Completing the Transcontinental Railroad: Golden Spike, Utah

Steam engine at Golden Spike UtahOn May 10, 1869, two railroad companies, the Union and Central Pacific, joined 1,776 miles of rail at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.  Golden Spike National Historic Site commemorates this incredible accomplishment of the completion of this nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

Getting to this Historic Site
To visit Golden Spike National Historic Site, you have to really want to get there. Located at Promontory, about 90 miles northeast of Salt Lake City, and 32 west of Brigham City, the road runs you out into what looks like the middle of nowhere. On the way down State Route 83, towards Golden Spike,  you may want to stop and see some locomotion from a newer age – the rock display at  Morton Thiokol Corporation, the company that manufactures the solid rocket boosters for Steam engine at Golden SpikeNASA’s Space Shuttle.

What’s With the Golden Spike?
In case you’ve forgotten your history, the last link in the first Transcontinental Railroad was a spike of gold,  engraved with the names of the railroad officers and directors. A special tie of polished California laurel was chosen to complete the line where the spike would be driven.

Although the festivities were scheduled for May 8, bad weather forced a delay for two days (even though the spike is engraved with May 8).

On the 10th,  Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (known as the Jupiter) locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit, separated only by the width of a single tie.  The golden spike was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel tie, and tapped into place with a silver ceremonial spike maul. Immediately following the Steam from Golden Spike steam engineceremony, the spike and tie were removed and replaced with a regular iron spike and normal railroad tie.  The spike was donated to the Stanford Museum, and the tie was destroyed in the fires following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Visiting Today
The Golden Spike is well worth the drive from Salt Lake City – if for nothing else to watch the re-enactment of the meeting of No 119 and Jupiter (sorry, no rides allowed!).  The Visitor’s Center has an amazing collection of Golden Spike literature, books, photos and memorabilia, along with a replica of the original golden spike.

These two engines you’ll see there are exact replicas of the original locomotives that met on May 10, 1869, and they are on display and operate  daily from May 1 through Labor Day, 10-4:30.

Traveling to Utah? Hop on State Route 83 and get out to this Historic Site – once there– you’ll realize the incredible feat accomplished on that May day in 1869.

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