Home  

449

A Railroad in the Clouds —Oroya Railroad
Scribner's—Vol. XIV.—29.

IT somewhat surprises the American tourist in Peru that no detailed description has appeared in the United States of the great railway over the Andes, especially as it has been the work of an American. The writer of this account, therefore, takes peculiar pleasure in introducing the journey to the readers of SCRIBNER'S MAGAZINE, in the hope, not only of imparting to others something of the novel enjoyment he himself experienced in it; but also of presenting some of the most remarkable difficulties and impressive features of this truly Cyclopean undertaking.

A visit to Peru rewards the traveler with an extensive field of study and pleasure, in the beauty and grandeur of its scenery, the variety of its climates and productions, the romance of its history, and in the archaeological remains that represent its very ancient civilization. When to these attractions is added one of the essential elements of modern progress,—easy railroad communication in its highest development,—it becomes,

 

 

450

for this our western world, a land of unequaled interest. The surface of the country is itself characterized by great variety. A strip of sandy waste, traversed by streams and fertile valleys, extends from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains that form a double barrier between the coast and the Montaña. This barrier, called the Sierra, consists of two ranges, the Western, or Maritime Cordillera, and the Andes, or Eastern Cordillera. Between them are transverse branches, luxuriant tropical valleys, lofty plateaus, and tablelands of great extent where the Sierra widens out, as it does about Lake Titicaca. The Montaña comprises two-thirds of the Peruvian territory, and is a tropical region teeming with animal and vegetable life, lying wholly in the basin of the Amazon. The line of the Calláo. Lima and Oroya Railroad stretches across the coast, and a greater portion of the Sierra. It starts, as its name specifies, from the very shores of the Pacific, at Calláo, the port of Lima, and the chief entrepôt of Peru. It follows the valley of the Rimac, upon a continuously ascending grade, to the source of that stream, and crosses the summit of the Andes through a tunnel—the Galera—a height of 15,645 feet above the level of the sea. Thence, striking the head-waters of the Rio Yauli, one of the feeders of the Amazon, it descends along its valley to Oroya, where terminates the first part of the great road by which it has been proposed to connect the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Amazon River, notwithstanding the formidable obstacles that intervene.

We take the train at Lima for our long anticipated and deeply interesting journey and, following the left bank of the Rimac, find ourselves traveling through a valley that averages about three miles in width, until we reach Chosica, where the converging lines of the Cordillera compress it to a width of little more than 1000 feet. Owing to the admirable system of irrigation long practiced in Peru, the land is remarkably fertile, and produces fruits and cereals in such abundance as to surprise the traveler, since the region is subject to frequent volcanic disturbance. The road follows the center of the valley, amid fields green with corn, and sugarcane, and the nutritious lucern or alfalfa—a species of clover extensively and profitably cultivated. Between Lima and Chosica very little difficulty was experienced in the construction of the road, the principal requirement being a conformity to the gradual rise of the valley, which was accomplished by the adoption of a parallel grade, amounting in some cases to two and a half percent, or 125 feet to the mile. We are told that Chosica is the most interesting place in the neighborhood of Lima for archaeological researches; but the train allows no time for investigation, and we soon exchange the pastoral and picturesque valley for the barren and precipitous mountain-pass. Green fields are left behind, and the thorny cactus already begins to dot the sides of the declivities. The track takes the tortuous course of the Rimac, on whose edge we pursue a darkening defile. Here the four percent grade begins, and with it regular up-hill work.

As we pass the village of San Pedro de Mama, roofless adobe huts and catacombs in the sides of volcanic ridges are the only remains of a once thriving population. The narrow valley of Eulalia then branches to the left, flanked by lofty natural walls, and open only to a vertical sun, and yet it supplies the market of Lima with almost every variety of tropical fruit. About this point, the road passes through "the Italian cut," named for seventeen wandering Romans, all of whom died in the process of its construction. Five or six miles beyond Chosica we cross the first of the iron bridges—Cupiche—that span the gorge, and we follow the curvatures of the river at a grade of four percent, or 211 feet per mile. The road conforms with persistent regularity to the contour of the mountains, crossing and re-crossing the Rimac, and passing in its course a heavy deposit of gravelly talc, extensively used in paving the streets of Lima. Thence the valley widens to Cocachacra, displaying miniature fields of corn and alfalfa, and gladdening the eyes with an oasis in the midst of this rocky fastness, until converging mountains shadow the valley, hem in the impetuous river, to recede again and encircle a bit of verdure, where the Seco, a mountain stream, empties into

