I’ve known about the Golden Spike almost as long as I’ve known my hero. That we were just a few (well, 90) miles away from that legendary place, coupled with the fact that there isn’t a great deal to do in Salt Lake City on a Sunday made a visit a bit of a no brainer.
Perhaps you’re not a railway buff yourself, or married to one? In that case, stay with me and all will be revealed!
Out in the open countryside, north of the Salt Lake then. A place where there’s little happening beyond the boundaries of the ATK facility (formerly known as Thiokol). We noticed broad tracks up on the hillsides as we drove along, saw signposts to ATK but had no idea of what was their business until we asked the question and learned that they make the booster rockets for the Space Shuttle amongst other things (missiles?). Hmmm. I suppose those tracks up into the hills were used to transport such things?
Of course, that’s not why we were driving through this part of the state. We were headed for Promontory Point and another of the wonderful National Park centres. Another few miles down the road and we pulled into the car park, surprised that on this Sunday morning there were already quite a few people there.
The minute we stepped inside the building, we saw the reason why we were here. There, just outside and visible through the window, was an old railway locomotive, sitting on the tracks quietly steaming. A group of people were taking a close look, taking photographs and chatting to a Park Ranger.
As we stood waiting to show Mary’s Golden Pass and collect our tickets, we heard that we were in for a treat, because in just fifteen minutes time, the second locomotive was going to arrive and illustrate the Golden Spike Ceremony.
Because, this was the place where the Central Pacific Railroad, which was built from California going east, met with the Union Pacific Railroad, built from Omaha going west. The meeting of the rails, as it were. The event was of huge significance and was marked by the hammering in of a golden spike, done with great ceremony by Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific.
These days, there is no golden spike, sad to say. As the Ranger said, even if they fitted a gold coloured one, they’d have to replace it every day because of souvenir hunters. So, instead, there’s a commemorative sleeper (or “tie” if you’re American) with a plaque.
Anyway, we were happy looking around the “Jupiter”, when the unmistakeable sound of the Union Pacific 119 was heard and we saw it coming from down the line. Both of these engines are replicas, built in 1975 with attention to the smallest detail to ensure their authenticity.
We were, of course, engulfed in a cloud of black sooty smoke as the 119 went by, revealing our inexperience of being around steam trains. Never mind, a brisk breeze soon sorted the smuts out!
And there we were, two engines sitting nose to nose, still gently breathing steam and, from a distance, looking remarkably like two model railway engines! After a few more photographs, we returned to the visitor centre where one of the Rangers gave an excellent presentation about the workers who built the railway. What a story!
We left Promontory and drove back via Ogden, where we found a bite to eat and a few more locomotives! Though I’m not especially interested in railway engines, I do find the immensity and the engineering fascinating and I was happy to get up close to these giants and take a few photographs.
To think, one of these engines was powerful enough to pull a train of 7 miles long. Amazing.
As we went back to the car, I spotted a little mailbox with free walking tour maps of Ogden in it. I opened the box to take one, but instead, found this.
I’ll leave it to your imagination what the letter said…