Sunday, June 30, 2013


Before we get any further into our activities in Utah (I should have put this at the beginning of the Bonneville Blog) I have to say something about an unexpected sight as we drove through eastern Nevada. Steam Vents. Natural Steam vents. We were very surprised to see steam venting from the ground and shortly thereafter we passed a geothermal electric plant where this steam is harnessed and used to generate electricity. Okay – enough of that.

Steam Vents in the Desert

The sign says "Danger, Scalding Water"

Promontory Summit Utah – 66 miles north of Salt Lake City

On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, (not Promontory Point as I thought) Utah Territory and forged the destiny of the nation.

The Golden Spike National Historic Site shares this historic event through displays in the visitor's center and reenactments. We were able to catch one of the reenactments.

First they bring out the trains:

The Jupiter

The Jupiter pulled Central Pacific’s President, Leland Stanford’s, special train to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, for the Golden Spike Ceremony.

Replica - but as exact as possible
Click this link for the arrival of the Jupiter
The Jupiter Arrives


Engine No. 119

Engine No. 119 received the call to pull Union Pacific Vice- President Thomas Durant and his contingent of dignitaries to Promontory Summit.


Engine 119 Arrives
Again - a replica but as close to the original as possible

Then the reenactors give short speeches (as opposed to what the actual verbose oratory of the day would have been), and provide a feel for how the ceremony proceeded (if there had been a few hundred more people here)

Speech Making
The engines nose to nose as they would have
been in 1869

Then it is time to drive The Ceremonial Spikes

4 of them – A golden spike from San Francisco contractor David Hewes, friend of Leland Stanford; a silver spike from Nevada, a gold and silver plated spike from Arizona Territory, a second golden spike from Frederick Marriott, owner of the San Francisco News Letter. None of these were actually “hit” but placed and tapped with a ceremonial silver maul.

"Thomas Durant" tries to stay upright when driving the final spike. 

(The first gold spike and the silver spike now reside at Stanford University. The Arizona Spike is owned by the Museum of the City of New York.  The location of the 4th spike is unknown - so check your attics)

After the precious metal spikes were removed, an ordinary pine tie was placed to be driven with normal iron spikes. Leland Stanford took a mighty swing at the final spike and struck the tie instead. Durant, not feeling well (drunk) swung and missed even the tie. Finally a regular railroad worker drove the last spike and the Western Union telegraph operator sent the message D-O-N-E.

The building of the transcontinental railroad is a fascinating story and if you would like to learn more I highly recommend: Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose and to follow that Rival Rails: The Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter R. Borneman.  

It is my hope that someone reading these blogs will be inspired to learn more about United States history!

We also recommend visiting this national historic site and witnessing the reenactment.


Paul Viscovich said...

Your commentary is always informative and educational. I wish you'd been my history teacher in high school!

Paul Viscovich said...