Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Golden Spike National Historic Site - Utah

We drove from Zion NP up to Ogden to spend the night before heading up to Idaho and decided the next morning to swing by the Golden Spike (GS) site before going north. (Oh, the Interstate from south of Provo up to Ogden is brutal! 90 miles of city traffic.) I thought it would be worth our time, being so close, to visit such a historical site.

The GS site is where the two trains met that made for the first transcontinental railroad in the United States back in 1869. "May 10, 1869 the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory and forged the destiny of a nation. Golden Spike National Historic Site shares the stories of the people and settings that define the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad." 

A bit of history: Both east and west trains had a difficult time. The train that started east from Sacramento, California had to go through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the winter. Get this:  Among the extreme conditions that the workers had to survive were the unbearable snow storms.  During the winter of 1866-1867, there were 44 blizzards while the building of the Summit Tunnel proceeded.  The storms were anywhere from a short squall to a two week blizzard, with between one-quarter of an inch and ten feet of accumulation of snow.  The heaviest storm started on February 18 at 2 p.m. and lasted until February 22 at 10 p.m. and dropped six feet of snow.  The storm started again five days later and lasted until March 2, with ten feet of total accumulation.  These storms often blocked tunnel entrances and slowed work considerably.  It took one half of the crew (4,500 men) to keep the track shoveled.  Avalanches buried alive laborers, both American and Chinese.  Throughout the snowy conditions, the workers averaged only eight inches of track per day, blasting through solid rock.

Eight inches a day!

Now, the train that started west from Omaha had blizzards, Indian raids that killed the surveyors and graders, floods, extreme heat....amazing that either train made the final journey!

To get to the GS site, you head north about 18 miles then turn west and go about 50 miles or so. At first, the land is green and agricultural but soon evolves into scrub cattle land. Eventually you get to the "middle of nowhere". And that's where you'll find the Visitor's Center.

If you look REAL closely, you'll see some building in the distance. That's where the GS site is located!

...almost there....

Made it !

The anniversary (114th?) of the meeting of the two trains was to be held the Saturday after we were there so the locomotives were practicing and I got to take some photos. The 119, which came from the east and the 60 (the Jupiter) which came from the west and then they came close until they were almost touching.

Locomotives actually looked this way in 1869. Not until the turn of the century did they start to go to flat black.

There are all kinds of signals that the trains make to indicate what they're doing or are about to do. For instance, one short blast means Stop. The 119 pulls up to where it's going to stop and makes the one blast "STOP". Then the 60 pulled up to it and they had the celebration.

Gorgeous aren't they?

Quite a site...and so colorful!

The ceremony for the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869; completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right). By Andrew J. Russell

The center had a great railroad exhibit illustrating the techniques necessary to build the railroads.

A good book to read if you're interested. The park rangers like this book more than the one they're required to read to work at the park....more informative.

While talking to some of the park rangers they said, "Some of the darker parts of the railroad were the way both men, Stanford and Durant... especially Durant, scammed the US government throughout the endeavor. This is one of the main reasons there is so little historical record of the entire production of the one wanted to write down what was really happening. The making of the transcontinental railroad makes for some very interesting historical reading."

A replica of the golden spike. The "Last Spike" now lies in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.

I went in alone on this visit. Kim stayed in the coach but consented to wave to her adoring audience!

For more reading....

Hope you enjoyed this one...kinda long but very history always is.

Kim and Steve


  1. Beautiful steam engines. Kim also looks good in the co-pilot seat.

  2. Aren't they gorgeous! So colorful.

    Kim did not want to come in so I had to cut my time inside a bit short. The building was small so it had much more than I expected.

  3. please post the exact directions. 18 miles north? from where? on what road? 50 miles west? again..... from where? what road? it looks like I would end up in the middle of nowhere with a wrong turn. seems like a great side trip. great photos!