Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the "real" golden spike?

It is located in Palo Alto, California. Leland Stanford's brother-in-law, David Hewes, had the spike commissioned for the Last Spike ceremony. Since it was privately owned it went back to California to David Hewes. Hewes donated the spike to Stanford University art museum in 1892.

Is Golden Spike NHS located at Promontory Point?

No. Promontory Point is thirty-five miles south of Golden Spike. The correct name for this location is Promontory Summit. For unknown reasons, some reporters and railroad officials in 1869 wrote that the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Point, and this falsehood has been perpetuated throughout history in textbooks, films, and all other forms of media.

Where does the name "Promontory" come from?

A "promontory" by definition is a high point of land or rock projecting into a sea or other body of water. The Promontory Mountains span the length of the Promontory Peninsula. Promontory Summit (Visitor Center and Last Spike Site and historic location of the town of Promontory) is located at the highest point of the Promontory pass.

What happened to the town of Promontory?

From May-December 1869, Promontory was the terminus of the transcontinental railroad (the junction point for Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads). Passengers and freight were transferred here at Promontory, which was known to be a wild town with gambling, looting and "sporting women". When the junction moved to Ogden in 1870 Promontory became primarily a helper station, housing mostly railroad workers and their families.

Are these the original locomotives?

No. These are replicas built by O'Connor Engineering of Costa Mesa, California in 1979. They are within one-quarter inch of actual size, and are fully functional in all respects.

What happened to the original locomotives?

This size and type of engine was outmoded and under-powered by the turn of the century. There eventually came a time when they just were not worth repairing any more. The No. 119 was scrapped in 1903 for about $1,000, and the Jupiter met the same fate in 1906.

Were the original engines really that shiny and colorful?

Yes. They were built during the Victorian Age, and reflected the designs and craftsmanship of the era. The locomotives were both the workhorse and advertising of the railroads.

Can we ride the trains?

No. We have no passenger coaches, thus there is no place for anyone to ride. Vocabulary Note: a train is a locomotive pulling cars or rolling stock. Without the cars it is not a train, it is simply a locomotive or engine.

Do these locomotives burn wood or coal?

The Jupiter burns wood, and the No. 119 burns coal. The same fuels as the originals.

How many people were at the original ceremony on May 10, 1869?

Accounts vary, anywhere from 300 to 1,500.

Why did the grading crews pass each other for 250 miles?

There was a fierce competition between the two railroad companies for subsidy bonds and land grants. For each mile of track laid the government paid twenty square miles of land and issued subsidy bonds worth many thousands of dollars. There are 250 miles of parallel grades (not completed in all areas) from Echo, Utah to Wells, Nevada. No parallel track was laid.

Why did they meet here?

Pressure from Congress forced the two companies to reach an agreement on a meeting place. After considerable negotiation they finally decided to meet at the midway point of the end of track for each railroad company, which was here at Promontory Summit.

Is this line still in service? Do trains still come through here today?

No. In late 1903 the Lucin Cutoff trestle was completed across the Great Salt Lake, straight west from Ogden. The railroad saved a great deal of time and money by being able to utilize a relatively straight and level route. The route through Promontory became a secondary line supplying large ranches in the area up until the late 1930s. Severe winters and the depression combined to wipe out the ranches, and there were local runs only after 1938. In 1942 the rails were removed and re-laid in military depots in support of the war effort during WWII.

Is this where it really happened?

Yes. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the event taking place at Promontory Summit. The exact spot where the last spike was driven has been recorded and located at the site.

Last updated: August 10, 2021

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