The Golden Spike: Linking America's Coasts
Tourists look startled as this behemoth locomotive pulls out of the engine house at the Golden Spike National Historic Site as it does every day, all summer long. I stand high in the cockpit of the Jupiter, an exact replica of the original engine that first sent a plume of steam up here a hundred-thirty years ago.
Engineer Bob Dowtey looks like a nineteenth century railroad man, sporting striped overalls, a matching cap and a prodigious white mustache. He fires her up, as steam pushes this cast iron dinosaur into the morning sunlight.
Pride swells as Dowtey tells me about his long-term love affair with the Jupiter. He helped build her 20 years ago and he's runs her ever since, keeping the brass bell polished, every fitting greased and all the gauges and levers in tip-top shape. We're chugging down the track towards the exact spot where, over a century ago, the rail was joined, linking the continent forever.
But in order to run they needed good track and in the 1860's that was not so easy. In fact, it's incredible, the engineering, the Chinese laborers it took to lay track over the sheer granite walls of the Sierras, the range that separates Nevada and California.
In fact, often a days progress was measured in inches and lives lost. In the end, 1775 miles of track were laid connecting Sacramento with St. Louis and the east. This is the place they met and the echoes of their cheers still linger."
A small group of tourists and re-enactors greets the Jupiter and its counterpart from the east, the 119, as they meet, nose to nose, just as they did so many years ago. Men in tall hats and frock coats relive the ceremony and a burly fellow drives that final golden spike.
The joining of our nation by rail is arguably the most important event in American travel. Consider this: the journey from coast to coast was cut from 6 months...with 10 percent of travelers losing their lives...to a 6 day and 22 minute trip.
From the Open Road, I'm Hal Cannon for the Savvy Traveler.
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