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The Humble Potato: Idaho's Superstarch and The Four Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 7, 2022 3:00 am

The Humble Potato: Idaho's Superstarch and The Four Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 7, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Tish Dahmen, Executive Director of the Idaho Potato Museum, tells the story of the worlds largest potato chip, a massive baked potato, and the potato innovations that put Idaho on the map. Roger McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier, tells us the story of the men known as “The Big Four,” who incorporated the Central Pacific Railroad and helped build the transcontinental railroad. 

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 - The Humble Potato: Idaho's Superstarch

10:00 - The Four Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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This is Mrs. L American stories we tell stories about everything here on the show including your story seven to L American stories.com that's all Milliken stories.com what we do.

Well it's not free to make but it's free for you to listen to and if you love what you hear. Please share our show with anybody you know, friends, neighbors, and by the way, feel free to donate this well were nonprofit and Monell American stories do little to a lot part the donation our way coming to our American stories.com Keith is good and beautiful show going about a good and beautiful country. Our next story well it's produced by Monty Montgomery and it's about potatoes. Or rather Idaho potato the humble potato every year Americans chow down over 110 pounds of the super starch and in 2000 15/44,000,000,000 pounds of it was harvested. It's the staple food of stable and there is a museum dedicated to them in the Most Likely Pl., Blackfoot, ID.

Use the director that museum with more my name is Tish Tom and I have been the executive director since 2012 museum origins, beginning about 1986 and 87 there was a group of people in Idaho. Most of them worked in the potato industry and they thought it would be a good idea to start dictating museum because that's the Blackfoot beacon County was is all about. They are the top producers of potatoes and all of the United States when they first opened the doors in 1988 August about 2000 people came through the museum has just been building on that. Ever since been part of building on that as it says is getting some pretty huge potato products into the collection like their famous potato sell RP 10 chapters 24" x 4 and 24 inches long by 14 inches high command that is actually certified by the Guinness world records about 31 years old and it was created in 1991 by the Pringles company in Jackson, Tennessee.

It was a great promotional project for the company and then when it was over with.

I think they just looked around from place to house it and I don't dictating museum was there and available, and so I think that's probably how it came to us now again to Chris. It's not a chip it is a crisp because a chip is an actual slice of potato Christmas can be potato parts like chicken McNuggets. There is a difference. Also got a pretty big baked potato right outside the front of the museum.

I would like to say we have the largest black that's not true anymore because the Idaho potato commission in 2012 they commissioned another potato sculpture if you would for their truck that travels all around the country are our gyri: our giant potato.

It is to get 20 feet long and 20/26 feet high and it's probably about eight almost 9 feet wide that before I came to the museum. Some high school kids think in the late 1990s high school prank where they picked it up and removed it and he took it to their school, so the original one was slightly damaged, that we able to retrieve it exit and then anchor it down so that's how it is in good shape now. The museum also has dedicated exhibits. The potato related innovation, one of which is out of this world. We have an exhibit on the Sputnik scooper.

It's a great piece of machinery that was invented by the bread by Carl and Leo Hobbs. They were brothers working together. I imagine all their lives, but at this time. This would've been about 1956 and 57 and they were working for a farmer and they were calling potatoes from sellers into tracks from tracks into sellers.

That was their job and they've just felt like there has got to be a better way to do this so they invented what was called the Sputnik scooper existing technology conveyor belt and they refashioned it to create this piece of machinery that would just go into that the seller and the potatoes were just kind of fall into that fall into the belt and then we go up on the belt and then move into the truck saved so much time so much labor just a year before they invented the scooper.

Think about the space-age right and there was a satellite that was launched by the USSR in October 1957.

Call Sputnik and that's were Sputnik. They took their name from that satellite and tremendous invention truly launched the potato industry into a whole new age another vendor division is that of Luther Burbank, Luther was an American botanist. He was a horticulturist was a pioneer in agricultural science in his lifetime he developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants for the potato industry. His major contribution was that he was able to free plants and he had an early roast potato in his garden, and it produced a seed ball and in that seed ball. There were 23 seeds which he planted and he took care of. And from that he was able to breathe these larger tubers or potatoes shield was doubled and tripled from that of its parent. So from that point forward. This became the russet potato. One of the reasons why was an important discovery is not just because of the quality of the potato and the ability that this potato had to feed people, but it was also slightly light resistant. It had some natural genetic properties that protected against certain diseases pretty specifically for that because of the horrific Irish potato famine that happened the russet Burbank potato not only help Ireland recover from its great famine today feeds famished American. Over 70% of processed theaters in America are russet Burbank McDonald's purchases them in mass quantities for their famous French fries turns out as humble as the potato seems quite a lot going on with the start of our American story. I Monty Montgomery great job as always to mounting a special thanks to Tish Dolman of the Idaho potato Museum.

