Our trip to Sunset, Utah
Today was our first official tourist or sightseeing day on this trip. We determined to make the best of the warm (not hot) dry early fall day by visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site early in the day before things Warmed up. In our research on this site we knew that this is high plains desert territory and there is no shade trees to protect us from the sun. This site, located about 30 miles north of Sunset, is the site where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad met on May 10, 1869. On that day the officials of both railroads along with about 100 (reports vary from 300 to 1500 but locals say about 100) others gathered to drive four symbolic spikes (two gold), celebrating the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. As we arrived at the site we could hear the sound of train whistles and were told we were just in time for the reenactment of this momentous event.
Local volunteers assemble each Saturday for a historical reenactment of the driving of the golden spikes. This takes place at the historical site building, which is located on the original track site and on the same spot it occurred back in the 1860’s. The original highly polished laurel wood tie had holes predrilled to accept the precious metal spikes that were purely symbolic and of course removed when the track was put into service. The tie in this picture is of course a replica, the original was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire.
The local volunteers that reenact the ceremony every Saturday added a great deal to our experience. All seemed to have studied the actual event and presented themselves in a manner that made us feel like we had stepped back in time.
The ceremony begins with the arrival of the #119 train that represented the Union Pacific Railroad from the East. The ceremony was delayed for two days because of problems faced by the Union Pacific Vice-President Thomas Durant getting to Promontory Summit. It seems that Mr. Durant had a bit of a problem with handling the money to pay the workers and they kidnapped him until they were paid. In the picture below you can see #119 approaching the ceremony site.
The original ceremony, and the reenactment, included an invocation by the Reverend Dr. John Todd of Pittsfield, MA and then speeches and presentation of the spikes. After the ceremonial placement of the spikes and a very careful tap on them with a silver spike maul, the actual last spike was driven in a pine tie that replaced the polished laurel wood tie. It was reported at the time, and duplicated in this reenactment that Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific, made the first attempt to drive the final spike but missed it and hit the tie. He was followed by Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific who made an attempt but he was reported to be suffering from a self inflicted headache from a party the night before. In the end a railroad worker finished the job of actually driving the last spike.
A telegrapher was on hand to wire the news of the end of the ceremony with the message, “D-O-N-E.” The time was 12:47 p.m., Monday, May 10, 1869. Following the ceremony the reenactment participants posed for pictures in front of the Jupiter, the California based engine.
It is interesting to note that both engines and tender cars are reproductions built for this historical site in 1979. The original #119 was sold for scrap ($1,000) in 1903 and the Jupiter followed a couple years later. The picture below is the reproduction #119.