Our Vantage Points
Promontory, Utah
I've lost count of the times we've visited Utah.  We've experienced quite a number of its delights, yet there were a few sections of this state that remained shrouded from our experience.  So, driven by a nagging curiosity, we set out to lift the shrouds.

Breaking camp, we left Three Island Crossing at about 8 AM.  By noon we were crossing into northern Utah on this beautiful Tuesday, April 27.  The quasi-spontaneous plan was to stop at Promontory, Utah, the place of the golden spike, to enjoy our lunch and to review some interesting history.

From my elementary school days, I knew about the meeting of the rails at a place called Promontory, somewhere in the vicinity of Ogden, Utah.

Today, we were impressed by just how bleak and utterly remote is this place called "Promontory."  There's virtually nothing here except some old tracks, and a few telegraph poles flanked by a beautiful new stone-veneered visitor's center.  It is fashioned as a fine railroad station.

As is our lot, the visitor's center was closed except, thankfully, the restrooms.  I had read that it was open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Hmmm.... My paranoia has flared again. They surely knew we were coming.  .... But we enjoyed our sandwiches and fruit.
All was not lost.  We were free to roam the grounds and take pictures, and we learned most of what we needed to know from the placards in the area. 

For four years leading up to 1869, newspapers all over America carried telegraphed reports of the construction progress of this first trans-continental railroad.  The Central Pacific Railroad Company began at Sacramento and worked eastward.  The Union Pacific began at Omaha and worked westward.  Both companies built their railroad in phases: surveying, roadbed grading, then track laying.  Each phase had to lead the next for long distances, sometimes hundreds of miles.  Congress agreed to subsidize both companies according to the miles of finished track laid.  So what did the railroad companies do?  They worked past each other building parallel roadbed for 250 miles.  They even laid track past each other for several miles before Congress stepped in and told them to connect the rails at Promontory Summit.  It was speciously claimed that Congress was to blame by not clearly defining how construction was to be concluded.  Duh!

Thus on May 10, 1869 with one rail section to go, the Central Pacific moved it's "Jupiter" locomotive to the east end of its last rail section, and the Union Pacific moved it's locomotive "No. 119" to the west end of its rail.  With great ceremony and 600 people watching, the final rail was laid and the final spike driven.  Telegraph operator, W.N. Shilling, provided on-the-spot reporting of the ceremony for the nation.  People had gathered in many cities to celebrate the moment the event was heralded via telegraph wires.  "Promontory Summit" had become household words similar in meaning to: "The Eagle has landed." exactly 100 years and 2 months later.

Some have claimed that "the eagle" never landed on the moon.  It was all simulated on earth.  Well, I hope you are not too disappointed that the final spike at Promontory was not gold.  Oh yes, there was a gold spike, indeed there were gold and silver spikes.  But they were dropped into pre-bored holes in a polished laurel tie.  Gold and silver are too soft to be readily driven into solid wood with a sledge hammer.  Those spikes and the tie were removed and steel spikes were driven into a real railroad tie.  That's when three dots were tapped out by W.N. Shilling and the celebration began from sea to shining sea.  Now you know... the rest of the story!



Promontory quickly became a busy railroad terminus for freight and passengers. But by early 1870 the buildings and tents were gone.  All activity had been moved to Ogden, about 40 miles southeast.

With better railroutes soon to follow, the rails through Promontory gradually came into disuse.  Alas, these rails were removed during World War II so that the steel could be used to support the war effort.

But by 1969, the golden spike centennial year, the old rail beds and associated real estate became a national historic site.  Telegraph lines, and rails were restored to replicate the 1869 facilities at the original Promontory town site.



There never was a railroad station like this at Promontory.  This structure can only symbolize the greatness of the dream that was realized at this desolate spot on May 10, 1869.
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