Hell on Wheels Towns

Nothing is more fascinating than the temporary towns that sprang up as the intercontinental railroad worked its way across the United States. For the most part, they were dirty and contained the dregs of society. But the fascination lies in how much people could tolerate in the way of creature comforts for some pretty good money. The buildings were comprised of nothing but canvas or sod and provided temporary homes for the workers and as the tracks progressed, so did the town. The businesses just pulled up stakes and moved, following the iron ribbon cutting across the prairie.

These places had just about everything—dentistry, hardware supplies, saloons, mercantiles, cafes. And of course, dance halls and prostitutes.

Most of the workers were single and veterans of the Civil War. They needed a job and the railroad needed men. All nationalities worked together.

The town of Benton, Wyoming was one such temporary town. It only existed for three months but it had a population of over 3,000. It had twenty-five saloons. I can’t even imagine this many people.

But many of the merchants were visionaries and saw great opportunity, therefore built sturdy structures. They stayed put when the temporary establishments moved on. They had faith that as long as the tracks remained, the people would come. It was also an exciting time for land developers, but such an atmosphere also planted seeds for the unscrupulous who cheated people out of their hard-earned money. They’d sell them land they didn’t own or they’d sell the same land to several different people which resulted in a nightmare.

Everyone wanted to cash in on the wealth that the railroad created.

A few of the cities that got temporary starts were: Billings, Laramie, Cheyenne, Reno, Tacoma, Fresno, and North Platte, Nebraska. There were hundreds more.

The historical western series Hell on Wheels was set in temporary towns as the Union Pacific laid down tracks in the race to Promontory Point where they drove the golden spike.

Fortunes were made and lost in creating the transcontinental railroad.

The human toll was staggering. Fifteen thousand men worked to build it. 1,500 died. White men earned $35 a month and that included room and board. The rest made $25 plus room and board. Using today’s inflation rate, that $35 amounts to $657.32.  Not much at all for the amount of backbreaking, dangerous work those guys did. The conditions were deplorable.

In which sector do you think the new boom will come from? Oil? Land? Technology? Maybe colonizing Mars or other planets?

Margaret Brownley and I have Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms releasing on October 3rd. Six stories that will warm your heart and put you in the Christmas spirit. I’ll offer several in giveaways next month so be watching! 



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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

38 thoughts on “Hell on Wheels Towns”

  1. Good morning Linda- I’m super excited about your Christmas book, you know your story will be the 1st I read. Can’t wait to return to The LoneStar Ranch. Sadly I think Technology will be the next boom. Shoot it’s already here, I think. However I would love to see it be the land and oil boom as these 2 go hand in hand in the fact that our property values would rise. Right now since the oil boom went down, so has our property values as far as demand for them here in Kansas, unfortunately the taxes haven’t. The property tax here in KS is skyrocketing. We have property tax on everything. Just to tag our vehicles every year is $400 for each vehicle. I sure miss my $60/ year tag from Texas. Thank for the great article, I’m trying to think if I passed by where Benton, WY was located on my trip in July. Have a great day.. love you sister friend.

    • Morning, Miss Tonya……I’m happy, happy to see you. I would to see another land boom and I think it will happen except not on earth. It’ll be on Mars if they ever figure out how to make it work. I will not be leaving earth so don’t worry about me. Nope. But there are fools who would jump at the chance. I would not have wanted to live in any tent city. Especially not Benton with 3k other people who had to stink. They had no bathing facilities. Yuck! Very smelly.

      Have a blessed day. Love you too.

    • Good morning, Debra……I’m really glad you enjoyed my blog. I do think space will be the next big colonization. People are lining up now. Not me though. Nope. I’ll stay right here.


  2. Good morning fellow Warrior! I believe the next big boom will be colonizing of other planets! Can you imagine? Of course, I don’t believe it will be in my lifetime. The technology boom is already happening, things that I can’t even relate to are happening with technology. I know several people that are making things happen in technology and cybersecurity. One other boom I can picture other than these choices is floating cities. Can you imagine living in the middle of the ocean?

    • Hey, Warrior Friend…..Thanks for giving me a smile. I think you’re right about colonizing other planets. Everyone is just waiting for the technology that will get us there to catch up. And it will at some point. Floating cities would be huge! And I don’t think that is far off.

      Love you, lady!

  3. This is interesting. I had no idea the towns picked up and moved along with the work. I always loved trains, so I enjoyed learning some history behind the building of the tracks. I think technology will be the next big boom.

    • Hi Janine….Yes, everything was portable. They just folded up their tents and moved as the track was laid. I’ve always thought this so fascinating and wondered how it would feel to live a “temporary” life.

      Thanks for coming. Hugs.

  4. Kind of the reverse of a boom but I think the next big money maker will be drinkable water since we’ve been told we’re depleting aquifers and more and more natural water sources are being found to be polluted. I never thought I’d be buying drinking water since we have our own well but that’s all we use now. Why? I’m out in the country where farms tapping into the below ground water table were decent distances apart, and the farms and homes each have their own in-ground sewer system. A number of years ago, after fighting with the township for years, a development finally prevailed and hundreds of townhouses UPSTREAM immediately changed the quality of our water to something undrinkable and unsafe.

    And it’s also on my mind because of the recent hurricanes where there’s water everywhere but people don’t have water to drink, along with severe drought conditions in the west. So. That’s why I think usable water will be the next money boom.

    To end on a happier note, though, I can’t wait to get a copy of CHRISTMAS IN A COWBOY’S ARMS so I can read “The Christmas Stranger” by you and “A Texas Ranger for Christmas” by Margaret. I have it marked on my to-buy calendar now!