451

the Rimac. Looking forward from this point the course of the road can be distinctly traced, winding along the right declivities of the ravine, until it approaches tunnel No. 1, discernible four and a half miles off, at a height of 600 feet above the valley, as a little dark spot. Seen from such a distance, a train of cars appears like a great serpent along the face of rocks that are piled one upon another to the very summit of vanishing heights. The next station, San Bartolomé, thirty-nine miles from Lima, is 4,910 feet above the sea—an unparalleled ascent for that distance.

Here occurs the first, of the retrograde developments rendered necessary by the increasing rise in the valley: The line takes the form of a V as shown in the diagram, and receding upon an ascending grade reaches the elevated plateau where stagnates the forbidding-looking village of San Bartolomé. Thence crossing and re-crossing the Seco, it makes two complete detours and ascends on the opposite side, past a point overlooking the station of San Bartolomé, whence a vista opens into scenery somewhat Alpine in its character. Yet the road still clings to the rugged sides of the towering ridges, passes through two tunnels, and crosses a deep mountain gorge on the famous Verrugas viaduct. This structure is a very elegant and artistic specimen of iron-work. It is of the Fink type of truss—575 feet in length, supported upon three piers of wrought-iron columns or rods, respectively, 145, 252, and 189 feet in height. It is the highest bridge in the world. And although at a distance it appears too delicate for the practical work of a railroad, it has been found on being subjected to the severest tests, capable of bearing the heaviest weight without any sensible vibration. At the base of the central pier are huge pits, which treasure-seekers have vainly excavated in the hope of finding the buried riches of the Incas, concealed, as it was supposed, from the rapacity of their Spanish conquerors.

452

Leaving this fairy-like viaduct behind us, the road pierces two projecting bluffs by tunnels Nos. 3 and 4. The former is approached by a cut in the upper side, about 400 feet in height, against the face of a precipice (Cuesta Blanca) that rises 1,000 feet in the air. Along this entire portion of the route, the rails wind through a great labyrinth of detached rocks and bowlders, apparently so delicately poised that the most trifling convulsion might at any moment precipitate them into the valley below. Nevertheless, the road pursues its course through deep cuts, in spite of all obstacles, shaping itself to the outline of the mountains, and ascending with unfaltering steadiness from height to height, at a grade of 210 feet per mile. At and above Surco, the valley occasionally expands into little ovals of bottomland that afford space for the cultivation of a diminutive field or an occasional flower, sadly solitary in this volcanic region. A mile further on we cross the Rimac by the Uccuta bridge, from which there is a view of tunnels Nos. 5, 6, and 7. The last two are perched directly above No. 5, and appear like dark drifts or openings in a coal mine. Higher up the valley, beyond the third tunnel, may be seen the delicate outline of the Challapa bridge, spanning a deep chasm as if suspended in mid-air. All these interesting points are speedily reached by two complete detours. The first crosses the river by the Mayuyaca bridge, and describes an entire semicircle upon a 14 degree curve of 376 feet radius; thence passing southward for about a mile to Sacrape. Here the second detour returns the line on its course to the two tunnels which we previously saw from below; and when it emerges from them, it pushes on,

453

crossing Challapa Gorge on a beautiful bridge, 160 feet high, which a short time before had appeared to us as an aerial structure.

Thence we wind along the hills to Matucana, an important station thirty-five miles from Lima, and 7,788 feet above the level of Calláo Bay. The Cordilleras tower above the primitive little town, to the height of from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. It shelters, it is said, a thousand inhabitants, and is the gathering place of as many more "children of the mist," who flock from the neighboring mountains on the occasion of every excitement, festival, or anniversary. They are exclusively of the Indian type, peculiar to this part of South America, and are by no means an attractive race. In person, they are short and stout, and have a very sinister expression of countenance. They are sharp and unscrupulous in their business transactions, irascible and vindictive in temper, uninteresting and indifferent in their manner to strangers, and withal, affect an air of stolid superiority as if they were the veritable descendants of the Incas, and were surrounded by all the fabulous splendors of their ancestors. Nevertheless, they live in the usual adobe huts only one story high, whose slanting roofs are thatchedwith straw; and their wives, with papooses strapped to their backs, superintend the labors of the house and garden. The principal men or hidalgos, in wide sombreros and ponchos of vicuña or other skins, ride about on sure-footed little horses, or donkeys, that amble in a manner peculiar to the animals of Chili and Peru. Add these figures to the ordinary accompaniments of a railway-station, such as busy officials, waiting travelers, an arriving or departing train, and the village of Matucana is described.

