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Golden Spike Tower Opens

Golden Spike TowerBack in 1999, North Platte, Nebraska, dreamed up a bold plan to attract visitors. They would capitalize on their status as home of the world’s largest railroad yards by erecting a giant tower shaped like a golden spike from which railroad buffs could observe the train action in the yards. The tower would be covered in metal and visible from I-80. Planners estimated it would draw an estimated 200,000 visitors a year — even though it was 600 miles east of the spot where the golden spike supposedly marked the junction of the transcontinental railroad.

But when the Golden Spike Tower finally opened this week, it was with a more modest clang. It is now 7 stories shorter than originally planned, and it looks like a house stuck on top of a giant cement column, not like a golden spike. Visitor projections have been revised down to a more modest 50,000 visitors a year by five years from now. Railroad buffs are still delighted, but the rest of us ask, what happened?

According to Diane Cokeland, president of North Platte’s Golden Spike Tower board, the Tower’s fate was sealed by a change to the local fire code. “It would have required a second stairwell, and that would have made it a fat spike,” she told us. “And there were already cost concerns, and so the board decided to reevaluate the entire project.”

What the board decided to do was to cut the Tower’s budget, even though a controversial local occupancy tax (tacked onto hotel room bills until 2029) was kept in place. And although the Tower no longer looked like a spike, it continued to be called the Golden Spike Tower. “We evaluated changing the name,” Diane said, “but there was already so much name recognition that there was concern that people wouldn’t recognize it if we changed the name.”

Diane is confident that people who visit the Tower won’t care that it doesn’t look like a golden spike — they just want a tower where they can watch trains. Other folks in North Platte, however, are skeptical. “People here are calling it the game warden tower, the traffic control tower, the airport runway tower,” said Shelly Harshaw, the Tower’s executive director. “North Platte’s not so appreciative now, but I think that they will soon come to realize what they’ve got here.”

Sections: Attraction News 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Golden Spike Tower Opens”

  1. Skulldiggety Says:
    June 19th, 2008 at 10:50 am

    How come it’s not painted gold at least? Seems that wouldn’t have cost much.

  2. auridicyl Says:
    June 19th, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Good point, Skulldiggety. If it were painted gold, it would actually look a bit like the top end of a railroad spike, with the bottom (spiky) end presumably being buried in the ground.

  3. Greg Brown Says:
    June 19th, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Can you see Carhenge from the top?

  4. butkusjd Says:
    June 19th, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    I’ve been to the old tower and watched them split trains and it’s fascinating. I’ve been waiting on the new one to open for more than a year. Will have to make a trip out that way soon.

    No, you can’t see Carhenge unfortunately. It’s probably a good 200 miles to the northwest still.

  5. John Holmes Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 8:36 am

    I’m glad to see that it’s open, but what a long wait! We were there in 2006 and again last year hoping to see the Spike, but we saw NOTHING! No construction, nothing. Locals we spoke to didn’t seem to be impressed with the project, in fact, there was pretty strong sentiment against it ever being completed. The hump is interesting to watch, and the yards are really HUGE. And, no, you can’t see Carhenge from N. Platte, but if you drive between the two you’ll see a LOT of trains!

  6. Mac Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Is it just me, or does this attraction smack of the infamous Great Platte River Road Archway? Now granted the archway was a delight in its Cheesy Goodness, but I keep wondering why the good folks of Nebraska keep pinning their hopes for an economic windfall on structures that look over nothing in particular?

  7. Neil Says:
    June 27th, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    I was out in N. Platte in Oct. ’06 and was more interested in the Union Pacific main line than the yard. Having realized the error of my ways I hope to return one day and I assure the people of N. Platte that the Golden Spike Tower is a big reason for that.
    Give us railfans a chance and we will pay you back.

  8. mark lammert Says:
    August 1st, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    I live 675 miles to the east and am making plains to travel to [this] unique attraction.
    I must go to the TOWER. It is calling me.

  9. Tom Beckett Says:
    December 11th, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    If it has a good view of the yard, train watchers will come from all over the continent. UP makes much of the fact that Bailey Yard is the largest in the world, and it is more of a draw than people who are not railfans realize. No, you can’t see carhenge, it’s up near Alliance, and is worth the trip, not only for the oddball attraction, but for the trip thru the Sand Hills.

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