What: Golden Spike National Historic Park, P.O. Box 897, Brigham City, Utah, 84302. (435) 471-2209. Admission is $20 per automobile and $15 per motorcycle.
How to Get There: From Ogden, take I-15N/I-84W to Utah State Route 83 north, and follow the signs.
Best Kept Secret: All of Utah (the riding and scenery are exceptional).
Avoid: Using your GPS as you approach (the NPS advises following the road signs instead).
More Photos and Video: here
More Info: here
Utash’s Golden Spike National Historic Park honors completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. It all started in 1832 when Dr. Hartwell Carver (great-grandson of John Carver, who came to America on the Mayflower) proposed the idea to the U.S. Congress. The concept gained momentum with an expanding nation and the California gold rush, and for good reason: Reaching the West required a six-month voyage around South America or an overland journey through hostile territory. Three routes were considered: A northern route (rejected due to terrain and harsh winters), a southern route (rejected due to distance and hostile natives), and the ultimately chosen central route. Council Bluffs, Iowa, became the eastern starting point (well north of Civil War hostilities, it presented a direct path to the Sierra Nevadas). Sacramento, offering river transport to Oakland and the Pacific Ocean, was selected as the western terminus.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 on July 1, and construction began in 1863. The Central Pacific Railroad (headed by Leland Stanford and employing 14,000 Chinese) built eastbound track from Sacramento through the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Union Pacific (headed by Dr. Thomas C. Durant and using Irish immigrants and Civil War veterans) built their way west from Council Bluffs. The Central Pacific’s 690 miles required bridges and tunnels through the Sierra Nevada range. The Union Pacific’s 1,086 miles crossed flatter terrain but involved frequent encounters with hostile Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne Native Americans. Both railroads were paid handsomely with land grants of 6,400 acres and $48,000 in Government bonds for each mile, and both companies built furiously and competitively (the Union Pacific won a bet laying 10 miles of track in a single day). The two railroads initially went right by each other; compensated by miles of track built they had no incentive to correct their error. Finally, though, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific met on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Summit. Stanford and Durant famously drove the final 18K golden spike with a silver hammer. Both magnates had talents, but swinging a sledgehammer wasn’t one (they missed the spike and laborers who built the railroad did the final honors). The actual golden spike was immediately removed and now resides at Stanford University.
Jupiter (the Central Pacific locomotive built by Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York) and No. 119 (the Union Pacific’s, built by Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works of Paterson, New Jersey) were the two celebrated locomotives whose cowcatchers kissed at Promontory Summit. Both were substitutes. Leland Stanford originally selected a locomotive christened Antelope, but it struck a log en route to Promontory and had to be replaced by Jupiter. Durant’s train was initially pulled by a different locomotive, too, when Durant encountered a problem in Wyoming. Durant’s workers had been laid off when construction ended, and 400 of them chained his train to the rails. No. 119 was rushed in as a replacement.
Both locomotives were sold for scrap in the early 1900s (reportedly for $1,000 each). Morris Udall, Secretary of the Interior during the Johnson Administration, wanted to celebrate the Transcontinental Railroad’s centennial anniversary, but alas, both historic locomotives were long gone. Udall initiated an effort that culminated in O’Connor Engineering Laboratories (of Costa Mesa, California) reverse engineering historic photos and building replicas of both locomotives and their tenders. The reborn locomotives emerged on May 10, 1979, exactly 110 years after completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
We arrived at Golden Spike National Historic Park late in the day to see the last presentation by the docents (with both locomotives emitting steam in the background). The docents invited us to stay and watch Jupiter and No. 119 head back to the roundhouse under their own power. It was beyond impressive. — Joe Berk