On May 30, 2009, my wife and I took a trip to Golden Spike Historic Site north of Salt Lake City. Needless to say the trip was long ( had to drive to Salt Lake and north around the lake) but very enjoyable. We were pleasantly suprised at the number of things to see and easily spent a day.
Directions and information: From Salt Lake City take Interstate 15 north until exit #365. Turn onto Highway 13 and then 83 driving approximately 32 miles to the monument. The two locomotives- Central Pacific Jupiter and Union Pacific 119- operate during the summer. Crews work on them throughout the winter but visitors can still view them. at the locomotive shop. At various times during a summer day actors recreate the joining of the two railroads. Away from the visitors center, visitors can see such landmarks as China arch, Big fill and last cut. Part of the driving tour is on the old Central Pacific roadbed. This trip is worthwhile for any american who wants to know about its history.
History: As early as the 1830s the United States saw the need for a route to connect the eastern part of US to California. Because of pressing issues with the south; Congress did not pass the Pacifc Railway Act until 1862. This authorized the Union Pacific to start building from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific from Sacramento, California. The act created incentives including loans for each mile of track laid (ex. $48,000 through mountainous terrain). Also the railroad received an alternate section of public land on either side of the track. The Central Pacific had to build through the Sierra Nevada Mountains which turned very arduous; culminating in a long tunnel at the crest. The Union Pacific constructed fast across the plains but had to build over the Continental Divide. The Union Pacific used mormon workers while the Central Pacific used mainly chinese workers. The railroads did not want to join in Utah and built side by side for miles until President Grant stepped in to force the railroads to merge. On May 10, 1869, to great fanfare the nation had its first transcontinental railroad. at Promontory Point in Utah. Passenger service to California would start five days later. (info from: www.linecamp.com/museums/ transcontinental_ railroad).
Sadly, the original locomotives were scrapped; however, companies in California using original photographs recreated them. They arrived in Golden Spike in 1979. An interesting video at the visitor's center chronicles the building of Jupiter and 119.
Looking toward the big fill on the CP
Drill marks in one of the cuts
The reenactment of the driving of the spike
Union Pacific 119
Central Pacific Jupiter
119 in route to staging area
Central Pacific workers laying track through Nevada