On Saturday following our marathon Golden Spike visit, Hen & headed down to Ogden hoping to catch the Big Boy ahead of the crowds. We knew that it was due to be on display at 10am, and figuring it was being kept south of town, I hoped to sneak in a little droning overhead. As it happened the engine was already welcoming visitors, so instead of flying we were able to get right up close & personal. Check out our gallery of the Big Boy Up Close.
When we’d finally gotten our fill of big engines (sounds impossible, I know), we started heading south towards Salt Lake City & our evening flight. Hen had previously spotted the Hill Aerospace Museum, so we swung by & spent a couple of hours geeking out among the massive bombers, transports, and fighters. Truth be told, after spending days receiving random train facts from Henry, it was nice for me to return the favor & share some of my aerospace knowledge.
Check out our separate gallery of museum pics. Be on the lookout for tiny Hen appearing “Where’s Waldo”-style by giant landing gear, as well as for the goofball caption he insisted on adding to one pic. 😌
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!
It would, of course, be insane to attend the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike being struck and not see the spike itself! So, following our museum visit on Thursday, Hen & I headed down to the beautiful state capitol building in Salt Lake City where the spike is housed.
Bittersweet news: As a bonus we got to see one of the three silver companion spikes along with Abraham Lincoln’s hand-signed order authorizing the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, but as a result of the fragile paper’s presence, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the spike! Hen was miffed, but we agreed that we’d make up for it by visiting the spike after it returns to its usual resting place at Stanford University.
Afterwards we headed down to SLC’s historic Union Pacific depot, which has now been converted into a lovely pedestrian mall that featured live music & food trucks—oh, and plenty of trainspotting on the adjacent rails! Check out our pics from the eve.
Following the Big Boy’s arrival, Hen & I again grabbed a bite at the Zephyr Cafe, then joined the throngs of people exploring the neighboring Utah State Railroad Museum.
Located in the city’s old Union Station, the museum is home to UP 833, the sister engine to the one accompanying the Big Boy, as well as to extensive model railroads and an old automobile museum. (Could this place be designed any better for Henry?!) Other highlights included seeing one of the train cars featured in the 2002 Olympic Torch relay as well as a car from the Golden Spike centennial 50 years ago. Hen narrated plenty of footage for his YouTube channel while wrestling his own furious (and highly verboten) desire to climb all over the engines. Oh—and the museum featured a live countdown until the Golden Spike ceremony, by then just over 22 hours away!
Check out some photos from our visit, as well as a quick video tour of the grounds. (“That kid does not know a thing about trains,” Hen remarked more than once.)
Man, it’s taken a full week for Henry & me to decompress from our trip and to just start sharing our adventures. To make things manageable, I’ve opted to break our epic into sections. So… here we go!
Flying into Salt Lake on Wednesday afternoon, we bumped into some fellow railfans who were already prepping their period garb for the celebrations. After landing we grabbed our car & headed up to Ogden, UT, where the famous Big Boy steam engine—the world’s largest at 1.2 million pounds (!), and newly restored after years of work—was due to make its triumphant return. Hen & I found shelter from the blustery evening in the trackside Zephyr Cafe, constructed from an old railcar!
And then, the next morning—it was time. Hen was, of course, practically vibrating with excitement, and he wasn’t let down. Union Pacific & the state of Utah put on quite a show—bringing in the governor & other speakers, and shutting down streets to host numerous pop-up shops. After much excited waiting, we finally saw the old gal pull in & get reunited with UP’s other working steam engine, the 844. Making up with sneakiness what he lacks in height, Hen was able to make his way to near the front of the crowd to capture some shots.