On Friday, May 10th, the time had come at last.
Henry & I woke up around 6am and headed out before 7 in order to beat at least some of the 20,000 other people attending the 150th anniversary celebration of the Golden Spike being struck at Promontory Summit. It was kinda crazy to get stuck in a traffic jam en route to what’s basically a field in the middle of nowhere—but given the passion of railfans (many in period attire, as you’ll see in our photo gallery) who’d traveled from all across the country, we weren’t surprised.
Having arrived around 8, Hen & I were compelled to stake out our spot for a couple of hours before the festivities started. When they did kick in, he & I tried to work our way through the crowd so that he could see better. I figured he’d be able to repeat his low-altitude incursion from the day before, but despite the help of many kind railfans, he kept getting stuck in a mass of tall-person elbows & butts. Happily we were able to retreat to a decent spot where we could sit & listen.
Visiting dignitaries included the governor of Utah & Mitt Romney, and the event organizers did a really nice job of celebrating the various groups (including Civil War vets, newly freed former slaves, Mormons, and of course Irish & Chinese workers) who came together (“As One,” per the musical performed on site) to complete the railroad. Speakers included a descendant of a Chinese worker; a Native American elder; Sec. of Transportation Elaine Chao; and Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall. Here’s the latter raising a glass & saying “Slainte!”
I also really enjoyed the observations made by historian Jon Meacham, which you can check out below if interested. Meanwhile writer Sarah Vowell offered her own reflections on the event in the NY Times.
Hen was a trooper through these four or so hours, and afterwards I was happy to refuel him via giant corndog & Gatorade. We then started exploring the various exhibits (including teepees, STEM booths, and a pioneer village where we bought him his own golden spike) while Air Force jets flew over celebratory fireworks.
We’d read that Brian Floca, author of Locomotive—one of Hen’s most beloved books—would be on site to speak about his work. Thankfully I persuaded Hen that seeing him would be worth the wait until 3pm—and we weren’t disappointed in the least! Brian was super friendly and gracious, such that after his talk we headed to the gift shop to grab another copy of Locomotive for him to autograph.
The brutally long line at the gift shop proved to be a blessing in disguise: because we then had to wait until Brian’s next talk at 5pm to meet him again, we were among the last people to leave the park as 6pm approached. And good thing we were, as for the first time we got right up close to the engines—including as they steamed back and forth! Our minds were 100% blown.
Having stayed out for 12+ hours, we were glad to finally return to the hotel & collapse with some Wendy’s, happy and tired. Check out the gallery for some fun photos & vids!