This sage-covered valley is not on the way to anywhere, unless you’re a railroad and history fan. For it was here, on that May 10th, 146 years ago, that a grand undertaking came to its celebratory conclusion: the meeting of the rails and two grand locomotives.
With the driving of the Golden Spike the Central Pacific, that had clawed its way across the High Sierra and vastness of the Nevada Desert, and the Union Pacific, which rolled across the plains and Rocky Mountains completed a steel artery of commerce and transportation.
Union Pacific Number 119 and the Central Pacific Number 60 (better known at Jupiter) faced each other amidst a crowd of dignitaries, engineers, and railroad workers as the final rails were laid, and spikes were driven. President Abraham Lincoln’s dream of a transcontinental railroad was complete.
Today, the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory, Utah commemorates this event, staging daily reenactments of this meeting with two, grand replica engines. And this May 10th, they’ll look and run better than ever after having undergone a thorough refurbishing.
The original engines were scrapped for their metal in the early 1900s. These two massive replicas were built in 1979 at a cost of nearly $750,000 a piece, in Costa Mesa, California, by Chad O’Connor. He had a passion for steam.
Every 15 years these locomotives are disassembled, boilers cleaned and tested, and over 166 fire tubes replaced. The boiler is pressure tested, the gauges and brass bells and whistles are brightly shined, and the funneled smokestack is repainted, ready for their big day. There’s over 500 feet of tubing in each engine, they weigh 62 tons apiece, and make steam from treated water the old fashioned way: 119 burns coal, and the Jupiter is wood-fired.
Steve Sawyer has been a National Park Service locomotive engineer for 8 years and loves driving these down the track, wearing period costume. He’s one of two engineers, and a fireman who fires them up and takes them out. “These engines run 8 hours a day for 5 months from May 1st through October 15th,” he says, so they need a thorough rebuilding.
Fireman Michael Ostereich takes his time as he puts a rust-proof sealant around the new welds on the boiler, in preparation for a layer of insulation, and the final jacket. But the three railroadmen aren’t alone. There are over 60 volunteers that help in this grand task, reminding us of what it meant to be able to travel from coast to coast in style and comfort.
Jupiter is red and blue, while Number 119 is mostly red with black. Jupiter has a bright blue cowcatcher and a large funnel, while Number 119’s cowcatcher is red with a straight smokestack. The drive wheels are as tall as most men and the pistons are shined to a mirror finish, and there are hand-painted scenes adorning them from Disney animator Ward Kimball.
They are huge, noisy, and magnificent works of art. And, they’ll both be ready for their debut during the anniversary of the meeting of the rails on May 10th. There will be kids of all ages there, so catch them in action if you can.
For Wild About Utah, this is Patrick Cone with National Parks Traveler
Image: Courtesy US National Parks Service, www.nps.gov
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Cone, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text: Patrick Cone, NationalParksTraveler.com.
Golden Spike National Historic Site, Brigham City, Utah, Golden Spike National Monument, US NPS, https://www.nps.gov/nr/Travel/cultural_diversity/Golden_Spike_National_Historic_Site.html
Golden Spike National Monument, US NPS, https://www.nps.gov/gosp/index.htm
Golden Spike Locomotives Being Refurbished, Patrick Cone, National Parks Traveler, https://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/03/golden-spike-locomotives-being-refurbished26421
Blowing Off Steam…, National Parks Traveler, https://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/potw/blowing-steam22551