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THE ELEVENTH edition of Moon Handbooks Utah relates two little-known facts about the driving of the last spike, the event that completed the construction of America’s first cross-continent railway in 1869.
The first is that two competing companies, Central Pacific, heading east, and Union Pacific, heading west, didn’t stop when their lines met, “but laid parallel grades for 250 miles across Utah. Finally, Congress [which was subsidizing both lines] decided to join the rails at Promontory Summit and stop the wasteful duplication of effort.”
The second is that neither Central Pacific president Leland Stamford, who got the first swipe, nor Union Pacific vice-president Thomas Durant, who got the second, could hit the last spike. Stamford banged the tie beneath it; Durant missed the spike and the tie. “A bystander was summoned from the crowd to drive the stake home.”
Those tales—and that of the building of the lines—are told at the Golden Spike Visitor Center (www.nps.gov/gosp) at Promontory Summit. Replicas of the two engines present at the ceremony—CP’s Jupiter and UP’s 119, steam up the track daily in summer. The Last Spike Ceremony, every 10 May, re-enacts the event “with great fanfare.” There’s also a Railroaders Festival in August that includes a spike-driving contest.
To reach Promontory Summit from Salt Lake City drive north 145 kilometres on I-15 to Brigham City, then turn west on highway 13 and highway 83 for 47 kilometres, following the signs.
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