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NRHS Promontory Summit Golden Spike Ceremonies 5/10/2019

by Chris Guenzler

I got up at 5:00 AM, worked on the Frontrunner story, awoke Robin and we walked to JB's Restaurant meeting Bob and Elizabeth for breakfast and we all had the breakfast buffet. I worked on the story until it was time for our NRHS safety meeting for today's activities. I went downstairs with Dan Meyer who gave me my radio for the next two days' use. I then was told by John Goodman to get out to the curb to do my Bus 1 duties. The bus arrived and I took the first seat as we always do, put my bag down, got my script out and then loaded the bus, taking only fifty passengers. I pointed out items of interest to my passengers all the way out to Promontory Summit.

Promontory Summit History

Promontory Summit is an area of high ground in Box Elder County, Utah, 32 miles west of Brigham City and 66 miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Rising to an elevation of 4,902 feet above sea level, it lies to the north of the Promontory Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. It is notable as the location of Promontory Summit, where the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was officially completed on May 10, 1869.

By the summer of 1868, the Central Pacific had completed the first rail route through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and was now moving down towards the Interior Plains and the Union Pacific line. More than 4,000 workers, of whom two thirds were Chinese, had laid more than 100 miles of track at altitudes above 7,000 ft. In May 1869, the railheads of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads finally met at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. A specially-chosen Chinese and Irish crew had taken only 12 hours to lay the final 10 miles of track in time for the ceremony.

The Golden Spike History

The golden spike (also known as The Last Spike) is the ceremonial 17.6-karat gold final spike driven by Leland Stanford to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United States connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. The term last spike has been used to refer to one driven at the usually ceremonial completion of any new railroad construction projects, particularly those in which construction is undertaken from two disparate origins towards a meeting point. The spike is now displayed in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University.

Completing the last link in the transcontinental railroad with a spike of gold was the brainchild of David Hewes, a San Francisco financier and contractor. The spike had been manufactured earlier that year especially for the event by the William T. Garratt Foundry in San Francisco. Two of the sides were engraved with the names of the railroad officers and directors. A special tie of polished California laurel was chosen to complete the line where the spike would be driven. The ceremony was originally to be held on May 8, 1869 (the date actually engraved on the spike), but it was postponed two days because of bad weather and a labor dispute that delayed the arrival of the Union Pacific side of the rail line.

On May 10, in anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (better known as the Jupiter) locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit. It is unknown how many people attended the event; estimates run from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000; government and railroad officials and track workers were present to witness the event. Before the last spike was driven, three other commemorative spikes, presented on behalf of the other three members of the Central Pacific's Big Four who did not attend the ceremony, had been driven in the pre-bored laurel tie: a second, lower-quality gold spike, supplied by the San Francisco News Letter was made of $200 worth of gold and inscribed: With this spike the San Francisco News Letter offers its homage to the great work which has joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. A silver spike, supplied by the State of Nevada; forged, rather than cast, of 25 troy ounces of unpolished silver. A blended iron, silver and gold spike, supplied by the Arizona Territory, engraved: Ribbed with iron clad in silver and crowned with gold Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded a continent and dictated a pathway to commerce. This spike was given to Union Pacific President Oliver Ames following the ceremony. It is on display at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The golden spike was made of 17.6-karat (73%) copper-alloyed gold, and weighed 14.03 troy ounces. It was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel ceremonial last tie, and gently tapped into place with a silver ceremonial spike maul. The spike was engraved on all four sides: The Pacific Railroad ground broken January 8, 1863, and completed May 8, 1869.

Directors of the C. P. R. R. of Cal. Hon. Leland Stanford. C. P. Huntington. E. B. Crocker. Mark Hopkins. A. P. Stanford. E. H. Miller Jr. Officers. Hon. Leland Stanford. Presdt. C. P. Huntington Vice Presdt. E. B. Crocker. Atty. Mark Hopkins. Tresr. Chas Crocker Gen. Supdt. E. H. Miller Jr. Secty. S. S. Montague. Chief Engr.

"May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world". Presented by David Hewes San Francisco.

