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Golden Spike National Historical Park at Promontory, Utah.

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A journey across the plains was a formidable undertaking, that required great patience and endurance. Now all is changed… The six month’s journey is reduced to less than a week. The prairie schooner has passed away, and is replaced by the railway coach with all its modern comforts.

Stephen Tyng Mather
July 4, 1867 – January 22, 1930
He laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations. There will never come an end to the good that he has done.

Last Spike Driven

Noon… Monday… May 10th, 1869

A rough crowd had gathered at the far set of tracks 75 yards ahead. Six million spikes and six years work lay behind them. Now, only one section of rails was left undone. The honor of ceremonially “finishing” the Pacific railroad with a spike maul hot-wired to the telegraph line fell to the two rail barons who had spearheaded the roadbuilding: Stanford and Durant.

Speeches were given and then a lengthy prayer. Governor Stanford stepped up, took the hammer, swung, and missed. The Dr. Durant took his turn… and also missed the spike. With each swing of the mauls, the crowd of workingmen broke into spontaneous applause.

James Strobridge and Samuel Reed, the crews bosses for the two roads, then took up un-wired mauls and divided the last blows between them, as the air exploded with hurrahs.

With those last few swings, the billion-dollar dream of the world’s first transcontinental railroad became a reality.

Transforming Communication: from Coast to Coast

Not only did the Railroad Act of 1862 lay out a grand plan of connecting the continent by rail, but the legislation called for a communication transformation as well. A telegraph line was to be strung along the transcontinental route ushering in an era of instant communication from coast to coast.

For four year, Americans closely followed the progress of the Pacific Railroad in their newspapers, anxious to see it completed. By May of 1869, intense attention was focused on this desolate corner of northern Utah. The entire country was eager for the word that the last spike had been driven.

Through the miracle of electricity and a tiny copper wire a telegraph signal triggered a truly transcontinental extravaganza.

As the word went out over the wires, the nation went wild. In city after city, church bells rang, trains hooted, fire engines howled, gongs clanged, and canons thundered. Citizens thronged to the streets to watch parades. People sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” prayed, and shouted themselves hoarse. Countless orators hailed this as “great day” of national destiny.

Park Valley Rock
Located approximately sixty miles northwest of Golden Spike NHS, near the town of Park Valley, Utah, quarries of unique red and green rock were tapped to obtain the material used to build this Visitor Center. The red rock is ferrous (iron) quartzite, and the green rock is cupreous (copper) quartzite. The only other cupreous quartzite quarry is located in China.

Replica “Jupiter” and “119” steam locomotives designed and built by O’Connor Engineering Laboratories. Coast Mesa, California 1979.

The National Park Service gratefully acknowledges the gift by Southern Pacific Company of 15 1/2 miles of its right-of-way. This donation helped make this historic site possible.

Evolution of Rail

Helping to Build a Nation

Steel production increased rapidly in the United States after the Civil War. Prior to the war, the United States had not produced one single steel rail. By 1873, it had produced nearly 115,000 tons of steel rail. As steel prices continued to decrease, the old iron rails disappeared from the landscape and were replaced with shiny new steel ones. The transition from iron to steel decreased railroad costs, increased efficiency and facilitated the emergence of a new, stronger, more prosperous nation from the aftermath of the Civil War.

Rail Today

The railroad industry has undergone many changes since the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Mammoth diesel-powered locomotives roar down the tracks in place of their steam-driven ancestors, ghost towns dot the countryside where once thriving communities supported the early railroad and airplanes have become the dominant mode of long-distance passenger travel. Despite these and other changes, basic “T” shape rail has endured. Even today, you will find “T” rail on any modern railroad.

Original Rail

Spanning a Continent

The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 mandated that American-made iron be used to fabricate all rail for the transcontinental railroad. Although steel was more durable, it was not widely available in the United States at that time. It was a costly import item primarily reserved to make specialty products, such as swords and precision instruments, for the Civil War. In contrast to steel, iron was easily accessible in the United States and cost much less. Thus, the demand for iron to use for building the transcontinental railroad helped to boost the domestic economy and iron became the material that spanned a continent, linking our nation east to west.

A New Era

The transcontinental railroad brought a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity to the United States, but the use of iron rail was outdated technology even as it helped to usher in this new era. The outdated iron rail was soon replaced with sturdy steel rail, which became more widely available in the United States by the 1870s.

To the Irish who toiled on the Transcontinental Railroad uniting our Nation.
(The Hibernian Society of Utah, March 17, 1996)

The Golden Spike Centennial Celebration Commission

May 9, 1969

In this photo, taken one day before the transcontinental line was completed, a 30-foot gap in the railroad remained. A tent town quickly grew around the Last Spike Site, and two of the first businesses, the Restaurant and the Red Cloud Saloon, can be seen in the background. Within days, numerous other tents would appear as the town of Promontory came into existence. Behind the crowd are some of the cars which carried Central Pacific Railroad dignitaries to the celebration.

May 10, 1869

With an officer of the Twenty-first U.S. Infantry posed on the completed tracks and men of his regiment behind him, dignitaries of the Union Pacific Railroad stand for a photograph. Dr. Thomas C. Durant, Union Pacific Vice President, is seen at center, wearing the gauntlets. To his left, the gentleman with the white muttonchops whiskers is Union Pacific Director Sidney Dillon. Third person to Dillon’s left is Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Chief Engineer.

Completion 1869

Lacking precise instructions from Congress as to where to meet, and spurred by financial rewards for building grade, both railroad companies prepared railbed past each other for 250 miles. No parallel track was ever laid.

Promontory Summit was chosen as the point for the joining of the rails.

September 1869

The transcontinental railroad was a commercial link which opened new markets and figuratively united the nation with bands of rail. Seen here are the Union Pacific Railroad fruit cars en route to California to be loaded with perishables for Eastern markets. For a few months in 1869 and 1870, Promontory was a vital hub in this exchange of passengers and freight.

September 1869

Four months after completion, Promontory was a notorious boomtown composed of hotels, saloons, and gambling tents with a few stores and shops. Transcontinental passengers changed trains here until mid-1870. Many were victimized by Resident gamblers and con artists. Newspaperman J. H. Beadle noted of the town:
“4,900 feet above sea level, though theologically speaking, if we interpret scripture literally, it out to have been 49,000 feet below that level, for it certainly was for its size, morally nearest to the infernal regions of any town on the road.”

September 8, 1942

After the opening of the Lucin Cutoff in 1904, the historic rail line north of the Great Salt Lake was of minimal importance. In 1942 the last spike was ceremonially “undriven” here before a crowd of Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and state dignitaries. In a few months, the entire line between Corinne and Lucin was salvaged, with the steel directed to America’s war effort.

The Locomotives of Golden Spike – Jupiter

In 1868, Schenectady Locomotive Works in New York built the Jupiter for the Central Pacific Railroad. Steaming her way into history, the Jupiter hauled Central Pacific President Leland Stanford’s special train to Promontory Summit for the joining of the rails. The Jupiter remained in service until the turn of the 20th century when, outmoded and unheralded, she was scrapped for the standard fee of $1,000.

The Locomotives of Golden Spike – No. 119

In November 1868, Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works pf Paterson, New Jersey build the Union Pacific No. 119. Six months later No. 119 received the call to pull Union Pacific Vice President Thomas Durant and his contingent to Promontory Summit. The No. 119 served out her days with the Union Pacific as a freight locomotive until dismantled in 1903 for the standard scrapper’s fee of $1,000.