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Theodore Judah (1826-1863) was the father of the Central Pacific Railroad. He had studied civil engineering and worked as a railroad surveyor while still in his teens. After serving as an engineer on the Sacramento Valley Railroad, Judah became preoccupied with the idea of building the first transcontinental line. His single-minded enthusiasm earned him the nickname "Crazy" Judah, but his constant promotion and exhaustive knowledge brought the project the attention and investment it needed to get off the ground.

Judah deserves credit for solving several of the biggest problems facing a Pacific railroad. First, he brought in the key investors (the foursome known as the Associates) who would ultimately see the project through as the newly incorporated Central Pacific Railroad (CP). Second, Judah found a feasible route through the Sierra Nevada, cresting the ridge at Donner Pass. With financial backing and a workable route on his side, Judah went to Washington to lobby for government support in the form of the Pacific Railroad Bill, which President Lincoln signed in 1862.

After these initial victories, Judah faced increasing disappointment. He frequently found himself at odds with the other directors (the Associates) of the CP on issues of construction, finance, and ultimately ethics. In October of 1863, tensions reached such a level that Judah sailed for the East Coast, hoping to find new investors for the project. Shortly thereafter, he fell ill and died on 2 November 1863. The Associates were never eager to share credit for the line with Judah. Nonetheless, the Pacific railroad—Judah's brainchild—would undoubtedly have been much longer in coming had it not been for his pioneering work.

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