A second golden spike, exactly like the one from the ceremony, was cast and engraved at the same time. It was held, unknown to the public, by the Hewes family until 2005. This second spike is now on permanent display, along with Thomas Hill's famous painting The Last Spike, at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

With the locomotives drawn so near, the crowd pressed so closely around Stanford and the other railroad officials that the ceremony became somewhat disorganized, leading to varying accounts of the actual events. Contrary to the myth that the Central Pacific's Chinese laborers were specifically excluded from the festivities, A.J. Russell stereoview No. 539 shows the "Chinese at Laying Last Rail UPRR". Eight Chinese laid the last rail, and three of these men, Ging Cui, Wong Fook, and Lee Shao, lived long enough to also participate in the 50th anniversary parade. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Chinese participating were honored and cheered by the CPRR officials and that road's construction chief, J.H Strobridge, at a dinner in his private car.

To drive the final spike, Stanford lifted a silver spike maul and drove the spike into the tie, completing the line. Stanford and Hewes missed the spike, but the single word "done" was nevertheless flashed by telegraph around the country. In the United States, the event has come to be considered one of the first nationwide media events. The locomotives were moved forward until their "cowcatchers" met, and photographs were taken. Immediately afterwards, the golden spike and the laurel tie were removed, lest they be stolen, and replaced with a regular iron spike and normal tie. At exactly 12:47 pm, the last iron spike was driven, finally completing the line.

After the ceremony, the Golden Spike was donated to the Stanford Museum (now Cantor Arts Center) in 1898. The last laurel tie was destroyed in the fires caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.


Although the Promontory event marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad line, it did not actually mark the completion of a seamless coast-to-coast rail network: neither Sacramento nor Omaha was a seaport, nor did they have rail connections until after they were designated as the termini. The Mossdale Bridge, which was the final section across the San Joaquin River near Lathrop, California, was finally completed in September 1869 connecting Sacramento in California. Passengers were required to cross the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska, by boat until the building of the Union Pacific Missouri River Bridge in 1872. In the meantime, a coast-to-coast rail link was achieved in August 1870 in Strasburg, Colorado, by the completion of the Denver extension of the Kansas Pacific Railway. In 1904 a new railroad route called the Lucin Cutoff was built by-passing the Promontory location to the south. By going west across the Great Salt Lake from Ogden, Utah, to Lucin, Utah, the new railroad line shortened the distance by 43 miles and avoided curves and grades. Main line trains no longer passed over Promontory Summit.

In 1942, the old rails over Promontory Summit were salvaged for the war effort; the event was marked by a ceremonial "undriving" of the last iron spike. The original event had been all but forgotten except by local residents, who erected a commemorative marker in 1943. The following year a commemorative postage stamp was issued to mark the 75th anniversary. The years after the war saw a revival of interest in the event; the first re-enactment was staged in 1948. In 1957, Congress established the Golden Spike National Historic Site to preserve the area around Promontory Summit as closely as possible to its appearance in 1869. O'Connor Engineering Laboratories in Costa Mesa, California, designed and built working replicas of the locomotives present at the original ceremony for the Park Service. These engines are drawn up face-to-face each Saturday during the summer for a re-enactment of the event.

For the May 10, 1969, centennial of the driving of the last spike, the High Iron Company ran a steam-powered excursion train round trip from New York City to Promontory. The Golden Spike Centennial Limited transported over 100 passengers including, for the last leg into Salt Lake City, actor John Wayne. The Union Pacific Railroad also sent a special display train and the US Army Transportation Corp sent a steam-powered 3-car special from Fort Eustis, Virginia. On May 10, 2006, on the anniversary of the driving of the spike, Utah announced that its state quarter design would be a depiction of the driving of the spike. The Golden Spike design was selected as the winner from among several others by Utah's governor, Jon Huntsman, Jr., following a period during which Utah residents voted and commented on their favorite of three finalists.

Our NRHS Visit

We flew up the freeway but when we got onto Utah 18, we encountered traffic that was bumper to bumper heading to Promontory. A Walmart truck was right in front of us and he had to put up with all the people heading to Promontory instead of his usual light traffic on this road. We came to a curve where there were people handing out information which was the cause of the slowdown. We arrived at the park and I pointed out the Big Fill and the abandoned grades to my passengers. We continued onward until we made the final turn toward Promontory where we were greeted by a mile of a American flags on the south side of the road only.

