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A Visit to Promontory Point
by Brad Dahlquist
Reprinted from "INSULATORS - Crown Jewels of the Wire", January 1980, page 37
As everyone does, or should, know, the great
Transcontinental Railway was completed May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah.
It was the great opening of the West, and thus began the ending of the
wilderness the Indians knew so well.
The past history of this great railroad has
been told many times, but little has been told of what it is today.
In 1965, by
congressional authorization, the Golden Spike National Historic Site was set
aside, containing 15 miles of the old right-of-way and consisting of 2,203
acres. A U.S. Parks Department building, housing a small exhibit and audio-visual room where movies are shown, has been built. Also, live operating replica
locomotives of the style originally used (the "Jupiter" and "No.
119") are exhibited and are run, symbolically "touching" for the
benefit of visitors. Every May 10 there is a Golden Spike re-enactment at their
In their quest for authenticity, the telegraph line that
was reconstructed has original CPRR Brooks ramshorns. 1.7 miles of track, have
been built, but the ramshorns are only in front of the visitors center. The rest
of the line is decked out in what I would assume are insulators that are
designed to appear like what the average non-collector thinks all insulators look
like. Consequently, you'll find these "replicas" make a CD 143 look
complex; that is, they look like gumdrops with a wire attached! They appear to
be wood. However, only a true insulator buff would notice, as everything is very
Across the tracks from the visitors center is even a "Hell on
Wheels" town (Promontory) just like in the old pictures. There are tents
and shacks exactly like the old restaurant, saloon, U.P. ticket/ telegraph
office, etc. Everything is very nicely set up and realistic. Comparing original
photographs with the set up, you will see how well they did.
Getting away from
the "new", there is a pamphlet showing you routes you can take in your
vehicle to investigate the remains of the old railroad. You can see how they
made "cuts" through the rocky hills, old construction camps, areas
where they dug out the earth for fill, and old trestles, etc., etc. This makes
the trip worthwhile.
You drive on the old roadbed (which practically any auto
can do), and the guide points out, say, a large depression in the earth where
fill was taken and has laid undisturbed for 110 years, showing how fragile the
desert environment really is.
There is one place where you park in a small
gravel parking lot and walk on a mile long foot tour (to preserve some last
relics). You can see up on a hillside area, scooped out of the hills, with rock
walls to protect them, the original workers' "homes" still preserved!
The canvas is long gone from the roofs, but there is an occasional hand-chopped
post here and there. Everywhere jackrabbits run from practically beneath your
feet as you walk along the old bed.
There are no artifacts to be found near the
homes of the workers. In fact, it should be discouraged for people to even
attempt to dig around these old sites, as one slight move could destroy forever
what the desert has preserved. However, on the old bed there is really nothing
to be damaged, inasmuch as there are no traces whatsoever of poles, crossarms,
ties or spikes. Just a bed. However, there are artifacts to be found along the
bed -- and we all know what that is!
Down on my hands and knees searching
through the sagebrush, I came across two old tie wires and an occasional sliver
of oxidized glass. Less than one mile from the visitor center, along the bed, I
found 1/3 of a 731 threadless and a tie wire! These I treasure, as I realize I
have a piece of glass that insulated the telegraph signal -- DOT, DOT, DOT --
as the spike was driven.
By the way, there were two lines along the right-of-way -- the CPRR, which used CPRR ramshorns; and the UP, which, at least
at Promontory, used 731's. The sledge hammer that hit the final blows was wired
to the UP telegraph, so I can sit and hold the piece of wire, and realize that
the very wire I hold once had three electrical impulses sent through it that
touched off wild celebrations throughout the States.
I also found a piece of an
early crude threaded piece (a Later "replacement") and a base rim of
an SCA piece of glass. By the way, it is a piece of SCA insulator rim. What
could it be? I don't know. I do know, however, the whole section of railroad
that went north of Salt Lake was abandoned in 1904 when the Lucin Cutoff (which
went through the northern part of the lake) was built. Finally, the rarely used
rails through Promontory were torn up in '42 for the war effort.
So that is
Promontory Point today. I strongly suggest if you are ever in the area to see
it. It is well worth the trip. If you have a keen eye, you can still find chips
of threadless all along the bed. I wouldn't doubt there are several whole
insulators nearby. Finding them is mostly by chance, because they lie right on
top of the rocky soil -- no digging is needed!