454

Borne away from the fumes and bustle of the unattractive little town, we find that impressive as has been the scenery through which we have passed, it has been but the introductory pageant to the gloomy majesty and savagery of the Andes. Matucana is twenty-seven miles, in a direct line, to the highest point of the Andes through which the railroad passes. Snow begins to touch the heights with its white mantle, and so wild and awe-inspiring are the scenes that open before us, that the country we have left behind dwells in our memory as cultivated and habitable. Words fail us to express our admiration of the skill and courage which, having already accomplished such wonders, ventures to attempt difficulties truly appalling; for the higher we ascend the more formidable become the obstacles which oppose the advance of the locomotive.

A short distance above Matucana, we skirt the immense land-slide which occurred about two years ago, causing great damage and loss of life, particularly among mules and llamas. It is estimated that millions of tons of earth and rock swept down from the mountains into the valley beneath, damming up the torrent-like Rimac, which formed a lake of considerable depth, and threatened disaster to the country below, and even to Lima. But a sluice was gradually opened, which the river has sufficiently enlarged to enable it to discharge its waters; and although the lake remains, its depth is reduced, and it has ceased to cause apprehensions of danger. Here above us, as well as elsewhere on the line of the railroad, are the remains of well constructed terraces on the sides of the mountains, rising like tiers in an amphitheater, and conforming closely to the contour of the ground. So enormous are some of the stones of which they are composed, that one is at a loss to conjecture by what mechanical contrivance they were brought to their present position. Peru is said to have had, at one time, 12,000,000 of inhabitants where now there are not more than 2,500,000. Numerous indeed must have been a population which was driven to cultivate every available spot on the isolated and barren heights of these Andean masses that now afford nourishment only for the cactus. Not a blade of grass nor a shrub is visible as we pass through this desolate region.

Since we left "the lower V," a distance of four miles, the road has passed through six tunnels, three of which succeeded one another so rapidly as to seem continuous, with an occasional shaft opening to the sky. One of them is built upon a reverse curve, and forms an elongated S. Beyond them, a scene of terrible grandeur greets us,—rugged mountains in the distance lift their snow-capped heads so high

455

as to appear to support the blue dome above them; while in the immediate foreground, porphyritic cliffs rise on every side many hundreds of feet in the air as if to baffle any attempt at escape. But the presiding genius, who has conducted us thus far, does not fail us now, and we work our way out of every stronghold in which we are entrapped. Again we cross the Rimac, near its junction with the de Viso, and travel along the opposite side of our familiar stream, until we ascend by another zigzag of three almost parallel lines to tunnel No. 14. Here, looking back upon the exploit just accomplished, the traveler exclaims: "What next!" What but fresh surprises, new Cyclopean labors,—gorges and chasms opening around us to invisible depths, and beyond:

"Alps, Andes, Himalaya,
Defiant seemed to stand,
Each range a giant slayer
Of steps twixt land and land."

From this point to Anchi, the laying out and construction of the road was attended with immense difficulties. In many places the bluffs were so steep as to render it necessary to lower the laborers by ropes from benches or shelves above, ,in order that they might cut out standing-places from which to commence work. Engineers were often compelled to triangulate from the opposite side to mark out the course of the road; while in one case, they and their men were conveyed across a valley on wire ropes, suspended some hundred feet in the air between two cliffs. From Tambo de Viso to Rio Blanco, the present terminus of the rail, and only fifteen miles distant, the road passes through twenty-two tunnels. In some cases the work has been done by the diamond drill, the rock often being so hard as to score glass. Tunnels Nos. 18 and 19 are separated by a short bridge that spans a chasm. Along this portion of the route the dark line of the road may be traced, now on the face of a cliff, now disappearing behind a projecting mass or in a tunnel, but always ascending under the most adverse circumstances. Between tunnels 19 and 22 formidable obstacles opposed its construction. The road-bed, as usual, conforms closely to the configuration of the ridges, crosses the Parac River,—here a headlong torrent, emptying into the Rimac from the eastward, and continues on to Tamboraque, along the Rimac. Then another retrograde development becomes necessary, and the road being reversed, returns along the bank of the Rimac to the valley of the Parac; ascends that branch for half a mile to another switch, and returns the second time to the Rimac, high above the lower line, passing through two tunnels, one almost directly above the other. The view from the spur which divides the two valleys is superb in the extreme, and affords an extended panorama of Andean scenery, seldom seen and rarely equaled. Presently we look down upon the primitive little village of San Mateo, nestling in the valley under the shelter of lofty mountains, and in general character very much resembling Matucana.

