What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,--head to head
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?
From Opening of the Pacific Railroad by Francis Bret Harte
Today marks 150 years since the "wedding of the rails" when the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad were officially joined at Promontory Summit in Utah. At exactly 12:47 pm, the last iron spike was driven, finally completing the line. It was an event that marked a new era in long-distance overland travel. It is also the event that helped draw me to model early American railroads.
As a kid, I had a recording of Ludovic Kennedy's documentary Coast to Coast, which featured a short re-enactment sequence with the two replica locomotives at Promontory Summit. Apart from Disney's the Great Locomotive Chase, this was the only footage I had of trains from this era, so I watched and rewatched this sequence many times over. Even though it's old, I still get a kick from watching this again.
The words inscribed on the fourth side of the spike, May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world, were fitting for the occasion. The concept of the overland railroad had been debated by congress and explored for many years. But, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, America was embroiled in the Civil War. Establishing a reliable overland link was seen as an important move to strengthen the Union's ties with the western states, particularly California, which was struggling with the idea of secession.
If you are keen to find out a bit more about the Golden Spike and the famous locomotives, I recommend you watch the following videos from ToyManTelevision's channel on YouTube. I have also included a link to the original documentary about how they built the replica locomotives that reside at Promontory today. Enjoy them if you watch.