A Salute to the Golden Spike

May 10th, 2021 marks the 152nd Anniversary of the Driving of the Golden Spike – a celebration of the union between the Central Pacific and Union Pacific.

Anniversaries of all types frequently fall by the wayside in our contemporary faced-paced culture that is influenced by the imbalance between social and national history. Indeed, celebrating anniversaries of industrial and technological accomplishments that truly shaped our Nation and materially improved our daily lives is underserved.

That should not happen with the Driving of the Golden Spike. Though often stated in the past, that event truly united our Nation, paved the way for the development of the west, fueled enormous economic growth and was a constant reminder of the “can do” spirit that defined the American culture. In today’s world it should also serve as reminder of the importance of “unification”.

Latter-day naysayers and critical scholars have examined many of the details of that historic event highlighting the behind-the-scenes imperfections and infighting. It was true but that detailed research should never diminish the importance of the union of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific.

The two locomotives at that event CP “Jupiter” and Union Pacific #119 had long been scrapped when the importance and romance of the event took hold in the late 1920s so the reenactments that commenced in the 1930s relied on vintage locomotives from the storied Virginia & Truckee Railroad in Nevada that were painted and detailed to resemble the stars of the 1869 event.

Transportation publicist, author and railroad romantic Edward Hungerford was the first to recognize the importance of that event and made certain the Driving of the Golden Spike was the centerpiece of each of the railroad pageants he staged at world’s fairs and expositions in the 1930s.  Those productions incorporated vintage and contemporary railroad locomotives and cars, a cast numbering several hundred actors and a rousing musical chorus on a huge outdoor stage to celebrate the colorful history of American Railroading. Events so graced with those productions include the Century of Progress 1933-1934, the Great Lakes Exposition 1936, the New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 and the Chicago Railroad Fair 1948-1949.

Legendary Paramount Pictures movie director Cecil B. DeMille succumbed to the significance of the event turning it into one of his epic productions in 1939. DeMille used the 1936 novel by Western Fiction author Ernest Haycox as the basis for that award-wining production. Film stars Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea and Robert Preston added drama and romance to the story of building the Transcontinental Railroad from Omaha to Promontory Summit, Utah.  Publicity-savvy Union Pacific rose to the occasion by operating a special train of the historic locomotives and cars that were used in the movie form Los Angeles to Omaha for the premiere and afterward that equipment was loaded on flatcars for a promotional tour that ended on the East Coast.

The original alignment of the Union Pacific mainline was relocated and Promontory Summit became isolated. Later interest in that site prompted investment to make it a prominent National Historic Site. The 100th Anniversary of the Driving of the Golden Spike was also well-publicized and once again substitute locomotives filled the roles of the Jupiter and #119 but shortly afterward the National Park Service commissioned two full-sized replicas that are now permanently at that historic site and reenact the event for visitors and tourists.

So, take a break from the fast pace of daily life and celebrate once more the event that truly linked our Nation and if you have time take a first or second look at the 1939 classic film. Many scale models of both the Jupiter and #119 have been released and currently we have the HO scale replica of the Jupiter locomotive in stock as well as vintage passenger and freight cars. For Union Pacific fans, we even have some extra-special pricing on select passenger cars!  Our competitive prices, fast service supported by our award-winning rewards program can make creating your own version at home a rewarding diversion.

FAW MB Klein, Inc