American flags along our route.

A look at the Promontory site.

Another traffic jam.

Golden Spike National Historic Park sign.

The view our NRHS group would have at the ceremonies. Once I found our seating area, I had to go back and forth five times to lead people to their reserved seats. Finally I had a moment to go to the press tent and get my press pass then I walked to the press area which I discovered was about four feet too short to shoot over all the people.

Lance Fritz, Chairman and CEO of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Descendents of the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad.

A prayer was given and everyone remained silent for the duration.

More stories were told about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Spectators watching the ceremonies take place at Promontory Summit on May 10, 2019, 150 years to the day of the original.

The Central Pacific Jupiter steam engine.

The hammering of the first spike which was the gold spike in California.

The next spike, a silver one, was hammered from Arizona.

Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao told stories about her culture and their part in building the Transcontinental Railroad.

Choir members who participated in the ceremonies were in front of both locomotives.

Next was a wreath laying ceremony to honor those who perished while building the Transcontinental Railroad.

Jon Meacham, Pulitzer prize-winning historian, presents the keynote address.

Jon Meacham continued with his keynote address.

FOX TV Channel 13 in Salt Lake City was doing an interview covering the whole event.

The raising of the twenty-star flag which was in existance in 1869.

Spectators watching and waiting for what was next.

The twenty-star flag waiting for a breeze.

The twenty-star flag in full breeze mode.

The Golden Spike 150 Done sign.

Chinese carrying in the last rail.

Introductions of all the participants on the May 10, 1869 event.

They welcomed the Union Pacific Railroad.

More speeches were given by the re-enactors.

Even more speeches were given on this very special day back in 1869.

The engines greet each other on their historic day.

The engines move further apart as the spiking ceremonies were about to take place.

Spiking the gold spike on that historic morning.

Spiking the silver spike on that morning.

Putting in the other spikes to complete the railroad.

Done! was telegraphed across the nation.

The crowd enjoying the ceremonies.

The finishing of the ceremonies.

Participants leaving the stage area.

A caboose was brought in for the young people's presentation.

The participants returned to take a bow.

A song was sung by singers along the locomotives.

The Young Judah and his dream of a Transcontinental Railroad. Theodore Judah was called Crazy Judah for his trying to build a Transcontinental Railroad. I left the press area and found Bob and Elizabeth very busy with checking off names and affixing tags to lanyards to account for all our members. I got the NRHS sign and walked back and felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin as I led NRHS members back to the boarding area #2. Steve Miller then found me and he held up the sign for a while and we got all our people on Buses 1 and 2. All we needed was the buses. I believe they had counted fifty-eight buses past our location before we had confirmation that our bus was finally on its way to us. By this point, other bus hosts had come to wonder if their bus had arrived yet. I of course joked, saying of course not since I was still standing here for Bus 1 to pick me up. At 2:45 PM, Bus 1 finally showed up and I counted off fifty people with the Bus 1 tags on their lanyards. Once we got the green light, we hit the road.

We encountered more traffic as someone did not seee our bus until too late. We followed the traffic out and it broke up but came back at the junction where the Utah Highway Patrol was waving traffic each way. We returned to more heavy traffic as we neared Corinne to Interstate 15 where Utah Highway Patrol again delayed us not realizing we were a bus. Once on Interstate 15 we again hit heavy traffic as people were trying to get to Las Vegas for the weekend. Suddenly, traffic flowed free and we arrived back at the hotel at 4:37 PM thus ending this NRHS adventure. I helped people off the bus before I checked the bus for any lost items, as did the bus driver. Then I turned in my time of return slip and went up to the room and finished the Frontrunner story and found the nose-to-nose story. We went to Johnny Rockets and had dinner and the chocolate shake was so good. We rode back to the Arena station and went to the lobby to work on stories, including this one. In the middle of it, we heard fireworks and had a literal front row seat for the May 10th, 1869 fireworks show the City of Salt Lake put on for all of us to celebrate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. We finished the story and took the trolley the one stop back to Elizabeth's hotel then I took it back to Arena station and went up to my room and called it a night.