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Connecting The Coasts

Exactly 100 years before America put a man on the moon, the nation had accomplished another astonishing technological feat: the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The ambitious transportation route spanned the width of the United States, connecting residents of America’s Pacific Coast with those on the Atlantic Coast. The newly constructed railway cut travel time between New York City and Sacramento, CA from six months to five days.

The Transcontinental Railroad was the vision of Theodore Judah, a young civil engineer. Others had imagined such a railroad, but prior to Judah no one had actually done the work necessary to chart its route or to estimate its cost of construction. Judah took it upon himself to attach an actual strategy to the dream of connecting the East and West Coast. In particular, he confronted the thorny problem of how to navigate the railway through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and he eventually proposed a comprehensive route survey for the track.

Armed with meticulous survey data, Judah then tackled another obstacle to the railroad’s construction: funding. As a lobbyist for California’s Pacific Railroad Convention, he had witnessed firsthand the incapacity of Congress to reach agreement on when and where to build a continent-wide railroad. Though the project was widely popular, Northern and Southern states were locked in fierce political debate over slavery, ruling out any hope of government backing.

Intent on securing capital for the railroad, Judah resolved to recruit private investors to finance the railroad. Initially, he was turned down, and businesspersons even nicknamed him “Crazy Judah” on account of the immensity of his vision. Even so, he managed to secure pledges from numerous industrialists.

Eventually, the start of the Civil War provided Judah with the favorable conditions needed to fundraise for the Transcontinental Railroad. With Southerners having withdrawn from the federal government, Congress appeared likely, in the not-too-distant future, to pass legislation appropriating money for the railroad. Sensing that federal support was on the way, a group of financial magnates in California agreed to bankroll the railway’s initial costs.

As chief engineer, Judah oversaw the start of construction on the Central Pacific railroad (the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad). Tragically, shortly after the massive undertaking commenced, Judah contracted yellow fever and passed away. Though he did not survive to carry the project through to completion, the pathway of the Transcontinental Railroad almost exactly conformed to the route Theodore Judah had originally set forth. Five-and-a-half years following his death, the last spike was hammered into place, and Judah’s dream, a coast-to-coast railway, became reality.

Application

Carve out time to consider your professional dream or what do you hope to accomplish in your career. As you’re thinking through your vision, ponder the following questions:
1) Have you devised a concrete strategy for achieving your vision? If not, how could you go about creating one?
2) Have you connected others to your vision? That is, do you have a team of supporters providing you with the backing needed to attain your vision? If not, whom could you recruit to come alongside you as you pursue the vision?
3) Are you prepared to make the most of windows of opportunity? That is, if the obstacles to accomplishing your vision were suddenly removed, would you be ready to seize the moment?

 

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