A railroad system that crossed the continental United States; construction began in 1863. The federal government, therefore, passed the Pacific Railway Acts in 1862 and in 1864. These acts gave railroad companies loans and large land grants that could be sold to pay for construction costs. Congress had granted more than 131 million acres of public land to railroad companies. In exchange, the government asked the railroads to carry U.S. mail and troops at a lower cost. Many railroad companies were inspired to begin laying miles of tracks. Two companies, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific, led the race to complete the transcontinental railroad. In February 1863, the Central Pacific began building east from Sacramento, California. At the end of the year, the Union Pacific started building west from Omaha, Nebraska. The Union Pacific hired thousands of railroad workers, particularly Irish immigrants. Chinese immigrants made up some 85 percent of the Central Pacific workforce. The railroad's part-owner Leland Stanford praised them, but he paid them less than other laborers. Chinese crews also were given the most dangerous tasks and had to work longer hours than other railroad laborers. They took the job, however, it was more than in China. Houses weren't beautiful, but kept them safe and happy. For once, they felt like they were in control of their life. It was not unusual for three single men to share quarters. Men greatly outnumbered women among the homesteaders, but still brave women headed out to make their own life. Often in families, men came first to start them off, because it life was hard out there, and then the wife and children followed. Shoes, socks, underwear, coffee, clocks, and other simple things taken for granted in the East, became luxuries on the Plains. Despite many hardships, people were healthy due to fresh air, and good, hearty food.