Railroad crush: Grenville Dodge
First, let me just say that Grenville Dodge is probably one of the coolest names ever (William Tecumseh Sherman is up there, too). Maybe white men can’t jump, but this guy doesn’t get his due. Modern bitter professors like to tell us that the self-made man is a myth in America. What a pack of lies. Maybe they think they’re doing us a favor by giving us excuses to fail.
Grenville Dodge, the son of a common laborer, by the age of fourteen had already impressed one of the best exploration surveyors in the country with his work ethic and decency. He followed this surveyor’s advice to go study engineering. By the age of twenty eight he’d explored (no rest stops, no McDonalds) a good deal of wilderness with the grand idea of building the first railroad across the country.
The Civil War interrupted his plans. Did he cry about it? No. He joined the army. Everyone wanted him–his integrity, his skill, his friendship. When Sherman needed a bridge built out of nothing, there was Dodge, when troops needed a leader to jump to the front in battle, there he was. When railroad companies begged him, after suffering injury at Pea Ridge, to quit the army and make a killing on the outside he refused. Until the war was over and he could visit the graves of his fallen comrades in peace they couldn’t budge him. When he was shot in the head (!) he insisted on staying in the army. Lincoln (another fan of his) insisted he be at least re-assigned west.
Did I mention he armed the newly freed slaves, too?
After the war did he make money at the railroads? Yes. And he deserved it–along with a lot of other men who invested their entire lives, their fortunes (such as they were) and their health into a gigantic project done with only rudimentary tools that the country clamored for but was unwilling to take a chance on. These men (and of course there was corruption) staked everything–absolutely everything on a very risky proposition–because no one else would.
Workers from Ireland, China and young veterans from the Civil War flocked to get work on the rails.
A while back I read a book The Robber Barons written by a socialist ex-patriot in the 1920’s. While I marveled at the writer’s skill it was tough going, being too acidic for my taste. So far every time I get past the Cliff’s notes version of history fed to us I uncover a messier, more inspiring version of the men who built this country. This in no way means I advocate slavery (Grenville Dodge was not a slave owner) or mistreatment of Indians (though the Indians were just as corrupt as the rest of the human population). It just means that there were pretty admirable men in our history who are overlooked (or hidden) depriving us of the very inspiration that makes life and public service worthwhile. Thanks, Grenville!
Most of this info comes from Stephen Ambrose’s Nothing Like it in the World.