About an hour and half drive from Salt Lake City is the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is where the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 9, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah. Outside the Visitor Center are interesting art, plaques and displays about the different groups who were involved in building the rail bed and a portion of the railway itself.
The story of the engineering and construction of the transcontinental railroad is definitely worth researching and learning in more detail. It started when the Abraham Lincoln era congress passed the Railroad Act of 1862. The Visitor Center has an informative film and items on display to bring this story to life. The best is seeing the full-scale working replicas of the Central Pacific Jupiter and the Union Pacific #119 meet at the last spike site. This re-enactment is excellent, whether you are a train lover (like us) or not.
The first video below is of the Jupiter arriving to the last spike site from the West. This Central Pacific replica engine started by coming out of the storage warehouse where the train engines are kept. The second video is of the Union Pacific #119 replica coming out of the warehouse on another track, from the East.
The #119 arrived on a different track and had to reverse and switch tracks to meet the Jupiter at the last spike site is also a slight re-enactment since both companies prepared rail bed well beyond Promontory Summit. Both of the railroad companies were making a lot of money per mile of track laid ($16,000 per mile in flat areas; $48,000 in the mountains) and didn’t want the “money train” to end. The number of miles covered was incredible.
When they finally met, they actually were off but could see each other building track. Because they would make more money if they kept laying track, each railroad companies crews prepared 250 miles of additional rail bed, hoping to be paid for the work. Of course, the heads of the companies were called to Washington DC and a map was pulled out to determine where the rail lines should meet. Then the crews had to correct their railroad beds and the track to meet at Promontory, without recompense for the preparation of excess rail bed. Congress was smarter and tougher back in those days.
The opportunity to see these locomotives up close is fun too.
The park also has roadways (narrated auto tours) you can drive to see where the two railroad beds were laid from the East and the West. The roads are actually the rail beds of the Central Pacific and thus are one way gravel. This drive gives you a good sense of this amazing accomplishment by the “real” men of many ethnic backgrounds and experience driven to a common goal of connecting the USA Atlantic to Pacific.
On the way to and from the park, we see a sign noting where the Artemis rocket has been tested. Who would have thunk, here in the middle of not-nowhere-but-not-necessarily-somewhere?