For a short stretch of two miles beyond San Mateo, the mountains approach each other so closely, and tunnels follow in such quick succession, that light and darkness are very equally divided. Between San Mateo and Anchi we cross a terrible gorge called "Los Infiernillos,"* where the river passes through two walls of red porphyry that rise perpendicularly to a height of from 1,000 to 1,500 feet. These form two reverse quadrants, and the Rimacnow a mountain torrent-plunges, roaring, leaping, and foaming into the abyss.

"This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
For the fiend's glowing hoof."

* Little Hells.

456

The bridge that spans the chasm is 160 feet high, but masses of rock thrown down during its construction have lessened its apparent height. We emerge from a tunnel to cross the "puente de los Infiernillos," and we depart in like manner. Seen from the contracted valley beneath, a train of cars must appear to spring mysteriously and suddenly over the graceful little structure, and to disappear like a thing of will and might, burrowing through the very heart of the mountains. The diagram on page 455 will furnish a profile of the country at this point, and give a faint idea of the marvelous resources in engineering required to accomplish such tasks as the nature of its formation imposes. The three tunnels, Nos. 30, 31 and 32, are so close together as to be almost one. After passing through No. 32, the road continues to ascend by another zigzag, rendered necessary by the very much increased grade of the valley of the Rimac just below Anchi, where it is spanned by a bridge 107 feet above the stream.

Anchi is principally a railroad settlement, situated at the junction of the Rimac and the Rio Blanco. It is 74 miles from Lima, 11,300 feet above tide-water, and lies in the very gorge of the mountains. Even from this elevated spot the snow-clad Andes appear as high above us as they did some distance below, and we find that there is still an ascent to be made of 4,000 feet. This little collection of shanties is a mile below Rio Blanco, to and from which point freight and passenger cars run daily with regularity and dispatch. Here we begin to experience some of the disagreeable physical effects of the rarified air of great altitudes, of which the soroché is the most painful and dangerous. It is a congestion of the lungs, and is accompanied by a sensation somewhat resembling sea-sickness, besides pains in the back, the eyes and ears, vertigo, and general debility. Persons of a full habit are the greatest sufferers, but those who, like Cassius, are of "a lean and hungry look," escape with less inconvenience.

The trip by rail is now at an end, the road not being in working order beyond this point. We pass a night of refreshing sleep at Anchi, under seven blankets, and are prepared to complete the journey the next morning on horseback, in company with the resident engineer, Mr. Tobias, Dr. Ward, the physician, and Lieutenant Derby, U. S. N., our fellow-travelers from Lima. The distance by rail to the summit is twenty-one miles, but it is greatly reduced by avoiding the switches and pursuing the more direct mule-paths. In this short distance are twenty-two tunnels. Much of the 'heaviest work and the longest tunnels are so far advanced toward completion as to require but a short time to put them in order for travel.

457

At Anchi the valley of the Rimac trends sharply to the northward, and the line of the road follows the Rio Blanco for A mile and a half, then makes a full detour, and returns to the left bank of the Rimac, which it pursues, passing through seven tunnels to the village of Chicla, where occurs the greatest development on the entire route. No less than five almost parallel lines are visible from any point of the valley,—three on one side and two on the other of opposite mountains,—while the greatest distance between any two of them is scarcely five hundred feet. This remarkable zigzag will be understood by studying the diagram, wherein we trace the road crossing the Rimac on a sharp detour, thence returning to the right bank of the stream for a short distance to a switch, where it is directed once more to, the northward for a while; again crosses the Rimac on a short curve, retraces its course along the left bank below Chicla to a second switch, which returns it on its direct course on the same side, and above the other line, to Casapalca, seven miles from Anchi, and a point at which the roadbed attains an elevation of 13,615 feet above the sea. Between Chicla and Casapalca we pass several half-ruined villages, resembling those already described, with irregular rows of wretched mud huts just as filthy, and inhabitants equally ignorant and indifferent. They belong to the most enervated tribe of the South American Indians, and subsist upon the little the rocky earth yields to their indolent efforts.


