May 10, 1869 - Golden Spike


On the left: Central Pacific's No. 60, "JUPITER" and on the right, Union Pacific's No. 119 (Photos by Mr. Snrub)

On May 10, 1869 two 4-4-0 steam locomotives meet at Promotory Summit, Utah, thus completeing the United States Transcontinential Railroad.  

It was on Promonotory Summit some 66 miles northwest of Salt Lake City and north of the Great Salt Lake that the "Golden Spike" was driven into the special laurel railroad tie.  Promontory Point is not associated with the railroad until 1902-1904 when the Lucin Cutoff over the Great Salt Lake was constrruced.

The actual engines that participaed in the 1869 ceremony were scrapped after the turn of the century.  In 1975 the Natioinal Park Service hired O'Connor Engineering Laboratories of Costa Mesa, CA to build exact replicas of the famous 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 lococmotives. Absent any documentation of the colors of the original engines, Kimball chose bright reds and vermillions for eye-catching appeal.  As new research and funds become available, the locomotives will be repainted to reflect the most accurate paint schemes of the original engines of 1869.

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 Fancisco 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.