Railroad entrepreneur Leland Stanford, strangely white-haired, once again stood between steam-belching locomotives on Wednesday and drove home a gold spike that bound the nation together by rail.
Like Stanford 120 years ago, actor Sam Gordon missed on his first swing with the sledge. So did the actor portraying the Union Pacific's Thomas Durant."They were totally inebriated as far as we know," said John Stewart, a Utah State University historian and frock-coated member of the local troupe that annually duplicates the makeshift ceremony.
Nearly 2,000 gathered at this spot near the Great Salt Lake to watch giant steam locomotives come face to face to re-enact the May 10, 1869, ceremony that included a silver sledge and two gold and two silver spikes placed in a polished laurel-wood rail tie.
Gordon, nearly 80 and a teetotaler, has played Stanford since 1961 and co-directs the 18-member cast. He apologized for his snow-white mane.
"I feel kind of bad because Leland Stanford had black hair" and was 45 at the time, Gordon said. "I thought it was OK because Leland got older, too."
Just as in 1869, Durant retired to his private rail car with a headache before re-emerging to take his turn with the sledge.
"They were all pretty liquored up when they got here and they were railroad entrepreneurs, not workers. So they missed on their first tries," said Richard Felt, a cast member.
Once the ceremonial spikes were placed, another sledge and spike, both attached to the telegraph wire, were used to alert a waiting nation that the 1,776-mile line was finished.
"The last rail is laid! The last spike is driven! The Pacific Railroad is completed!" read the telegram from Durant and Stanford to President Ulysses S. Grant.
Stanford was a former governor of California and president of the Central Pacific Railroad. He later represented California in the U.S. Senate.
A bottle of champagne was broken over the ceremonial tie and Central Pacific's "Jupiter" engine and Union Pacific's "119" were driven over it. After the ceremonial tie was removed - it burned in the San Francisco fire of 1906 - historians believe an unknown Chinese worker probably drove the last steel spike into a wooden tie.
Wednesday's re-enactment was the 10th since a logistical snafu postponed the inaugural run of two black-red-and-gold, full-sized replicas of the eastbound Jupiter and westbound 119.
The two replicas remained stranded in their nearby storage shed for the 1979 ceremony because a crew laying 1.7 miles of new track didn't finish until two months after the ceremony.
Every re-enactment since has included the two locomotives, which cost $750,000 each and were the first steam engines built in the United States in a quarter century. They are fired up each day for visitors. The 34-ton originals were unceremoniously scrapped in the early 1900s.
Promontory once was a boom town of tents with false wooden store fronts. But the outpost and its rail line were abandoned in 1904 when a trestle was completed across the Great Salt Lake.