When William M. Herr took over as superintendent of Golden Spike National Historic Site last week, he fulfilled a childhood fantasy of playing with real trains.
"As a youngster in California, I spent a lot of time in a switching yard and got to know the engineers," he said. "They'd give me rides - although they weren't suppose to. I've always liked steam engines and the romance that went with them, and now I can polish them, ride them or brag about them any time I want."Golden Spike is the spot where, on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed. Two full-size replica engines that are exact copies of those in use on that date were built a few years ago by the Park Service.
Each summer day, the recreated engines - the Jupiter and the 119 - are fired up. They puff along 1.7 miles of track that were relaid on the original roadbed where the rails were joined. Costumed performers re-enact the 1869 ceremony.
Before taking his new assignment, Herr was superintendent of Pipe Spring National Monument, Ariz. He replaces Denny Davies, who was promoted to a post at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Herr has a solid background in National Park Service management, said Lorraine Mintzmyer, the service's regional director in Denver. "He's well-acquainted with the people and places of Utah and the Rocky Mountain Southwest.
Herr earned his biology degree from California State University at Los Angeles in 1966 and immediately applied for 18 National Park Service seasonal jobs. He landed one at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Among his other positions, he was assistant chief naturalist at Zion National Park in the 1970s. He went to Pipe Spring in 1979.
His job at Pipe Spring also had close Utah connections. The monument, just over the border in Arizona, is a Mormon fort established in 1863.
"The area around Pipe Spring is more exposed to Utah television and other media than it is to Arizona, so I've felt like a Utah resident for the last decade," he said.