His enthusiasm earned him the nickname "Crazy Judah,"
but by 1856 Theodore Judah and his men had built the Sacramento
Valley Line, the first railroad west of the Missouri River.
His wife would remember that all the time Judah was preoccupied
with dreams of a bigger project: building a great Pacific railroad.
Nominated by California's 1859 Pacific Railroad Convention,
Judah traveled that year to Washington for a crash course in
lobbying. He returned having planted the seed of transcontinental
prospect in the minds of many congressmen. However, the experience
convinced him that the railroad must be built by businessmen
and not legislators. He would not go back without a route survey
and an organized concern.
Proponents of a Pacific railroad had long pondered the riddle
of the Sierra Nevada, the rocky barrier any route to the Pacific
would inevitably surmount. In July 1860 Judah received an invitation
to climb Donner Pass from Dutch Flat storekeeper Doc Strong.
The route over the pass was the easy, continuous rise a steam
locomotive needed. Looking east from the summit named for the
ill-fated Donner Party, Judah knew he had found his answer.
Whereas most of the Sierra was double-ridged, meaning railroaders
would have to construct two difficult ascents for their track,
Donner Pass was not. The Pacific road could climb straight to
the pass before following the Truckee River down out of the
mountains. Judah had found his route.
Investors soon followed. In Sacramento, storekeeper Collis Huntington
attended a presentation by Judah, and invited the engineer to
meet privately at his store. Huntington offered to invest $1,500
in the scheme, and he brought in four businessmen who would
do the same: Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker,
and James Bailey. Though Judah had little cash, Huntington guaranteed
him an equal number of shares and a place on the company board,
which grew to include Strong. In April 1861 Judah and a surveying
party, including Strong, set out to officially chart the route
through the Sierra. Anna joined them in June. The next month
Theodore returned to Sacramento to prepare his papers, producing
among them a scaled Sierra route map some 90 feet long. In October
he left for Washington as he had intended, with financial backing
and the route map in hand.
On July 1, 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific
Railroad Act approving construction, Judah famously telegraphed
his partners, "We have drawn the elephant, now let us see
if we can harness him up." But as construction progressed
in 1863, the engineer gradually became alienated. He felt his
partners' moral flexibility compromised the visionary nature
of the enterprise. It also contradicted Judah's engineering.
Tensions mounted as the businessmen consolidated their influence,
leaving Judah in the dark as to their decisions. In July, Huntington
insisted that board members pay the remainder of what they owed
the company for stock. It was a necessary measure, he said,
to keep construction running. Hopkins and Huntington could manage
the sum. Theodore Judah could not. It looked to the engineer
that his interest in the Pacific railroad might be pulled out
from under him.
In October of 1863 Judah set sail for New York to find financial
backers to buy out his co-founders. While at port in Panama
he became seriously ill. At the end of his voyage, he was carried
from his ship to New York's Metropolitan Hotel, where he died
in Anna's arms on November 2nd.
In following years, the Central Pacific Associates hesitated
to give Judah credit for introducing them to the railroad project.
However, on May 8, 1869, Sacramento saluted Judah's name. Two
days later, May 10, saw the completion of the project which
Judah had inspired, and in which he'd so deeply invested himself.
Anna Judah marked the events of that day in silence, for it
was also the anniversary of her marriage to Theodore. She would
recall, "It seemed as though the spirit of my brave husband
descended upon me and together we were there unseen, unheard
of by man."