458

Through this section of the road, the solitude of the mountains is frequently broken by droves of llamas, or South American camels, and long trains of mules and donkeys laden with fruit and eggs. Flocks of condors soar above them, awaiting a repast on some overburdened and disabled beast. A few miles above Casapalca, and nearly opposite Anterangra, the narrow valley of the Chin Chan open's suddenly from, the north, and divides two towering ridges crested with perpetual snow. From this point a number of experimental lines were run; but the one selected crosses the Rimac and advances up the Chin Chan for two miles and a half, where, making a sharp detour, it returns above the first line, and re-appears on the right bank of the Rimac, 1,000 feet above the bed of the valley. This great elevation affords a view of impressive grandeur. On one side conical snow-peaks, glistening under the rays of a tropical sun, raise their impassive fronts, and, wrapped in white mantles, show no traces of the agitations that have marked the nearer ridges. These, as if they bad been plastic masses, are molded along their base into a continuous line of rude columns in half relief-some almost upright, some aslant, while through their upper walls jagged and irregular masses of dark igneous rock have been forced into violent prominence. They rise like a succession of natural fortifications around the valley, and so unscalable are they, and so securely does the valley appear to be inclosed, that no other mode of egress seems possible than that of the condor. But the fortress is undermined, and escape is effected through seven tunnels, all in the space of a mile. From this point to the dividing crest of the Andes, the line of the road is often lost to sight amid desolate masses of snow and ice.

Very heavy work had to be done and great obstacles overcome; but, still it pushes on, rising higher and higher, winding around the fountain-springs of the Rimac, its companion from the ocean, until it finally reaches the dreary summit of the Andes, and enters

459

the Galera, or "tuñel de la Curia," as it is styled by the Peruvians. This tunnel is 1,173 meters, or 3,847 feet in length, and enters the mountain about 680 feet beneath the apex of an undulation lying between Mount Meiggs on the right and two gigantic peaks on the left. It is ninety-seven miles from Lima, and has an altitude above the sea of 15,645 feet, being only 136 feet below the very top of Mont Blanc.* Although not completed, it is open throughout its entire length, and could soon be put in condition for travel. Its construction was attended with unparalleled difficulties, demanding unceasing effort and the greatest powers of human endurance. All the machinery for boring and working the approaches came from the workshops of Lima, and were brought on the backs of mules from the terminus of the rail. In the progress of the tunnel every step was impeded by snow-water percolating from above, often bursting through seams and driving the peons from their work. And, although the most hardy serranos were employed, and those inured to the painful effects of a very rarified atmosphere, yet even they were frequently disheartened by their many trials. Thus, this tunnel of the summit is the monument of a heroic determination which has wrought victoriously, through eternal winter and desolation, to gain a trans-Andean world laden with the ungathered fruits of perpetual summer.

Mount Meiggs, named in honor of the distinguished contractor, Mr. Henry Meiggs, is a short distance south of the tunnel. It is 17,500 feet above the sea, and from its conical peak float the American and Peruvian flags. A small observatory, in which the barometer indicates the pressure of the atmosphere to be 17 inches, and the thermometer stands at the freezing point, permits the traveler to contemplate the surrounding scene at his leisure. Towering snow-peaks encircle an icy plateau, with no opening between them, except where the Rimac has forced its way. A sky of the deepest blue throws into bold relief these "giants of frost and snow," fit sentinels between land and sky, and as yet undisputed possessors of their dreary abode. We say as yet undisputed, for in view of the journey we have just accomplished, it would be folly to feel secure of any uninvaded territory. The trip has seemed a dream of wonder and enchantment; and having arrived safely at its end,

* Mont Blanc is 15,781 feet above the sea, according to Coraboeuf.

460

we already begin to sigh for new powers of locomotion,—unattained aerial heights, fresh prodigies of skill! But obviously, such travels must be delayed for a time, and we return to our still extraordinary bit of terra firma to sketch the remainder of the route, and some circumstances and results connected with the great Andean highway.

