental-railroad-anniversary-should-honor-chinese-immigrants/3671499002/).
Chang, Fishkin, and all. The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad, p. 107, 289, 292. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2019.
Branley, Edward. “Sunset Limited dining and snacking from New Orleans to Los Angeles.” NolaHistoryGuy (2018 Oct. 25, 2018). Accessed from the NolaHistoryGuy website (https://nolahistoryguy.com/2018/10/sunset-limited-dining-new-orleans/).
Orsi, Richard J. Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850-1930, p. 16, 147, 415-416. University of California Press, 2005 (https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520251649/sunset-limited).
“Houston and Texas Central Railway.” Texas State Historical Association (https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqg02 and https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqh09).
“Texas and New Orleans Railroad.” Texas State Historical Association (https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqt06).
NolaChinese: Chinese Americans: The Transcontinental Railroad 北美華僑：洲際鐵路. Accessed from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-du-0FMXLgMiADxSUKTLU6_4A3s9Sn3g).
Karuka, Manu. Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019.
Karuka, Manu. “Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad.” California Historical Society, 2019. Accessible from Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FK4Gq-tqgPU).