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By Laura Moncur in Frank McDonough Jr.'s Odometer

Frank McDonough Jr.’s Personal Journal dated June 7, 1869:

Owing to my odometer, my chest fills with pride, despite the fact that I must forever lock it in a box and use it nevermore. I shall never again feel the wind whip past my face with the sweet scent of the Colorado meadows. I shall never look down at my pocket watch and realize that I have traveled further in five minutes than I could have traveled all day on horseback. I cannot bear to destroy it, but I must never place it on my belt ever again. Today’s events are so upsetting that I can barely put pen to paper, yet I must because they are so fantastical that I can hardly believe them myself.

The odometer has allowed me to complete survey work of a hundred men. I’ve finished the survey for the Denver Line and pending the review of my measures, our team will be able to construct it. We have hired a double team, one to build from Denver and the other to build from the current end of the Kansas City Line. They shall meet somewhere in the Colorado Eastern Plains. My odometer has allowed me to traverse them many times in the last few weeks. We should be able to complete the line within a year, beating Fig Andrews’ team with our industry.

Telegraph by LauraMoncur from FlickrThe telegraph that I received last night from Fig about my accomplishment was an insult to polite society. It read, “Contesting your measures. We’ll beat you with bureaucracy.” I was so incensed by it that I took a walk. Each time I thought of Fig Andrews and his team, the anger within me swelled. Before I knew it, I found myself on the bank of the Missouri River. Within the span of a couple of hours, the odometer had brought me to face the very man I had such a burning desire to bring down with fisticuffs.

His surprise at my presence was satisfying. Now, I could finally reveal the blessings of my odometer and the reason I had been able to survey the Colorado Plains with such speed. When I explained my gadget, I took it off my belt. Oh, if only I had left it safely on my person! Fig, with his swagger and bravado, grabbed it out of my hands, intent on testing it himself.

I tried to explain to him that it needed calibrating to his gait, but he rushed away from me, clipping it to his own belt. He sped away, but I could hear his agonizing cries. I grabbed a nearby horse to race after him, following the gut-wrenching sound of his screams, but I was too late. The odometer had burned a hole clean through his torso. It was as if all my anger for the man had built up in my odometer, so when it finally came in contact with his person, it released all my hatred in one swift and agonizing blow.

That is why I am on a train heading back to Kansas City tonight. My shaky hand is not merely from the movement of the railway cars, but from the shock that I have received. I must never wear my odometer again. If only I had the force of will to put it under the steel wheels of the locomotive.


The rest of Frank McDonough Jr.’s journal marks the banal trivialities of life in the West. Frank McDonough Jr. took a wife and raised many healthy children. The Kansas Pacific Railway DID complete the line before the Missouri River Bridge was finished, but history still gives credit to the Golden Spike in Utah, which was a constant source of grief and shame to Frank until the day he died.