Huntington once said "We were successful, we four, because of our
teamwork. Each complemented the other in something the other lacked.
There was Stanford, for instance, a man elected senator and governor,
a man who loved to deal with people. He was a good lawyer. There was
Mark Hopkins. He was a fine accountant and understood the value of
everything. He was a thrifty man. Then, there was Crocker, the
organizer, the executive, the driver of men." [Kraus 294]
When any aspect of the Central Pacific Railroad is discussed, one of the names listed above is bound to come up. These are the men whose decisions, lives, and idiosyncrasies forged the railroad. For though the railroad (in different ways) impacted their lives just as much as those of the workers (though perhaps with less threat of personal injury), it was they who, as individuals, had a lasting effect on the Railroad.
Collis P. Huntington started out as the consolidator. His major "contribution" to the Central Pacific was when he saw the value in the land grants and loans given the partners by Congress. When Judah and others showed signs of backing off on their original plans, he bid them leave and quickly culled the "dead wood" from their organization, leaving only the "Big Four" in charge [Kraus 64]. Soon thereafter, he moved back to New York, where he stayed, giving power of attorney (as did the other members of the Big Four) to Mark Hopkins. So while he retained financial interest in the project, he involved himself little after that, except in cases of emergency, such as when he had to go back to Sacramento to figure out how they could keep their project funded until the government started "kicking in". After the Railroad was built, he outlived all of the other Big Four, ousted Stanford as the President, remarried, and finally died "a perfect embodiment of the crusty, self-made tycoon of American legend and tradition" [McCague 364].
Mark Hopkins was in title and action, the group's treasurer. Called the "impassive bookkeeper", he handled most of the group's financial affairs, holding power of attorney for the other three of the Big Four [Howard 141]. His life while the Railroad was being built was wrapped up in trying to make the most out of the dwindling funds they had access to. Hopkins died a scant 9 years after the completion of the railroad, never going on to any greater deeds. Before he died, he, like all of the Big Four had a mansion built on San Francisco's Nob Hill, a monument to his wealth if not his greatness.
Leland Stanford, elected governor of California, was the Big Four's political tie-in. Where Judas and Huntington lobbied Congress from "outside the system", Stanford held sway over the CP Railroad Company, certainly, being its president, but with his election, he held sway over the state of California as well. With his wealth, from before the Railroad, now augmented with the profits from it, he went on to found Leland Stanford University as a memorial to his son, who died an untimely death. He ended up spending much of his huge fortune on the University, and after a quarrel with Huntington, died a somewhat unhappy man. The Railroad, however, had given him the wherewithal to achieve lasting fame [McCaugue 365].
Charles Crocker was the man in charge of hiring decisions, and many of the fundamental details of running the Railroad construction. But though he made many decisions, hired more workers, and oversaw the progress, Charles Crocker was not himself involved with the nitty-gritty day-to-day details of the construction. Like all of the Big Four, he never laid a tie or drove a spike, yet still his was the one of then names credited with "building the Transcontinental Railroad". He sold out his shares in the Railroad shortly after its completion and traveled the world, arriving back to find that his shares in that great enterprise were now worthless due to the Panic of '73. So he went back into the Railroad business, with which his life seemed inextricably to be tied, dying a fitting death in his private train car in 1888.
Theodore Judah was perhaps the man who dedicated his life the most to the project, yet saw the least of it realized. He spent 20 years of his life with dreams and plans for the railroad, surveying, raising funding, lobbying Congress, only to die six years before its completion. The Railroad filled his life, but he never lived to ride its majesty.
James Harvey Strobridge was the man best remembered (and most seen) by the workers of the day. The man on the scene, his life was most closely tied to the actual work being done. He was the foreman, the pit boss, and the on-site commander all rolled into one. When the work was done, he settled down on a farm not far from the site of the last spike, but soon returned to work on the second transcontinental railroad, on the condition that he not again have to live on site. He, perhaps, had seen the life of the other leaders, and now desired to live more like them, and less the life of a "common worker".. having already been left half-blind by a nitroglycerin accident in Summit Tunnel [Howard 234].
Huntington was the great deal maker. His contributions, in general, were those he managed to obtain from eastern investors, he being the Big Four's "man back east." Additionally he worked with Judah to lobby Congress for funding and land. All in all though, to Huntington, the Railroad was merely an investment project of grandiose proportions. When the Railroad had been built, he eventually took over (forcibly) for Stanford, ushering the Central Pacific into a new age.
Well to do on his own, Huntington's partner in the hardware business, Mark Hopkins had a shrewd head for business and used this financial acumen to keep the Central Pacific rolling, even when its work force was (at the worst of times) down to ten men. His positive attitude was that if they couldn't make fast progress, they should still keep making some progress. His handling of funds (as opposed to the UP's swindling Durant and Credit Mobilier scandal), combined with Huntington's fund-raising, managed to keep the CP above water and keep the great work moving forward.
As Huntington handled the acquisition of monies, and Hopkins its application, so did Stanford handle public relations for the group. When cries of fraud rose up, it was Stanford who defended the company, heralding her purity. Stanford was also the one given the honor of hammering in the final spike in the Railroad.. (missing in the process) He was the figurehead (and President) of the company, and defended her interests (even if his position as governor did make some of them conflicts of interest).
Charles Crocker perhaps had the most unforeseen affect on the project, by his unorthodox (and much protested) decision to hire Chinese laborers to work on the Railroad. They provided a large quantity of the much need efficient (and low-cost) labor the CP needed to meet its deadlines and responsibilities. It was also he who boasted about the speed of his workers (though it was Strobridge urging them on, and the workers themselves doing the work), inciting the Union Pacific's Thomas Durant to engage him in the $10,000 bet that his workers couldn't actually lay 10 miles of track in one day. But he had the rails set up for the competition, and his men came through, winning him (but not the workers) the $10,000.
James Strobridge was the man responsible for actually making sure
work got done on the Central Pacific. At first resistant to Crocker's
decision to bring Chinese workers on board, he grew to grudgingly accept
their value, and worked them in as part of his efficient planning and
organization for the ongoing progress of the Railroad. His
down-to-earth tactics and hands-on know-how led him to make smart
decisions which many times saved the CP from certain doom.