Rails Meet at Promontory


For years Americans with foresight envisioned a railroad linking the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts. Then early in 1863 Chinese laborers began work on the Central Pacific Railroad. Moving eastward from Sacramento, California, the track crews fought mountains, freezing temperatures, and desert heat.

Late in 1863 crews made up of Civil War veterans and Irish, Scottish, and German immigrants broke ground in Omaha, Nebraska, moving the Union Pacific Railroad tracks westward.

After laying 1,776 miles of track, the two railroads met at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869. During the celebration held at noon that day the Central Pacific’s locomotive, Jupiter, and the Union Pacific’s locomotive, No. 119, steamed up to the end of their respective tracks. The final rails were laid, and a polished laurelwood tie was slid into place, ready to receive the four ceremonial spikes. After the last golden spike was driven, cheers broke out as the locomotives sounded their shrill whistles.

In 1957 the Golden Spike National Historic Site was established at Promontory, Utah, where the historical scene of the meeting of the rails is recreated annually. These photos were taken at the 1983 celebration of the driving of the golden spike.

[photos] Photos by Dick Brown

[photo] 1. Men in costumes of the 1860s represent personalities who attended the original meeting of the rails.

[photo] 2. Central Pacific’s locomotive, Jupiter, chugs along the tracks.

[photo] 3. Steaming up the opposite end of the tracks is the Union Pacific’s locomotive, No. 119.

[photo] 4. Children get a closer look at the Jupiter.

[photo] 5. Everyone gives a lively performance at the reenactment of the driving of the golden spike.

[photo] 6. Utah’s Box Elder High School band plays during the ceremony.

[photo] 7. As the celebration continues, the engineer of No. 119 looks out at the crowd.

[photo] 8. The final marathon relay runner from Brigham City, Utah, to Promontory, Utah, brings a replica of the golden spike to the reviewing stand.

[photo] 9. A young girl displays golden spike.