From the eastern outlet of the Galera, the line descends to Oroya at a moderate grade, and without encountering any formidable difficulties. Throughout the latter portion of the road, including the section between Rio Blanco and the summit, a distance of 53 miles, a considerable amount of grading has been done, while much of the track is in such an advanced state as to require but little additional labor to put it in condition for travel. At present, the work is suspended in consequence of the depressed condition of the Peruvian finances. Oroya is situated at the junction of the Yauli and Jauja rivers. It is 12,178 feet above the sea, and 129 miles from Lima; and here the contract for the road terminates. From this place to the nearest navigable point on the Amazon is 250 miles. When the connecting road shall be completed, it is estimated that the traveler landing at Calláo can reach a steamer on the Amazon in from 20 to 30 hours; thence to Para is about 2,000 miles. A week, or even less perhaps, of travel down the mighty river, through its magnificent forests, and the Atlantic is under his keel! From Oroya may be run two branch lines,—one northward, for which Mr. Meiggs is already in treaty with the government, namely, to the Cerro de Pasco, the richest silver mines in the world; and the other running south to Jauja, whose delightful climate would make it a favorite resort for invalids.

Thus much for the picturesque and descriptive part of our task. We proceed now to give a slight history of the great enterprise. Don Manuel Pardo, previous to his being President of Peru, was obliged to seek some climate that might restore his health, and he found it in the province of Jauja. "In this rich part of Peru," says Mr. Hutchinson,* "his stay was turned to good account by a pamphlet† which he published, containing his observations on its wealth of minerals, and on the railways that by this route might cross the Andes, as well as open up the interior resources of the republic. In this brochure he discusses the subject of peopling the valleys of the Amazon, and argues against the error of supposing that this ought to be done, as far as Peru is concerned, by medium of that part of the mighty river which flows through much of Brazil." * * * "The further purpose of the pamphlet is to advocate a railway from Lima to Jauja, which is considered the most salubrious province in Peru, and where magic cures of the aggravated forms of phthisis pulmonalis (consumption) have been effected. It may be seen by the map," continues Mr. Hutchinson, "that the Oroya line now in progress is the first step toward accomplishing this great work, originally suggested by Don Manuel Pardo." But to General Pedro Diez Conseco has usually been accorded the credit of having conceived the great project. The honor however, of practically working out the plan, by whomsoever proposed, is due to our countryman, Mr. Henry Meiggs, whose perseverance, indomitable energy, and great executive ability, have been fully equal to the task he has undertaken. He has been assisted by an able corps of engineers, among whom, Mr. L. Malinowski, the chief engineer, had much to do with the selection of the route. Mr. Meiggs contracted to build and equip the entire road for the sum of 27,600,000 soles, or about $200,000 a mile, and be stipulated to have the line in good running order in six years from the date of signing the contract, provided the government should meet its obligations.

* Two Years in Peru, with Exploration of its Antiquities, by Thomas J. Hutchinson, F.R.G.S., F. R. S. L., M. A. I. London: Sampson, Son, Marston, Ives & Searle. 1873.

† "Estudios sobre la Provincia de Jauja," por Don Manuel Pardo. Lima: Imprenta. de la "Epoca," por Jose E. del Campo, Calle de la Rifa, Num. 58, 1862.

461

The great cost of this undertaking, and of other enterprises of equal magnitude in which the government has been engaged, has seriously embarrassed it in a time of such general financial depression as the present, so that Mr. Meiggs's far reaching plans have not been fully accomplished.

