Monday, July 8, 2013

Golden Spike National Historic Spike

I do believe this was on John's bucket list, to see the place where the final spike was driven for the transcontinental railroad.  We had been following the history, as well as the historical sites for that railroad, since Omaha Nebraska, so it also would only have made sense to follow up on the end of the story at the Promontory Summit in Utah.  Reenactments of the story are done on weekends during the summer months, so we timed our visit to watch the commemorative ceremony of the driving of the golden spike.  The park has working replicas of the 1869 locomotives  "119" as well as the "Jupiter".  About 1.7 miles of track have been relaid on the original roadbed where the rails were joined.  The ceremony began with the two trains from the east and west meeting, after which a prayer was said.  The telegraph operator at the site sent out a message:  " We have got done praying.  The spike is about to be presented."
The details of the ceremony done on May 10, 1969 are hazy, so I am sure that the park service wrote their own reenactment.  The  prayer was followed by several speeches given by actors playing the roles of the governors of the surrounding states, as well as Central Pacific president Leland Stanford and Union Pacific  vice president Thomas Durant.   The famous golden spike was then presented to Leland Stanford who placed the spike in a previously drilled hole.  In reality, 4 ceremonial spikes were presented that day and the "last spike" driven into the railroad tie was made of ordinary iron. The telegraph operator standing by made sure the importance of the event was made known across the nation the minute it happened.  He is pictured below sitting at a table near the Union Pacific locomotive. His message was:  Dot..Dot..Dot...Done."
The story was, as we were told it on Saturday, that the two officials of the railroads were not successful in getting the iron spike in, so a foreman of the railroad crew stepped in to perform the final pounding.
Another humorous note here; during the reenactment Saturday some attention was taken away from the ceremony by a bull snake.  People jumped up on their seats and someone ran for a park ranger.
The ranger reassured everyone that it was a harmless snake who only kills rattlesnakes.  He was unable to get the snake to go away because the snake then hid under the bleachers.  All the ranger could then do is stand by with a net and a pole to keep everyone happy.  After the ceremony John and I drove on an auto trail along the old Central Pacific roadbed, and took one hike off that road to look at the old fills and trestles.  In the end, the two railroad companies, lacking precise instructions from Congress as to where to meet and spurned on by financial rewards for building the railroad, prepared grade past each other for 250 miles.  President Grant put a stop to that and chose Promontory Summit as the meeting point for the transcontinental railroad.  To get to the meeting point both railroads had to climb a long grade which involved many cuts and fills.  All of the final track has been replaced by the causeway across the Great Salt Lake.

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