    • Hey Eliza……..Now there you have it. We don’t have enough good water across the globe. A very serious problem. And one man here in the Texas Panhandle- T. Boone Pickens – has bought and holds the rights to the acquifier here and is SELLING water to Amarillo and many other cities. Not a nice man. He hogs things and doesn’t play nice. And because he’s rich he does what he wants.

      Thank you so much for planning to buy Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms. I think you’re going to love all these stories. They really are a heartwarming collection.

      Big Texas hugs!

    • Good afternoon, Melanie…….Thanks for coming. I’m so happy you like my post. I did think it was very interesting. Yes, that Christmas book will be here in three short weeks. YAY!

      Love and hugs!

  5. Interesting post, Linda. It’s amazing how many towns exist simply because of the railroad. My own town of Abilene was created when the Texas & Pacific came through in 1881.

    Your Christmas anthology looks fabulous! I’ll definitely be getting a copy. I love reading novellas at the holidays, and the authors in that collection are some of my favorite. Yeehaw!

    • Hi Karen…….The railroads really did change the landscape of the American West. Not only the transcontinental but the smaller ones too. Trains opened up the unsettled land in a way that nothing else did.

      I hope you enjoy the Christmas anthology. My story, The Christmas Stranger, was so much fun to write. One part of it might remind you a little of Quigley Down Under.

      Love and hugs!

  6. Great post Linda and it is amazing how many town were started because of the railroad the one I live in now is because of the railroad. I really think technology will be the next boom here it is already above my head now. I can’t wait to read your next Christmas book.

    • Hey Quilt Lady…….Yes those towns that started due solely to the railroad really are nice to stop and think about. There were tons of them. You know, technology is really scary to me. It’s moving so fast that I barely know how to do a tiny bit of it. The problem is, I don’t want to have to learn more. I don’t have time. But I know it’s coming where I’ll have to take classes. Darn it!

      Love and hugs!

  7. I think Technology will be the next boom. North Platte here has the 2nd largest rail yard in the united states. Bailey railyard is huge and has many trains with cars sitting for days or weeks before they leave for other places.

    • Hi Kim……Thanks for coming. Technology has really made a lot of people rich and still is. This field is moving at the speed of sound. I barely learn one little part before that’s outdated and I have to learn something else. Crazy. Yes, I read about that Bailey railyard in North Platte. It was gigantic back at the turn of the century. I can only imagine what it is now.

      Love and hugs!

      • I know keeping up with technology can be a challenge at times. Surprising how many people from out of the country come to see the rail yard.

  8. These type of towns were fascinating. I loved the show Hell on Wheels. I actually still need to watch the final season.

    I think (hope) that the next boom will be in clean air/clean water technology. This could have so many benefits — economically with the creation of new jobs and businesses, health-wise because we could all benefit from clean air and water, etc.

    • Hi Trish…..I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Another Hell on Wheels fan. A lot of people felt it was too gritty but I loved it. Cullan Bohannon was a great hero. He gave everything for that railroad. I hope you’re right about the clean air and water. We sure can use that.


  9. I enjoyed your post India. Thank you for the history & info. I thin it will be Technology also.
    I just get by now and am amazed how my young grandson nows more then I do about the technology 🙂

    • Hi Carol……I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I’ve always loved history and sharing it brings me great joy. Technology seems to run the world. It’s fine up to a point but I think we have too much and its stolen people’s ability to think for themselves.


  10. The Christmas anthology looks good. Am sure everyone will enjoy it.
    I think the next boom will be in alternative technologies for energy, food production, and building. New technologies are already available but not in general use. Those working to refine and improve them as well as those who implement them should have good job futures.

    • Hi Patricia……I sure you enjoy the anthology. I think it’ll be fun and sure to put readers in the Christmas spirit. You’re probably right. The world has too many people and there’s not enough food or water so something has to give.

      Love and hugs!

  11. Thanks for sharing this post with us. I think that technology will continue to explode with new products, new ways to do the everyday things we all do, new advances in medicine. I wonder just what I will live to see!
    I look forward to October and your new Christmas book.
    Thank you and Blessings!

  12. Lovely post, Linda! Fascinating to think about the hardworking and brave folks who pioneered throughout our history. If we don’t implode the human race ourselves before technology can ship us off to other planets, I can see that being a new boom. Did you see the movie CONTACT? While the story line is more of an offshoot story about only a few passengers on that ship who are accidentally woken mid-trip, it gave some insight on how all the passengers were sorted by class and pay grade. A good move in itself, but it left me wanting to see that colony once they broke orbit and arrived at their new home after 170 some years in cryosleep and started building a society on alien soil. I wonder how many lifetimes of work would have to go into a project like that to now it could have any sort of success. Thank you for sharing 🙂 Cheers on the new anthology!! OX

    • Hi Stacey, old friend……..Wow! This is great. I’ve often wondered how you are. Your books were awesome and still sitting on my keeper shelf. I hope you’re writing again. No, I did not see that movie but I heard it was great. I’ll have to catch it on Netflix or Amazon. I think settling Mars would be extremely difficult. There’s the atmosphere to consider first. Then the soil. It would be hard but I think at some point, there will a colony up there. I hope you enjoy the Christmas book.

      Big hugs and love!

  13. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for the picture of Anson Mount. I do so miss Hell on Wheels.

    Looking forward to the Anthology.

    I think the next boom will be technology for non-fossil fuels.

    • Hi Alisa……..You’re welcome for the pix of Anson Mount. My, that man sure gets my heart pumping. I miss that series so much!! I’m in Hell on Wheels withdrawal. I hope you enjoy the Christmas anthology.

      Much love and hugs!

    • Hi Caryl…….Thanks for coming. I’m really happy you enjoyed my post. Technology will for sure be one area of expansion. It’s too prevalent in our global society to be overlooked.


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