Wednesday, June 01, 2011

12:47 P.M. May 10, 1869

12:47 on May 10, 1869 is one of those dates when everything changed.

At Promontory, Utah, a golden spike was driven to finish the first coast-to-coast railroad in the United States. Until then, travel across the continent was by horse, wagon, or walking. Merchandise and building materials, and sometimes people, could travel by ship, but sailing was not a fast way to go and was expensive. Ships loaded on the eastern shore had to then sail around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America and back up the west coasts of South America before docking at a western port such as San Francisco.

Authorized by Congress during the Civil War, the construction of the First Transcontinental Railway was begun from both ends, eventually to meet somewhere in the middle. The eastbound Central Pacific began work in 1963. The westbound Union Pacific, due to a lack of materials and workers because of the war, was delayed until 1865. Once they got near the end, the competition was so intense that the teams actually graded the rail bed past each other for 250 miles before the official meeting place, Promontory, Utah, was announced.

At the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the ceremonial meeting of a locomotive from each of the competing companies is semi-recreated each day. In 1869, the Union Pacific No 119, coming from the east, and the Central Pacific's Jupiter, coming from the west, met head to head, and the final golden spike was driven into the tie to signify the connection of the two ends of the continent.

The park owns replicas of both locomotives, but today they only had the Jupiter in operation. We watched it come from its housing in the east, and back along the track so it could, authentically, come in from the west. Once it had pulled close to the meeting place, its brakes were set and the wheels "chocked" (I'm sure there is another more "trainy" phrase for it, but being an RVer this is the first term that came to mind):
Once they were sure the train was secure and wouldn't kill any tourists, we were allowed to get a closer look. The lighter colored laurel wood tie in front on the cow-catcher is the place where the final spike was pounded in.
In the middle of the tie is this plaque:
It reads, "The last tie we laid on the completion of the Pacific Railroad, May, 1869."

And with this completion came the real opening of the west. Goods, services, and people could make the trip more quickly, with less loss of goods, and in more safety. The west would never be the same.

1 comment:

Sharon Del Rosario said...

Your blog brought back some memories for me. What a historic place. Thanks for the great pics.