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"Well, rumors about the Great Race confuse me. Before breakfast a man in a wagon rode through camp yelling, "Hooray, we're winning!" Then just a few minutes ago Father read us a telegram that said Crocker's Pets have pulled ahead by miles. I don't know what to believe."
Libby West[2]

The Great Railroad Race: The Diary of Libby West is a fictional diary and the fourteenth book in the Dear America series. It was published in April 1999 by Scholastic. The book was Kristiana Gregory's third in the series out of a total of five. The next Dear America entry, The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow, followed in September 1999.

Libby West and her family follow her journalist father to witness the joining of America's first transcontinental railroad.


"This book is dedicated with love to my mother, Jeanne Kern Gregory, my first editor, whose early insistence on good spelling and good grammar helped me put words on the page."

Book description[]

"May 5, 1869
Late this afternoon our tracklayers arrived at the Summit! The Union Pacific engine came to a stop with a loud release of steam. Facing it, on another sidetrack, was California's locomotive. Both engines greeted each other with a sharp whistle.
Finally. It was the first time the trains from the Pacific coast and the Atlantic coast had met, and I saw it with my own eyes! We cheered with excitement, men threw their hats in the air, ladies waved handkerchiefs, and Joe ran wild with some other boys....
Everyone is still waiting for Mr. Durant and the others arrive. Then workers will lay the final half mile—that's just about 2,500 feet.


Fourteen-year-old Libby West who lives in Denver begins her diary in May 1868. Her father, Sterling, who works for the Rocky Mountain News, purchases a printing press. He plans on starting his own newspaper with Pete, who fought with him during the war, while traveling with the Union Pacific builders of the transcontinental railroad. Libby's mother, Julia is determined to keep the family together. They pack up and head to Cheyenne, where Julia, Libby, and her brother Joe stay while Sterling and Pete take the printing press to Laramie. After only a few days, Julia decides to join her husband in Laramie.

Sterling and Pete head further west, while Libby, Joe, and their mother remain in Laramie. There she befriends Ellie Rowe and her mother whose husband is a surveyor. Mrs. Rowe takes care of Libby and Joe when Julia suddenly falls ill. Once she recovers, they reunite with Sterling now with Ellie and Mrs. Rowe as companions. Joe, meanwhile, almost constantly gets into trouble, leaving his parents exasperated on what to do with him. They eventually decide to let him be a water boy, meaning that he will bring water to the railroad workers. His new job leaves him too tired to do anything but sleep.

Libby, who has always disliked Pete, thinks differently of him after learning he is only four years older than her. She starts thinking of him often. By October, Sterling's old war wound begins acting up. Julia decides that they will head for Salt Lake City. There they stay with Julia's brother Henry Spoon who operates a general store with his wife Clara. Once Sterling starts recovering, he and Pete look for advertisers for their newspaper. However, the Mormons business owners all refuse. Before leaving Salt Lake City, Sterling sells the printing press though they will continue traveling so he can send news back home.

As they continue travelling, Libby grows closer to Pete becoming sweethearts. In February, the Wests and Rowes settle at Mrs. Buffington's boardinghouse in Ogden. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific, meanwhile, begin laying track next to each other. The newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant orders them to agree on a meeting place. They decide on Promontory Summit nearly a month later. The Wests reach Promontory on May 1, but have to wait several days for the two bosses of the railroad to arrive for the ceremony. Afterwards, Libby reflects that the only things on her mind are the "small, good things."


Historical Note[]

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Main article: List of The Great Railroad Race characters
  • Libby West, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Julia and Sterling West. She often says whatever comes to her mind, leading her parents to give her journal to write her thoughts instead.
  • Joe West, Libby's playful seven-year-old brother. He is constantly getting into mischief, causing his parents and older sister to worry for his safety.
  • Ellie Rowe is a thirteen-year-old girl who befriends Libby. She and her mother become close to the West family and travel with them for most of the journey.


Main article: Kristiana Gregory

Kristiana Gregory is a children's author whom has written over thirty novels. She wrote five books in Dear America, including The Winter of Red Snow, Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie, Seeds of Hope, and Cannons at Dawn. Gregory is also the author of three books in The Royal Diaries and Hope's Diaries in My America. In the "About the Author" section, she wrote that she previously lived in Salt Lake City and was only a short walk from Brigham Young's home. Gregory was "thrilled" to get the chance to write about Utah in The Great Railroad Race.



"My heartfelt thanks to the rangers of the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory, Utah: Robert Chugg and Bruce Powell for patiently answering questions and helping with research; Robert Hanover for combing through this manuscript, checking historical details, and correcting my errors. Much thanks also to Diane Garvey Nesin for more fact-checking; and to Dick Braese, Curator of Printing Arts at Idaho Historical Museum in Boise, for demonstrating the Washington Hand Printing Press and the old art of setting type by hand. I'm honored by their enthusiasm and willingness to help.
I especially cherish my teenage sons, Greg and Cody Rutty, for being critical listeners to the manuscript-in-progress, and for their tolerance and good humor during our long family trip to Promontory.


  • The portrait on the cover is a detail from the 1903 painting Idle Thoughts by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The background is a detail of an 1871 lithograph titled American Railroad Scene: Snowbound, produced by Currier & Ives.[5][6][7]
  • Gregory references her work, The Legend of Jimmy Spoon and Jimmy Spoon and the Pony Express, by featuring the characters Jimmy Spoon and Nahanee.[8]


See also[]

Dear America

A Journey to the New World | The Winter of Red Snow | When Will This Cruel War Be Over? | A Picture of Freedom
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie | So Far from Home | I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
West to a Land of Plenty | Dreams in the Golden Country | Standing in the Light | Voyage on the Great Titanic
A Line in the Sand | My Heart Is on the Ground | The Great Railroad Race | The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
A Light in the Storm | Color Me Dark | A Coal Miner's Bride | My Secret War | One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping
Valley of the Moon | Seeds of Hope | Early Sunday Morning | My Face to the Wind | Christmas After All
A Time for Courage | Where Have All the Flowers Gone? | Mirror, Mirror on the Wall | Survival in the Storm
When Christmas Comes Again | Land of the Buffalo Bones | Love Thy Neighbor | All the Stars in the Sky
Look to the Hills | I Walk in Dread | Hear My Sorrow


The Fences Between Us | Like the Willow Tree | Cannons at Dawn | With the Might of Angels | Behind the Masks
Down the Rabbit Hole | A City Tossed and Broken

External links[]