The story of the potato here on our American story view of the great Americans until love America. What we do, risking you to become a part of the all-American stories from if you agree that America is a good and great country.

Please make a donation monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters well American stories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming but tell American stories.com I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop for small business insurance. I need my State Farm agent and make sure my business days piping hot and I think cool and confident.

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This is Lee Habib and this is our American stories before the advent of the transcontinental railroad journey across the continent meant a dangerous six-month truck over rivers, deserts and mountain. Alternatively, the traveler could hazard a six week voyage around one or sell Central America across the Isthmus of Panama by rail risking exposure to any number of deadly diseases and the crossing. This is the story of a man known as the big four incorporated the Central Pacific Railroad and help build the transcontinental is for individuals risk their businesses money, time and talent in order to achieve an unprecedented feed of engineering vision and courage to tell stories. Roger regret regret is the author of gunfighters and vigilantes violence on the frontier US Marine and former history professor at UCLA. Dr. McGrath has appeared on numerous history Channel documentary and he is a regular contributor brush here in our American stories.

Here's McGrath late 19th century Welland Stafford Collis Huntington Mark Hopkins Charles Crocker so powerful in California that there were no plans for the power came from building the Central Pacific Railroad, which accounted for the western half of our nation's first transcontinental rail board and started out life as anything but like tens of thousands of others came to California during the gold shooters didn't even strike gold, at least not in the traditional sense. The gold came from mining the minors that is supplying the minors with dry goods hardware tools firearms the other necessities of life on the frontier from modest beginning the rose to dominate life in California to degree not seen before or since this is their story. Welland Stafford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker board in New York State and Collis on in Connecticut for groping farms all spend their child in humble circumstances and work hard, gold rush, bring some California's young men also turn from digging for gold establishing businesses in Sacramento become fast friends. Soon a force to be reckoned with in Sacramento. The new state capital city Council, Stanford will later become governor they are alert every new business opportunity, especially the possibility of building a river across the California building a railroad to the Pacific Ocean begins in 1845 when easel Whitney Newark, businessman proposes the idea Congress Whitney suggests the government grant of 60 mile wide strip of land between Lake superior in the Oregon coast to any company willing to risk construction in 1845.

Whitney's plan is for average time nonetheless. Whitney launches a campaign to convince both Congressman and the general public that the railroad not only can be built but is a necessity well within a few years. Most people are convinced transcontinental railroad can be built is a necessity. There's a small population of Americans in Oregon Valley and businessmen who trade with the Orient will be able to avoid the voyage around Cape Horn is that enough to justify such project. The California gold rush puts in a necessity question tens of thousands of Americans washing the California becomes a state in 1850. So suddenly California skips the territorial stage. Within a few years, over 400,000 Americans in California.

Without question, there is no need to connect California with the rest of the United States. Now the question becomes which route to California should rotate Northerners argue for northern route Southerners for Southern one. Unfortunately, this bill Mbeki north-south antagonism is a fever pitch, Congress cannot decide upon a group. Therefore, following the debates over the railroad closely.

They are astute businessman and they know they will profit handsomely from a railroad connection with these take an interest in Theodore Judah, a young railroad engineer promoter whose building the Sacramento Valley were short line that runs from Sacramento into the gold country at the same time. Judith is thinking he needs partners with money and influence, even before he finishes with the Sacramento Valley were thinking of a transcontinental wants to build the far western end of the railroad from Sacramento over the serous to Nevada he will leave Parker's money before joining forces in charge of the Central Pacific Railroad announcing plans to build over the serous to Nevada want both federal support and the promise of a real line to connect their railroad with the Mississippi Valley for sin Judah to Washington to lobby Congress to approves an effective lobbyist. In 1862 Congress passes the Pacific Railroad act, which provides for the first transcontinental world Pacific Railroad act agrees the two companies will build the real line Central Pacific Railroad will build eastward from Sacramento across the serous to Nevada Union Pacific Railroad go westward from Omaha, Nebraska climbed the Rockies near South past Wyoming and follow the Humboldt River to the California line. Each road is granted a 400 foot wide right away together with 10 alternate sections of land for each mile of track laid section of land is 640 acres for one square mile.

