The spirit of Promontory is alive and well

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, June 17, 2018

For the last few days, I’ve been chasing the spirit of Promontory.

On the busy Union Pacific main line east of Ogden, at the very ground where the Golden Spike was driven at that desolate spot called Promontory Summit in 1869, on the lonely trek across what is left of the Central Pacific right of way around the north side of the Great Salt Lake, I have come as a pilgrim in search of a holy grail.

I’ve found that spirit everywhere I’ve looked and even some places I wasn’t looking for it: Today, while getting lost southeast of Evanston, Wyo., in a quest to see if there’s a public road that takes one to remote Alpine Tunnel on the UP main line (there isn’t), I stumbled across the ghost town of Piedmont, Wyo., significant for two reasons: 1. It was on the original mainline that was relocated when Alpine (and its twin tunnel Altamont) was dug and the line relocated, and 2. It was where railroad workers held UP’s Dr. Durant hostage until they were paid, contributing to the two day delay in the completion of the transcontinental railroad. With that accidental discovery, I was in awe, driving the roadbed toward I-80, happy in my good fortune and belief that, as Woody Allen said, 80 percent of success is just showing up.

I’ve been out west for a few days to support our Journey to Promontory project, a special issue, regular issues of Trains, a special issue of Trains in May 2019, videos with the fabulous Rich Luckin and the up and coming Kevin Gilliam, a major tour with our travel partner, Special Interest Tours, and possibly a whole lot more just to celebrate the biggest railroad anniversary any of us will see: the 150th anniversary of the first Transcontinental railroad.

I’ve come to learn that part of this desire to know this history is a physical need to be where the story happened. Where workers laid 10 miles of track in one day. Where railroaders have and still fight tonnage and gravity to move freight. Where entire towns once supported a railroad in the desert and are now gone. I’ve also learned that it’s also a mental and emotional thing: Standing at the National Park Service site at Promontory as staff volunteers, and audience members performed a version of the Golden Spike ceremony, it’s hard not to be moved. Think about how that railroad changed not only our favorite mode of transportation but the direction of the country. Think about what an advance that was in technology. Think about all of the lives changed.

It’s impossible to hype Promotory beyond what it is. It is a big, big, big thing. The more I learn and see and feel, I have no doubt about it.

More on all of this in the days and weeks ahead as we count down to May 10, 2019 on our special Journey to Promontory.



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