The following dialogue is a spin-off from Stories from American History by Myrtis Mixon.

In 1849, gold was discovered in California and thousands of people headed west for gold and for farmland.  People traveled across the plains and mountains in wagons pulled by oxen, or they sailed on ships around South America and back up the West Coast.  The trip took many months, and it was very dangerous.  In the 1860's, Congress chose two companies to build a transcontinental railroad.  The Union Pacific Railroad built the tracks west from Nebraska.  The Central Pacific Railroad built east from California.  After three years, the tracks were joined at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869.  The transcontinental railroad meant that a person could travel from New York to San Francisco in just 7 days!

From Sacramento, the railroad rose 10,000 feet in the mountains in just 100 miles.  The Central Pacific Railroad could not keep its workers.  They quit as soon as they got to the Sierra Nevada, where they wanted to look for gold.  Laying track over the mountains was hard and dangerous work.  After two years, only 56 miles of track had been laid going east from Sacramento.  Then Charles Crocker, the Central Pacific track boss, hired Chinese laborers.

Conditions in China were terrible.  The Chinese wanted to send money home to their families.  They were very hard workers.  They were clean, ate a healthy diet, boiled their drinking water, and did not get sick like the other workers.  The work conditions were very dangerous.  Many workers died as a result of accidents.  In June 1867, the Chinese workers began a strike against the railroads.  They wanted better pay.

As the story goes...Wing Ho, one of the younger Chinese workers, wanted to lead a strike for better pay and shorter hours.  He also did not want to work with the new "dynamite," or nitroglycerine.  Ah Chu, the older head man (leader), was against the strike because he did not want trouble from the bosses, Strobridge and Crocker.


AH CHU: I heard that you want to talk to me, Wing Ho.  What's ________?
sitting on top of the world    for the birds    on your mind

WING HO:I'm ________ the way we are being treated.
fed up with    drawing a blank on    cut out for

AH CHU:Well, what's your ________ exactly?
hang up    flash in the pan    beef

WING HO: For one thing, we're paid less and work longer hours than the other workers.  But, worst of all, using nitroglycerine instead of dynamite is a dangerous ________.
shortcut    pipe dream    bang up job

AH CHU: Yep, we're just ________ around that nitroglycerine.  So, what can we do about it?
showing off    sitting ducks    having a ball

WING HO:My workers and I aren't going to ________ anymore.   We're going to strike if things don't change.
put up with it    keep track of it    take a leak

AH CHU:Okay, but I'm afraid that we will all ________ if I tell the bosses about these demands.
be pushing up daisies    get canned    take a rain check

WING HO:Do you promise to talk to Strobridge?   I know how much you need your job, but please promise me that you won't ________.
shake a leg    talk back    back out

Ah Chu talked to Strobridge and told him that they did not want to work with the nitroglycerine.  Strobridge talked to Big Boss Crocker.  Crocker said, "Isn't that something?  Those Chinese think they can tell us how to build a railroad."

The next day there was a terrible accident.  The nitroglycerine had been set in the mountain.  Wing Ho knew that not all of the nitroglycerine had exploded, so Ah Chu and Wing Ho refused to let their work crew go into the work site.  Strobridge yelled at another work crew and chased them back to work.  When they started to work, the nitroglycerine exploded.  Nine Chinese workers were killed.

AH CHU:I can't believe what happened.  I think you're right; we should strike.  The bosses are really ________.
going to bat for us    asking for it    giving us the runaround

WING HO: Crocker is going to ________ when we go on strike, but, you're right; he's really been asking for it.    We depend on the bosses to bring our food supplies, but we have enough food stored up to last for at least a week.
give us a break    lose his temper    give us a shot in the arm

AH CHU:Hmm.  A week isn't very long.  I hope Crocker doesn't ________ by firing us!
pull the rug out from under us    give in    give us a leg up

WING HO:Crocker needs us.  But if we run out of food before Crocker agrees to our demands, we'll________.
have to come clean    be over a barrel    be batting a thousand

AH CHU:Well, Wing Ho, I think you are doing the right thing by leading a strike.  No matter how it turns out, it is important that we ________.
have second thoughts    stand up for ourselves    keep our noses to the grindstone

 After six days, Crocker met with the strikers.  He told them that if they didn't go back to work, they would have to pay the cost of the strike.   He also told them that the railroad would not give them any more food or water.  In the end, they reached an agreement.  As it turned out, the Chinese workers did not get everything they wanted, but at least they had stood up for their rights, and Crocker was forced to consider them.

 The story of Wing Ho and Ah Chu is fictional.  When the completion of the railroad was celebrated, a reporter for the San Francisco Newletter, May 15, 1869, wrote:  "J.H. Strobridge, when the work was all over, invited the Chinese ... to dine at his boarding car.  When they entered, all the guests and officers present cheered them as the chosen representatives of the race which have greatly helped to build the road ...."   And Crocker himself said:  "I wish to call to your minds that the early completion of this railroad we have built has been in large measure due to that poor, despised class of laborers called the Chinese, to the fidelity and industry they have shown."
For photos, facts, and accurate information about the building of the Central Pacific Railroad, please visit:
Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

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