Saturday
Mar152014

May 10, 1869 - Golden Spike

Above are replicas of the locomotives that meet at Promontory Summit in 1869. On the left is No. 60, Central Pacific's "Jupiter" and on the right, Union Pacific's No. 119.

On May 10, 1869, two 4-4-0 steam locomotives meet at Promontory Summit, Utah, thus completing the United States Transcontinental Railroad, connecting Omaha to Sacramento.  

It was on Promontory Summit (north of the Great Salt Lake) that the "Golden Spike" was driven into the special laurel railroad tie.  Promontory Point (about 44 miles south of the Summit) is not associated with the railroad until 1902-1904 when the Lucin Cutoff over the Great Salt Lake was constructed.

The actual engines that participated in the 1869 ceremony were scrapped after the turn of the century.  In 1975 the National Park Service hired O'Connor Engineering of Costa Mesa, CA to build exact replicas of the engines.

Beginning in 1979, these locomotives began participating in annual ceremonies at the National Historic Site at Promontory Summit, operated by the U. S. National Park Service.

And yes, the early locomotives were usually painted in bright colors.  Probably starting in the 1880s or 1890s, most steam locomotives were being painted all black.

Walt Disney Company employees, led by Ward Kimball, were commissioned to paint and letter the locomotives. Absent any documentation of the colors of the original engines, Kimball chose bright reds and vermilions for eye-catching appeal.

During the ceremony in 1869, four special spikes were presented: 1. The Golden Spike known as the "Last Spike"; 2. Nevada's Silver Spike; 3.  Arizona's Gold and Silver Spike; and 4.  A second, lower-quality gold spike ordered by the San Francisco News Letter.

Another Golden Spike, exactly like the "Last Spike" from the 1869 ceremony, was cast and engraved at the same time. It was held, unknown to the public, by the Hewes family, until 2005.  It is now on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.  The Golden Spike from the ceremony was donated to the Stanford Museum (now Cantor Arts Center) in 1898.

Click here to go to the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit.

Click here for an interesting article on Colorado's Comanche Crossing Last Spike.