The final link.
The final link.

Transcontinental Cover Up?

Another Revelation by "Mr. Picky"

You've heard the story. You've even seen photos that "prove" it. It's pounded into the head of every American schoolchild over the age of five. The US transcontinental railroad was completed when a golden spike was driven at Promontory Summit, Utah, linking East and West on May 10, 1869.

Golden Spike.
Golden Spike.

It's a lie.

The Golden Spike National Historic Site, 45 minutes from nowhere in Utah, does a good job promoting the lie, and pulls in a pretty tidy profit for Uncle Sam in the process. Replica Golden Spikes sell for $25 apiece in the gift shop. But don't look for the real Golden Spike here, or anywhere in Utah; it's in the Art & History Museum at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Why? Because the spike was given to Leland Stanford Jr.'s dad, the president of the Central Pacific Railroad and the governor of California, by David Hewes (who had it engraved).

Other things you're probably unaware of:

  • The Golden Spike was only 73% gold .
  • The Golden Spike was never driven into the Ceremonial Last Tie (which isn't here, either -- made of laurel especially for the event, it was torn to splinters by rabid souvenir hounds minutes after the ceremony). The spike was positioned for nudging into a pre-drilled hole, like shelf hardware in a ready-to-assemble Home Depot cabinet. Leland Stanford took a swing and at first missed -- and they still named a university after him (okay, his railroad fortune did help pay for the place). [*Tipster Richard Felt trumps Mr Picky by writing that the laurel wood tie was in fact not destroyed by the mob, but instead was taken to San Francisco where it was destroyed by a 1906 earthquake. The wood tie that was destroyed by the mob was a replacement, made of humble pine.]
  • The real Last Spike, the one that ultimately fastened the final rail and made it safe for transport, was made out of everyday iron, driven into place by a nameless laborer -- likely from China or Ireland.
  • The two locomotives on display at the Site are not the locomotives that met here in 1869. The original "Jupiter" and "No. 119" were sold for scrap years ago for $1,000 apiece.
  • Most important of all, Promontory Summit is NOT the site where nation's first transcontinental railroad was completed. No matter what the US Department of the Interior tells you (and they make snide remarks here when you mention the TRUTH), the transcontinental railroad wasn't completed until 15 months later, when East met West near Strasburg, Colorado.

Spike - Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Spike - Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The first continuous chain of rails from ocean to ocean met on August 15, 1870, at a dry creek bed named Comanche Crossing by the undersung Kansas Pacific Railroad. For many years a small, drab, concrete pylon marked the site -- nothing like the 56-foot-tall Golden Spike replica, relic of some forgotten movie promotion -- that casts a shadow of shame over Council Bluffs, Iowa -- eastern terminus of the Union Pacific's road and a city obviously IN BED with the Feds. The pylon has since been moved into nearby Strasburg, where it stands in Lions Park next to the monkey bars.

There's no hype here; no Congressionally-authorized 2200-acre National Historic Site; no fat cat 19th century industrialist's golden bauble; no ugly, brown, National Historic Site road signs erected and maintained with your tax dollars. Just a tiny park with a swing set on one end, the pylon on the other, and a lot of quiet pride and courage in between.

Where the Transcontinental Railroad Actually Met

Comanche Crossing Historical Society Museum

56060 E. Colfax Ave., Strasburg, CO
At the Commanche Crossing Historical Society Museum. I-70 exit 310. Drive north one-quarter mile to Hwy 36/E. Colfax Ave. Turn left. Drive three blocks. The Museum will be on the left (south) side. Turn onto the museum road and drive straight in; the sign is in front of the old train depot on the left.
Sign always visible; Museum open daily June-Aug. 1-4 pm. (Call to verify)
Save to My Sights Team Field Report

Golden Spike Monument

9th Ave., Council Bluffs, IA
9th Ave. just east of S. 21st St.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Golden Spike Rd, Brigham City, UT
I-15 exit 365, 32 miles west of Brigham City, Hwys 13 and 83 to Promontory Summit.
Museum daily 9-5 (Call to verify)
Free, but $7.00 parking
Save to My Sights

Explore Thousands of Unique Roadside Landmarks!

Strange and amusing destinations in the US and Canada are our specialty. Start here.
Use's Attraction Maps to plan your next road trip.

February 20, 2017

My Sights

Save Cool Vacation Destinations!

Try My Sights

Roadside America app
Roadside Presidents app

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

Sit with Roger Ebert, Champaign, Illinois (Feb 20-26, 2017)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings

Sightings. Arrives without warning. Leaves no burn marks. A free newsletter from Subscribe now! Hotel & Motel Finder

Special online rates for hotels & motels.

Book Online Now