In addition to the land where roach will receive the government agrees to loan the companies on a first mortgage basis $16,000 for each mile of track building level country 32,000 miles in the foothills and 48,000 miles in the mountains with the passage of the Pacific River. Theodore Judah returns to California almost immediately. Disagreements erupt with the big four Judah presents his construction plans for the railroad here too grandiose for his partners in this to turn a profit not billed an engineering marvel. Judah is terribly upset that he will have to compromise his vision for monumental project and heads east to see if he can attract investors who buy out for Judah takes a steamer from San Francisco to Panama and then crosses overland to the Caribbean coast of Panama to catch another steamer York like thousands who take this route. He contracts yellow fever in Panama arrives in New York in poor condition within days.

This leaves the Central Pacific company in the hands of the big four therefore very much like each is from what is called old American stock. Each is born and reared in the East in humble circumstances comes California gold rush. Each is intelligent discipline and energetic is willing to work relentlessly. Each is highly ambitious and convinced that his goal in life is the pursuit of wealth for such hardcharging individuals. One would think that conflict is inevitable.

Fortunately for the before each cruise ideally suited for different role in the Central Pacific company Welland Stafford becomes company president and the public relations chief in California is the company spokesman seeking subsidies from the state and county governments Collis Huntington sticks in the Judah's place as the Washington lobbyist and the chief money raiser in the East. Mark Hopkins manages the money and accounts for every penny spent. He restrains his partners for making imprudent moves.

Charles Crocker supervises construction in later years, Crocker likes to remind his partners that whatever they have done. You actually built the railroad men when we come back will continue with this remarkable story. These four different easterners unite the country with the transcontinental railroad. Roger McGrath continues the story here on our stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop for small business insurance. I need my State Farm agent and make sure my business days piping hot equal and competent business owners to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on like that neighbor there. Call your local State Farm agent for quote today doing household chores can Artie be time-consuming and tedious. There's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done can be overwhelming for anyone.

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The story of the big four in the building of the transcontinental railroad.

By the way, you heard the story of the door. Judah and this is what happened to so many people trying to get from the West Coast to the East Coast taking that long multiport voyage build children and again we heard what we hear so often as we talked about the building.

American enterprises different men or women coming together with different skills in different skill sets, huddled around a common goal. Pallets returned to McGrath.

The story of the building of the transcontinental railroad 40 miles track as to be late for the first federal subsidy is collectible.

This is difficult because of the Civil War materials are at inflated prices around the Horn shipping charges are skyhigh in the labor supply is limited, the Civil War in the booming Nevada silver and gold by meaningful employment at this time the big four's own resources are modest for status is years in the future.

Moreover, investors are not eager to buy stock in the Central Pacific company because the federal government holds a first mortgage guarantee on the company. This means should the company go bankrupt the government gets first on the company's assets, Stafford scores for stricter in 1862 serving as governor of California is the state government about 1.5 million worth of stock in the Central Pacific company.

This would be considered a conflict of interest. Today, but in 1862 considered a good mood by the state California desperately needs a railroad to connect with each in the Central Pacific company is the one designated to build the California portion of the railroad by Congress.

Most people at the time. Think Stanford and his partners will benefit from the stock purchase okay but California will benefit far more if a railroad is gone, sign it and then scores a second victory in 1864 Congress of men's the Pacific Railroad act land grant is double and most importantly, the government reduces the security for its loans from a 1st to 2nd mortgage now private investors are willing to risk their money with the first mortgage to finally Crocker solves the labor problem at first. Crocker relies upon white Californians, mostly immigrant Irish and Germans. The wage scale has to be relatively high in many of the men look upon railroad work as way to earn a grub stake and then go off to gold and silver strikes in Nevada. Labor turnover is excessive.

Crocker now the size try the Chinese. The Chinese are already familiar figure, California comprising about 5% of the general population, and some 10% of the mining population. There are several powerful Chinese businessmen in San Francisco and Sacramento who act as labor contractors. Crocker negotiates with them and they supply them with workers by the end of 1865. Crocker has some 6000 Chinese workers and double that number by 1860 is important understand that white workers are not fired and replaced by cheaper Chinese laborers, the construction crews are being expanded so rapidly that no one loses his job with the financial and labor problem solved. The pace of construction accelerates in the big four all astute businessman begin thinking of not stopping at the California State line Lane track across the Collis Huntington's lobbying efforts pay off again in 1866. He convinces Congress to again amend the Pacific Railroad act and allow the Central Pacific company to continue building eastward until the Central Pacific meets the Union Pacific, wherever that may be.

By 1860 the Central Pacific is building across the comparability through the serous.

This is a piece of cake tracks are late for half the amount of the government subsidy is more than makes up for losses in the serous.

Nonetheless, there were difficulties, the cost of Orioles locomotives, cars, blasting powder and around the Horn shipping are skyhigh.

Moreover, in the deserts is no timber for ties and trestles needed lumber must be brought in from the Sears. Meanwhile the Union Pacific is well underway, but the Central Pacific construction is slow at first, the company struggles to obtain workers and material from a nation consumed by the Civil War by the close of 1865, only 40 miles track stretches westward from Omaha during the next two years.

Conditions improve rapidly. First, Grenville Dodge US Army general who campaigned against Indians on the Great Plains and knows the country will get a leave of absence from the Army and was hired as the Union Pacific's chief engineer second Irish Civil War veterans begin to drift westward with the close of the war. Grenville quickly hires these hard drinking hard fighting Irish war veterans to fill the construction crews always still not smooth sailing on the Great Plains.

All materials have to be brought into that barren country ties from the force of soda stone from the corners of Wisconsin and reels from the mills of Pennsylvania. Moreover, several different tribes of planes on the work that work is frequently halted all construction crews grab rifles to beat off attacks by the spring of 1860 Central Pacific in the Union Pacific realize they are engaged in the greatest race in history. The Southern Pacific is winging its way across the desert that Union Pacific is working its way across High Plains Wyoming and through lone tree pass in the Rockies between the two railroads by Utah. The federal government has defined this mountain country.

Although much of the roof the real world will take is perfectly flat in Utah. The railroads are thus entitled to subsidies of $40,000 a mile building relatively flat terrain.

Each company explores its men on relentlessly, in hopes of grabbing off a major share of the Utah prize Central Pacific bills 360 miles Road in 1860 Union Pacific 425, the pace of construction becomes feverish. In 1869 Union Pacific Pl. 6 miles of track in one day soon. Pacific counters was seven Union Pacific lay 7/2 miles in the Central Pacific matches it, then the Union Pacific plays an astounding half miles track in one day.

At this point, Thomas Durrant, the president of the Union Pacific asked Charles Crocker thinks the Central Pacific can top that it now miles to wager $10,000 equals $12 million in today's money back. We continue with this remarkable story. My goodness, the story of the Chinese workers in the former Civil War vets who just happened to be Irish. We hear that story told by Stephen Ambrose, go to our American network.org and that's the transcontinental railroad from the workers point of view. When Ambrose done such a great job of doing that in almost all of his nonfiction, but we continue more of this remarkable story.

The building of the transcontinental railroad for our American stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop for small business insurance.

I need my State Farm agent make sure my business days piping hot equal and confident their small business owners to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on like a good neighbor.

There call your local State Farm agent for quote today doing household chores can Artie be time-consuming and tedious. There's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done can be overwhelming for anyone. If you want to get those larger laundry loads down bright and get back to your life. Try all three clear maggot packs all three clear mega packs are bigger packs two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry all three clear mega packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and their dental and skin which is great for any family sensitive skin needs my family. We definitely have sensitive skin.

The next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation as that's cause this big pile of dirty clothes is not all three clear maggot packs have your back purchase all three clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types that we continue here with our American stories. Now, let's continue with the story of the big four in the transcontinental symbol specimen and then waits for several days until the railroads are approaching Promontory Summit and so close together that should the Central Pacific break the track Lane record Union Pacific will have no opportunity to respond with newspaper correspondence present in one of the journalists acting as the official timer Crocker's boys swing into action.

The first real is late and others follow at the rate of 240 feet of real everyone. 20 seconds apiece is fantastic. Can the Central Pacific crew maintain it for hours on end crew doesn't slacken a space stop until a break for lunch. After resting and eating. The crew springs back in action again at the same record-breaking pace at the end of the workday time is called in the distance, carefully measured Central Pacific crew has lead 10 miles and 56 crack that Union Pacific record is broken and Charles Crocker is $10,000 richer though it's a general impression of most today that the track Lane must've been done by a cast of thousands and that since this was the Central Pacific mostly in the track must've been Chinese. Not true on either account. A newspaper reporter who was timing the events that quote it may seem incredible, but nevertheless it is a fact that the whole 10 miles of rail were handled and laid down this day by white.

These men were Michael Shea Michael Kennedy Michael Sullivan Joyce Thomas Daly George Elliott Edward Killeen and Fred McNamara. These eight Irishmen one day handled more than 3500 rails 1000 tons of iron on May 10, 1869 a group workers and company officials gathered Promontory Summit, Utah, and watch the placing of the last time the fixing of the last rail in the presentation of the various precious metal spikes including the Golden Spike from California signals a telegraph operator all the listening nation. Prayer is being offered.

Several minutes later, telegraph wires home again.

We've got brain Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific has the honor of driving in the Golden Spike actually tapping in the Golden Spike with a mallet. It's too soft to be driven with a sledgehammer. After the ceremony, all tapping the golden spike is removed and the steel Spike set in its place.

Stanford now takes a mighty swing with a sledgehammer and Mrs. Thomas Durrant of the Union Pacific takes a mighty swing and misses with the account owing to a crew chief steps toward and drives. Spike home the Central Pacific locomotive number 119 and the Union Pacific locomotive Jupiter steam forward in touch cow catchers there engineers of the first drink and then the celebration becomes general, the entire United States celebrates Chicago mixer procession 7 miles long. New York hangs out bunting fires under guns and holds church services Philadelphia rings the Liberty Bell hundreds together in the streets of Buffalo and sing the Star-Spangled Banner in Sacramento and San Francisco people are celebrating until Don and Leland Stanford Collis Huntington Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker are the heroes of the hour, the building of the transcontinental is the greatest engineering and construction project.

Up to that time in American history.

California had been isolated from the United States. Despite the gold rush in the admission of California to the union now the completion of the transcontinental railroad shatters that barrier of isolation. Personally, Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker transformed from four middle-class Sacramento businessmen into the big four.

They do not rest on their laurels but forge ahead and form a second company, the Southern Pacific Railroad delay tracks through California and eventually across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas until the mid-1880s and the arrival of the Santa Fe railroad, the big four have a monopoly of real transportation in California a monopoly in the wealth and power gives them make some truly the big four, but with that comes critics and enemies, the president of both the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Stanford finds time to develop two wineries and a race horse breeding farm and build a mansion on Nob Hill in San Francisco.

He also becomes the president of the steamship line in 1885 is elected to the U.S. Senate. Also in 1885, he establishes Stanford University in honor of his son, Stanford Junior who died the year before of typhoid fever Stanford donates inquiries for the University from his resource facility which explains why Stanford universities nickname the farm. Stanford also donates about 2 billion in today's money to fund the University. Stanford dies at 69 years old in 1893 because anything continues as lobbyist for the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railroad's in Washington DC suspicions about that increases the palms of Congressman, but nothing is ever proved in 1891 he completes the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad across Virginia and through West Virginia to the Ohio River at the Ohio River in Millstone and hunted and developed as an industrial center.

He also built shipyards at Newport News and several short lines throughout Virginia. Huntington's activities contribute to an economic boom in donates tens of millions in today's dollars to the building and maintenance of schools, museums, fibers and parks in Virginia schools benefits enormously from Huntington's largess is the Hampton Institute, Virginia's first black college dies at 78 years old in 1900 most of his vast art collection goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Proceeds from the sale of his fifth Avenue mansion go to Yale University. Mark Hopkins continues his rule managing the financial affairs for the Central Pacific in the Southern Pacific is sage advice keeps his partners for making rash moves with their new wealth donates to various charities and begins building a mansion on Nob Hill, but he dies at age 64 in 1878 his wife Mary finishes the mansion and lived there until her death in 1891, the mansion is destroyed and earthquake and fire of 19 six Mark Hopkins Hotel is later built on the site. What is the penthouse suite at the top of the hotel is converted in 1939 to a grand cocktail lounge and restaurant called the top of the Mark. When World War II erupts becomes tradition for couples to have their last dinner, drink and dance together at the top of the mark for the servicemen. The parts for war in the Pacific.

Charles Crocker continue supervising construction for the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific confounds towns along the Southern Pacific route across New Mexico and names one of them dimming in honor of his wife's maiden surname assures her time as president of Wells Fargo device controlling interest in the Woolworth national Bank reorganizes it and names it Crocker Bank in 1886 while visiting a New York's carriage overturns seriously injured, he never recovers and dies at age 65. In 1888 leaves behind in the state valued at 400 million something like 6 billion in today's dollars Leland Stanford Collis Huntington Mark Hopkins Charles Crocker real-life Horatio Alger characters rose from humble beginnings the power and wealth. They were emblematic of other larger-than-life figures arrived in the old West when it was wilderness and help transform it into a modern society. Special thanks to Roger McGrath for telling the story the big four in the transcontinental railroad. Stephen Ambrose reminded us in his version of the story. Those 30 years in American history brought us the telegraph, the transcontinental railroad. The Civil War and the end of slavery and Ambrose called it the most transformational generation in American history. Story the transcontinental railroad here on our American stores


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