Central Pacific Railroad (CPP) began work on the western portion of the transcontinental railroad in Sacramento on January 8, 1863. By the spring of 1864, workers dug a railroad grade with picks and shovels for 33 miles towards the northeast until they encountered their first significant obstacle – a long, tall ridge at Bloomer Ranch. Engineers could not design the railroad to climb over the ridge because it was too steep for railroads. Therefore engineers designed a railroad bed that would penetrate 800 feet across the ridge, and cut as deep as 63 feet at the center. Normally, going through such an obstacle would not be a problem, but this ridge was made of a rock suspended in clay, which effectively formed a massive, natural, concrete wall. The natural concrete broke picks, shovels, and other equipment, and therefore CPP decided to use black blasting powder.
The crews used 500 kegs of black powder per day, which proved to be an expensive and dangerous proposition. Indeed, one explosion blinded the left eye of the energetic and tall foreman, Harvey Strobridge, after he attempted to prepare 50 pounds of powder. The Chinese respected Strobridge, and those who learned English called him “Stro” or the “One-eyed bossy man.” Strobridge respected the Chinese workers after working a month with them. He stated, “They learn quickly, do not fight, have no strikes that amount to anything, and are very cleanly in their habits. They will gamble and do quarrel among themselves most noisily – but harmlessly.” The chief engineer, Samuel Montague, stated “The Chinese are faithful and industrious and under proper supervision soon become skillful in the performance of their duty. Many of them are becoming expert in drilling, blasting, and other departments of rock work.”
Ultimately, workers removed over 40,000 cubic yards of material, and completed the grade and tracks through Bloomer Cut in the spring of 1865. The first train reached Auburn from Sacramento on May 13, 1865, and Bloomer Cut was considered a great engineering feat to merit the title of the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
The concrete-like walls have preserved Bloomer Cut well, and Bloomer Cut looks virtually the same as it did in 1865. However, development did threaten Bloomer Cut; developers proposed a bridge over Bloomer Cut, and they proposed to widen Bloomers Cut for another track. Fortunately, none of these proposals became a reality.
Now trains more often use another set of parallel tracks about 1/2 mile north of the Bloomer Cut. The bypass runs straighter, through tunnels, and through the same ridge as Bloomers Cut, but that route does not have the history like Bloomer Cut.