May 10, 1869: The Golden Spike is Driven

Long lines of horses, mules and wagons stood in the open desert near the camp train at Promontory Summit, the stock getting its breakfast of hay and barley. Trains shunted in from the west with supplies and materials for the day’s work. The_Last_Spike_1869Foremen galloped here and there giving orders. Swarms of Chinese, Irish and American laborers were hurrying to their work.

On one side of the track stood the portable blacksmith shop where a score of smiths were repairing tools and shoeing horses and mules. Close by was the harness shop where leatherworkers repaired collars, traces and other tack. To the west lay the rails and line of telegraph poles stretching back as far as the eye could see. The telegraph wire from the last pole was strung into the car that served as a telegraph office. To the eastward stretched the grade marked by a line of newly distributed earth.

By the side of the grade smoked the camp fires of blue clad Chinese laborers, waiting for the signal to start work. Miles back was the camp of the Chinese who followed the track gang, ballasting and finishing the road bed.

The rails, ties and other material were thrown off the train as near to end of the track was as feasible, and then the empty train was drawn back out of the way. The rails were then hauled by horses to the rail gang who took the rails and laid them on the ties. A man on each side distributed spikes, two to each tie; another distributed splice bars; and a third the bolts and nuts by which the rails were spliced together. Back of the track builders followed a gang with the seven more ties necessary to complete the foundation for each rail. These were put into position and spiked by another gang, which also leveled up the track and left it ready for the ballasters.

On May 10, 1869, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit. An eight man Chinese crew laid the last section of rail, and the golden spike (made of 17.6-karat copper-alloyed gold) was dropped into a pre-drilled hole.

At exactly 12:47 pm Leland Stanford lifted a silver spike maul and drove the spike into the tie, completing the line, and the single word “done” flashed via telegraph around the country.

Afterwards the construction chief, J.H. Strobridge, invited the Chinese who had participated in the ceremony to dine at his boarding car. When they entered, all the guests and officers present stood and cheered. See More


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