Following his tour of duty as a Civil War photographer, Alexander Gardner headed west. Construction of a transcontinental railroad became a national priority after the destructive years of war, and Gardner followed its course. He photographed the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific Railroad as it stretched across Kansas from the Missouri River to its junction with the main line at Hays City, Kansas.
Small figures punctuate the barely discernible flatbed cars that link the engine and caboose and span the entire length of the trestle bridge. They seem to merge with the bridge itself, transforming the train-and-bridge into a chain pulled taut across the hilly landscape. Additional tiny figures, including a lone man in the near distance who watches the photographer intently, pepper the ground below, as though cast off by the train.