The last rail was laid and the last spike driven as East met West once again Tuesday in the middle of the northern Utah desert.
The occasion was the 119th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike that completed the transcontinental railroad. And at first glance it appeared that many who attended the celebration were experiencing a temporary lapse of memory and thought the year was still 1869. Actors dressed in clothes worn in the 1880s and so did a few spectators, including members of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Seagull Camp who came in long gingham and calico dresses.Every May 10 for the past 37 years, actors have taken the parts of railroad officials and re-enacted the ceremony held when the last spike, a golden one, was driven and the railroad completed.
A lot has changed in Promontory since 1869. Shortly after the railroad was completed, it became a boom town and had a reputation for having perhaps the most saloons and houses of ill repute found anywhere in the state. Now Promontory is famous for being the home of the Golden Spike National Monument and Morton Thiokol.
Gus Burbank, Brigham City, has been involved in the Golden Spike celebration for nearly 20 years. A few months before each May celebration, Burbank starts to grow a beard so he will look more like Dr. Thomas G. Durrant, a railroad official involved in the original ceremony in 1869.
He dresses up in a suit with long tails, wears little wire-framed glasses and even carries a railroad watch with huge numbers on the face.
Burbank's involvement started in the 1950s when he came to Promontory and did a flag ceremony with the American Legion, using a flag with only 20 stars. But Burbank said he has always appreciated America's railways and used to work on the Los Angeles-Salt Lake route for 43 cents an hour.
"I remember during World War II they took all the rails up from the Spike site and used them for scrap metal in the war effort," he said.
The rails were not replaced until 1979, when 11/2 miles were laid so replicas of the locomotives could be used in the May 10 ceremony. Charlotte Quarnberg, a park employee, said that before 1979, cardboard replicas of the trains were used in the ceremony. The life-size models of the trails were completed in 1979 at a cost of more than $1 million.
The last spike was driven at 12:47 p.m., and actors try to get as close to that time as possible every year.
This year volunteer runners from the Box Elder High School track team ran through the desert with a replica of the Golden Spike.
The weather for this year's celebration was beautiful, but Delone Glover, president of the Golden Spike Association, said they haven't always been so lucky. "We have held the re-enactment in rain, sleet and snow in other years and every year we get a certain tingle down our spines when that little spike is driven into the laurel tie."
The ceremony attracted more than 2,000 people, including hundreds of school children.