The Transcontinental Railroad transformed California and the nation. What used to be an arduous journey of four months by wagon or ship could now be completed in as little as four days. The West was truly open for settlement and because of the telegraph and the rails, the United States truly spanned a continent, from sea to sea. With the coming of the railroad, nothing would be the same again.
After seven years of false starts, corruption, graft, fraud, and financial mismanagement, on May10, 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met at Promontory Summit in Northern Utah. A feat which many believed was impossible was complete. The Pacific coast was now linked to the rest of the United States by rail and telegraph. The Pacific Railroad, of which Theodore Judah dreamed, was finished five and one half years after his death. Promontory Summit remained in service until September 18, 1904. As early as 1870, most of the main rail traffic had been routed to Ogden and on September 8, 1942, the last of the rails were removed to provide metal for the war effort. In 1965, Congress designated Promontory Summit a National Historic Site and on Monday, June 25, 2018, the House of Representatives approved legislation to make Promontory Summit a National Historic Park.
Today, you can visit the site where the Union and Central Pacific Railroads met a Golden Spike National Historic Site, north of Ogden, Utah. While not in California, the site has a massive importance in the history of California and the nation as a whole. There is a visitor’s center with a small museum and a theatre which shows a ten minute documentary on the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and a gift shop. The museum has a replica of the ceremonial Golden Spike on display as well as displays of railroad watches and tools used to build the railroad. In the back of the visitor’s center, there is a restored two mile section of track, a replica of the ceremonial laurel “Last Tie”, the telegrapher’s table and most importantly, full size, working replicas of the Jupiter and No. 119, the Central and Union Pacific locomotives which met on that spot in May of 1869. During the summer, both locomotives are run at various times during the day.
There are also two auto tours of the site, which lead past significant spots along the route including the site of the Last Cut, the spot where ten miles of track were laid in a single day, the site of the Big Fill and Big Trestle (which is no longer standing), and Chinese Arch. The auto routes also afford prime views of the parallel grades constructed by the Union and Central Pacific as part of the race to gain more land grants to later sell.
GETTING THERE: From 414 Mason Street, take I-80 East to I-215 North. Take I-215 North toward Ogden and then merge onto I-15 North toward Ogden, Utah. Once on I-15 North take exit 356 onto Utah Highway 18 toward Tremonton. Follow the signs to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, approximately 22 miles north. This is nearly a 14 hour trip, so I suggest staying in Reno or Elko along the way. There are plenty of restaurants and other sites to visit in Ogden including the Utah State Railroad Museum, the Browning Firearms Museum and the Hill Air Force Base Aerospace Museum. Located just west of Elko, at the western end of the Hastings Cutoff, there is the California Trail Interpretive Center. And, of course, there are the Bonneville Salt Flats.