|Replica of the Golden Spike|
When I planned our driving route for our Western US road trip, I decided to make a slight detour after passing through Salt Lake City, Utah to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
I have always been fascinated by the “golden spike” that joined a nation and signaled the beginning of an end of an era. So hey, I wanted to see it . . . Little did I know that the ORIGINAL golden spike is actually housed in Stanford University’s library. The one at the Golden Spike Historic Site is a replica that was taken on the space shuttle Atlantis.
Either way, our visit was worth it because of the history it represented.
Why was this gold spike so important? Because with train travel linking the prosperous East Coast to the wide open ranges and new opportunities on the West Coast, people no longer had to use bulky (and slow) wagon trains to start a new life.
They could take the train.
Breaking ground in January 1863, the Union Pacific set out from Omaha, Nebraska while the Central Pacific Railroad began pushing east from Sacramento, California. The Union Pacific used mainly Irish, Italian, and German immigrants and the Central Pacific hired thousands of Chinese workers, brought in solely to grade the land, dig tunnels, and lay track.
|The railroad ties that were laid|
Of the two groups, the Central Pacific definitely had the harder of the two paths. During one particularly brutal winter, their progress slowed to a mere EIGHT inches per day because they had to chisel out tunnels through the solid rock of the Sierra Nevadas.
When the groups finally met on May 10, 1869, a gold spike was tapped once, then replaced with a more practical iron spike.
|Last tie laid to join a nation|
All of the above history, my kids learned from watching a 30-minute Charlie Brown cartoon entitled This is America, Charlie Brown: The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad before heading out to see the actual spot. I so desperately wanted to buy a copy of this excellent video, but alas, it’s been out of circulation due to copyright problems.
|Replicas of the Jupiter and No. 119 steam engines|
It was a great place for photos and a chance to look at these beautiful steam engines, as well as force my guys to reenact the famous handshake between representatives of the two railroad companies – Leland Stanford (Central Pacific) and Thomas Durant (Union Pacific).
|My guys “reenacting” the famous handshake|
A small museum on the site showed us the tools needed to lay the 1,776 miles of track . . .
|Actual track from the original railroad|
. . . and then we were back in the car, heading for our next destination – Jackson, WY.