The sum allowed Mr. Meiggs for building the Oroya Railroad may seem very large in comparison with our own roads, which average only about $60,000 a mile; but it does not very greatly exceed the total cost per mile of the railroads of Great Britain, which amounts to about $170,000. The contract included everything connected with the survey, construction, and right of way, besides the furnishing of all supplies, the building of necessary docks at Calláo; of station, freight, and engine houses, and the supplying of a certain number of engines, coal, freight, and passenger cars-in fact, the whole equipment of a first-class railway. The rolling stock has been imported from the eastern workshops of the United States, the rails from England, and the cross-ties from California. All the plant for the construction of the road had to be transported by mules, and the cost of new mule-paths to replace those occupied by the rails, as they advanced, is estimated to have been $500,000. Atone time, there were 850 mules and 150 horses in the employ of the company, and the transportation cost was 3,000 soles a day. The roadbed has been made in the most secure manner, and its superstructures are of the best materials. The striking characteristic here, as with everything else done by Mr., Meiggs in Peru, is the perfect adaptation of the work to its end. Besides innumerable bridges, there are 61 tunnels, aggregating 20,000 feet in length, and a majority of them are built upon curves of a minimum radius. The powder alone for blasting purposes amounted to 53,250 quintals, or over 5,000,000 lbs., and cost about 750,000 soles. One part of an embankment near the Verrugas bridge contains 90,000 cubic yards of material. The natives, as a class, were not friendly to the road, and the right of way had often to be purchased at a cost very much beyond the value of the land.

Notwithstanding the great care and attention paid by Mr. Meiggs to the well-being of his workmen, who have been principally Chilians and Chinese, at least 10,000 persons are computed to have died thus far in the progress of the work. An intermittent fever of a very malignant character broke out in 1870 and 1871 among the Chilians employed

462

between the Cupiche bridge and Coracona, and scarcely one in a hundred recovered. A disease peculiar to the valley of the Rimac, although less fatal than the so-called Oroya fever, has occasioned great suffering and inconvenience. A bloody wart or excrescence comes out upon the skin, and while it lasts, and even before it appears, the system is greatly depressed, for the warts often bleed profusely, and men have been known to come in from their work with their boots filled with blood. It has been supposed to be caused by the water of that region. The soroché has also very much hindered the progress of the work, and especially of that part lying along the higher elevations.

Mr. Meiggs has a lease of the road at 6,000 soles per month, and he pays all expenses and keeps the rolling stock in good repair. It is directly under the supervision of Mr. Cilley, who, as superintendent, conducts it in a very efficient manner. Mr. H. J. Kingman is the road-master, Mr. H. P. Tobias, the resident engineer, and Dr. George A. Ward, the attending physician, attached to the road. These gentlemen are all Americans, and conduct their several departments with great skill and judgment.

We have been accustomed to consider the railway over the Alps and the tunneling of Mont Cenis as a very great achievement. But that ascent was made by only six zigzags, and at the culminating point the tunnel is but 4,236 feet above the sea.

Therefore, the Oroya Railroad must take rank in the history of modern engineering as a work of the first magnitude, without a rival. It has been urged that this distinction has not been attained without entailing a very serious burden of debt upon the Peruvian government if the road should not be a commercial success. Even if this should be the case, and the road should continue no farther than Cerro de Pasco, that branch line must ultimately connect with the valley of the Chanchamayo, a region of extraordinary fertility, by a road which must be remunerative. Thence to the Amazon by the valley of the Ucayali, would not be very far. When Mr. Meiggs made the contract for the first Peruvian railway, in 1868,—that between Mollendo and Arequipa,—Peru was very far behind other nations, and especially her sister republic of Chili, in the matter of internal improvements. There was no community of interests between the various divisions of her territory. The whole country was stagnating for the want of development,—and that where every climate might be enjoyed, from tropical warmth to Arctic cold; where the earth yields, in abundance, cotton, rice, tobacco, corn, and every known variety of fruit and vegetable, and many medicinal plants; and where unknown wealth is stored up in mines of gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, and coal, besides cobalt, nickel, platinum, quicksilver, saltpeter, and mercury. Peru possesses a rich heritage in the basin

463

of the Amazon; for there Nature works on her largest and most prodigal scale;* there she annually wastes as much, it is said, as would feed the whole population of China;

The Amazon," says a recent writer: † "drains a million more square miles than the Mississippi," and within its capacious valley "the whole of the United States could be packed without touching its boundaries." To leave her share of this magnificent domain undeveloped would be fatal to the best interests of Peru, and, indeed, a loss to the world; for when the native tribes of the Montaña shall disappear, as they must, before the advance of civilization, and shall be replaced by industrious and skilled laborers from Europe, Asia, and the United States, it is impossible to estimate how great will be the gain to commerce from the opening and cultivation of this bountiful land. The time is yet far distant, it may be, before this end can be attained; but steam alone can hasten the day, and bring unity to a nation as divided by natural barriers as Peru. As to the ultimate result of the great highway across the continent of South America, Mr. Bates, an enthusiastic British naturalist, who lived for seven years on the banks of the upper Amazon, has, in advance of the enterprise, suggested a future of magnificent possibilities: "Although humanity," he says, "can reach an advanced state of culture, only by battling with the inclemencies of nature in high latitudes, it is only under the equator that the perfect race will attain to complete fruition of man's heritage,—the earth." ‡

