Friday, August 5, 2011

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Replica Trains at the Historic Site

I decided it was finally time to venture out and see the Golden Spike National Historic Site.  After all, it does commemorate a significant event in Utah and American history, and I had never been there before.  On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific's train, Jupiter, and the Union Pacific's train, No. 119, stopped while the track was joined by a golden spike.  This connected the east and west coasts by rail. You can see the two replica trains from the road. The visitor's center is about 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah. There are restrooms available. Admission on the day we went was $7 for a passenger vehicle.  

Replica of the Golden Spike

The golden spike driven to connect the railroad across America is not on display at the site.  Central Pacific's president was Leland Stanford, and the original spike rests at a museum at the university named for him in Palo Alto, California.  However, you can view this replica here.  The replica's claim to fame is that it went into space on board the space shuttle Atlantis in 1990, so that does enhance its status!

Union Pacific No. 119 - replica train

The No. 119 is one of two replica trains on site.  It is a coal-burning steam engine.  The other train, the Jupiter, is wood-burning.  When its coal tender was full, a train like this could go 150 miles before re-fueling with coal.  However, the train had to stop every 15 to 30 miles to refill its water tank for the steam.  This particular train holds 2,000 gallons of water.  The replica trains have been painted with period-accurate detail.  The No. 119 features some landscape paintings on its corners.

Detail of the No. 119 train

The Jupiter

You can walk around the trains, and climb up on a viewing stand to see inside them.  The trains are moved a couple of times a day, and if you happen to be there when they are getting the trains out, or putting them in the barn for the night.  It doesn't take long, and is interesting to watch.  There are rough wooden benches to sit on, and park employees give information about the trains while you watch them move.  (You can wander during the presentation and take pictures...just stay back from the tracks!) We saw the No. 119 drive back to the barn for the evening (about 4pm).

View of the Jupiter and the No. 119

No. 119 on the move!

We watched the train stop, switch tracks, come forward, and then reverse to the barn.  The fireman manually switches the track.  Visitors get to hear the different train whistles used to signal things like "reversing" or "coming through but not stopping."  It is quite a show to watch these steam engines on the move, and we enjoyed it.

Scenery from the Golden Spike National Historic Site

This area of Utah can be very hot and dry in the summer.  Water is available at the visitor's center, but traveling in this relatively remote area, it is always good to bring your own.  The visitor's center has a book section and gift shop, and sells some snacks and drinks.  You can watch an audio-visual presentation, take a hike, or drive two different auto-tours.  There are plaques commemorating some of the diverse groups who worked laying track through miles of harsh conditions, including many Chinese immigrants.  Be aware if you visit that the replica trains are only operational during the summer months.

This was a nice stop on our day trip, and I am happy to now say that I have been to the Golden Spike National Historic Site!


  1. Loved this! The trains were way cooler than I expected. True museum quality working replicas.

  2. It was great to see them in action. Coal-fired steam engines are smokier than I imagined! Thanks for your comment.