PROMONTORY SUMMIT — They biked, they bussed, they drove.
Classrooms made a field trip out of it, train buffs traveled from afar and a contingent of Chinese Americans from California came to pay their respects.
Even an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, John Voehl of Denver, traveled to the celebration at Golden Spike National Historical Park in rural Box Elder County on Friday. Like thousands of others, he was there to mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a milestone event in U.S. history.
“The transcontinental railroad is one of the greatest things that happened in the world,” said Voehl. He was sporting a tall hat and a long black coat, similar to the garb of the former U.S. president, who helped shepherd the legislation creating the historic rail line that connected the eastern and western United States.
“To be here is one thing,” Voehl continued. “To be here on this day is fantastic.”
U.S. National Park Service officials reported around 15,000 visitors on Friday, a huge spike from the 2,000 to 3,000 who have come for other recent anniversary celebrations, according to Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey, who was among the many visitors. The final spike completing the transcontinental railroad was ceremoniously pounded into the ground on May 10, 1869, and, indeed, the park swarmed with visitors from across the United States and beyond to mark the sesquicentennial of the event.
Activities at the park are also scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, though parking passes for Saturday are sold out, according to the Golden Spike website. More Spike 150 activities, as they’re called, have been going on in Ogden and around the state.
Brothers Randy and Steve Haveman, train buffs, made the trip from Oak Harbor, Washington, to the remote scrub of Promontory Summit, where Golden Spike is located. A slew of state and national leaders — Sen. Mitt Romney, Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Rob Bishop, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, U.S. and LDS Church president Russell M. Nelson — among others, spoke on Friday and actors in period garb re-enacted the ceremony from 150 years ago, complete with head-to-head trains.
“I enjoy trains, history. It was the 150th,” explained Randy Haveman. “With the Big Boy coming, that was added incentive ... that’s huge for steam aficionados.”
Big Boy is a Union Pacific Railroad steam engine that arrived in Ogden on Wednesday as part of the statewide sesquicentennial celebrations.
Leo Choy came with a contingent of about 55 Chinese Americans from the San Francisco, California, area. His great-great-grandfather, originally from China, was a railroad worker in Missouri, though he’s not sure if he helped with the transcontinental railroad.
Still, he wanted to pay respects to the Chinese labor force that had a significant hand in completion of the transcontinental railroad.
“They endured a lot. They kept the lowest pay and they did most of the work,” Choy said. “They got less recognition, (faced) a lot of discrimination at the time.”
Willsenn Kuo, also part of the California contingent, echoed that. “Their sweat, their blood have contributed to the progress of America,” he said.
Stamps, at least in part, drew Denise Haerr and husband Steve from their home in South Lake Tahoe, California. The U.S. Postal Service issued a new commemorative stamp Friday marking the sesquicentennial anniversary and she wanted to get a first-issue version.
She’s “a history buff, letter writer, lover of stamps,” Denise Haerr said, waiting in a long line to get the stamp. “I’m a lover of the U.S. Postal Service.”
Many kids, part of school field trips, bussed in for the event, including a group from Ogden’s Mound Ford Junior High. “They get to see something new and different and historic,” said Ron Gualtier, a teacher at the school.
Seven cyclists rode their bikes from Kaysville, 75 miles away, which made for a 150-mile trip in all, counting the return. “This is a way to celebrate the big event,” said one of them, Jason Woodland of Kaysville.
Jordan Argyle, of Morgan, another member of the cycling group, remembered visiting the park on May 10 years ago on a field trip as a fourth grader. This go-round was a whole different experience, though, with much more people and grandeur.
“Usually there aren’t food trucks or anything like this,” he said. Aside from numerous food trucks, Old West re-enactors traversed the grounds and there was a mock-up of an Old West town.
With so many visitors, seeing the speakers and the re-enactment of the pounding of the final spike could be difficult for those seated further away, though big-screen monitors conveyed the activity.
“It’s nice that you can at least hear. You can’t see much,” said Rylan Van Epps, of Magna. He came with his wife and four kids, and they were seated among a sea of people back far from the main stage.
Still, it was an experience for his kids, train aficionados. “This is school,” Van Epps said.
John Bond, the Weber County treasurer, attended, decked out in clothing of the time. His great-great-grandfather, Seth Blair, U.S. attorney in what was then called the Utah Territory, had spoken when the track making its way across the country reached Ogden on March 8, 1869.
“I feel like I can see through his eyes the growth and the opportunity for the future,” Bond said.