In the meantime, as we do not yet possess that complete balance of the mental and physical powers which would warrant us in seeking a residence in this equatorial paradise; and as one cannot always

"* * poise about in cloudy thunder-tents,
To watch the abysm-birth of elements,"

we retrace our way to latitudes in which the vicissitudes are such as to insure the attainment of a perfect culture. And what a retracing of the way! A mere railway carriage is but a rude mode of descending from the clouds. Might we gratify the aspirations raised by the upward journey, we would fain make for the downward trip

"* * a ladder of the eternal wind;"

or we would bestride a captured thunderbolt. But, alas! these elemental conveyances must give way to the more practicable, though perilous, hand-car. Thus it is, that in a material age, every adventurous American returns over the Oroya Railroad, down the declivities of the rugged and formidable Cordillera.

At Anchi, 12,000 feet above the Pacific, the hand-car is loaded with its freight of six adventurous sightseers, closely braced together. It is of the ordinary construction and appearance, and does not offer any temptations to a pleasure excursion down the precipitous and tortuous gorge of the Rimac, except that it affords an unobstructed view of the shifting grandeur and terrors of the route. As we descend in our rough vehicle, at the rate of 60 miles an hour; flying across aerial viaducts, or dashing through sepulchral tunnels; threatened, now, to be crush "between converging mountain walls, or precipitated from pendulous terraces,—the foaming Rimac emulating the maddening speed; now glancing back to take a last look at the glistening pinnacles of the receding Andes; or, straining eagerly forward, to catch the first glimpse of the royal city of the plain and the shining ocean,—the magnificence of the scenery and the magnitude of Mr. Meiggs's achievement break upon us with fresh force, and not for any peril of the way would we forego the exhilaration and novelty of the trip. Far otherwise was it with one of the party,—a stately commodore. He, who could face unflinchingly a whole broadside of murderous missiles, sprang from the car after ten miles over the wildest part of the route, declaring that nothing would tempt him to repeat such a foolhardy experiment. For the rest of us, the excitement and exhilaration of this mode of travel became so attractive, that we often went up to Anchi for the sole purpose of making the down trip.

It will be seen that a railway over the Andes is virtually an accomplished fact. There must be a force inherent in this portion of the American continent which compels to Herculean labors. The Cordilleras themselves were not produced from the bosom of the ocean but by mighty throes; and where the lofty Illampu crowns the chain, the powerful empire of the Incas arose, amid and wastes and frigid desolation. More than twelve thousand feet above the sea, two bleak islands of Lake Titicaca are covered with dilapidated temples and palaces, and terraces whose flowers once bloomed

* Taken from a letter without signature, in Herndon's "Explorations of the Sources of the Amazon."
† The Andes and the Amazon; or, Across the Continent of South America. By James Orton, M.A.
‡ The Naturalist on the Amazons. By Henry Walter Bates. London: John Murray.

 

464

on a soil that had been brought, it is said, four hundred miles; and a fountain still flows with water conducted from unknown sources. A thousand feet below is Cuzco, the once famous city of the sun; and to this day, it reflects in its cyclopean walls the ambitions and polity of its Incarial rulers, who had pleasure-grounds and palaces in the valley of Yucay, encircled by mountains still terraced to the summit of vanishing heights, and still fortressed on dizzy crags and forbidding passes. In the midst of the Thibet of the new world, Tiahuanuco was the center of an empire even more remote, and its ruins represent a civilization possibly contemporaneous with that of Egypt.* Even in its ruins, it excites the wonder and admiration of the traveler, who compares them not unfavorably to Stonehenge and Avebury. Remains as vast and impressive are to be seen on the dreary dunes of the coast. Is it strange, then, that men of the present, surrounded by such colossal formations, natural and artificial, should come under the sway of the same irresistible power; and that they should vie with the past in the stupendous character of their undertakings?

* Peru. Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas. By E. George Squier, M.A., F.S.A. Harper & Brothers, New York.

 


Mountain Railroading | Contents Page

 


Home
Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery