OGDEN — Unity, economics — and of course history — were the main themes that emerged during the first day of celebrations related to the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
Thousands gathered near the south end of Ogden’s Union Station Thursday as Union Pacific hosted a celebration marking the railroad sesquicentennial, a day ahead of Friday’s larger celebration at Promontory Summit in Box Elder County — the site where the last Golden Spike was originally driven into place, completing the nearly 2,000 mile transcontinental rail line.
Thursday’s ceremony in Ogden featured the rail company’s iconic steam locomotives: Living Legend No. 844 and Big Boy No. 4014. The two locomotives met, recreating the historic image taken at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869 when the line was finished.
After the steam meet, remarks were made by UP Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop. The trio was joined by Margaret Yee and Sandy Dodge as they drove a ceremonial spike. Yee’s ancestors were among thousands of Chinese immigrants who built the railroad for Central Pacific. Dodge is a descendant of Gen. Grenville Dodge, Civil War veteran and UP’s chief engineer during construction.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, which authorized the connection of UP and the Central Pacific, in 1862 during the American Civil War.
“It was at one of the darkest moments in out nation’s history,” Fritz said. “And (Lincoln’s) vision is that we’re going to stitch the country together.”
Fritz said during this week’s celebration, people should think about the “visionaries who saw what the railroad would do, the laborers who worked 12-, 14- and 16-hour days in the most brutal, punishing conditions to build this railroad virtually by hand,” a nation forever changed and the communities that were created because of the rail line.
“Communities like Ogden,” he said. “That initially might have been a water stop or a way along a journey and ultimately became economic engines in their own right.”
Built between 1863 and 1869, the transcontinental line connected the Pacific Coast at San Francisco Bay with the existing eastern U.S. railway. The railroad revolutionized the American West with a dependable transportation system that brought western states economic prosperity through the relatively inexpensive and speedy movement of both goods and people.
“Travel that took six months, to go from New York to San Francisco at the risk of your life, literally turned into a 10 day excursion in relative comfort,” Fritz said.
Herbert and Bishop touted the unifying power of the train, but also spoke of the railroad’s undeniable economic impact.
Bishop said before the Civil War, England produced six times more steel than the U.S. After the railroad was completed, Bishop said, the U.S. produced 42 percent of all the steel in the world.
“The railroad made us into industrial power,” he said.
Herbert said the railroad made Ogden the “Crossroads of the West,” and helped prop up Utah’s economy for several decades. He said the railroad is still a viable economic contributor in Utah today, with Union Pacific spending $93 million on the state’s rail infrastructure last year and more than $240 million over the past five years. The governor said that has created 1,284 jobs in the state.
But beyond the dollars it generated and conveniences it created, Thursday’s speaking trio said the true impact of the railroad is more existential.
“We can do significant things during difficult times,” Herbert said. “We can dream big and the sky is the limit to what we thing we can accomplish as a people, particularly if we work together and set aside difference of philosophy and opinion.”
Fritz read a prayer inscribed on the original Golden Spike: “May God continue the unity of our country like this railroad unites the two great oceans of this world.”
“That’s a hope that stands the test of time and it still matters today,” Fritz said.
Ogden will continue to hold its Heritage Festival through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The event is free to the public and will be held at the Union Station and on Historic 25th Street between Wall and Grant avenues. The event will feature historic presentations, live music, performances, vendors, community activities and more.
During the celebration, Wall Avenue will be closed around the Union Station. A full schedule of events and ticketing information for Ogden and around the state can be found at www.spike150.org or at www.goldenspike2019.com.
Free events will also take place at Promontory Summit from from morning to night through Sunday. The working replicas of the Union Pacific No. 119 and the Central Pacific Jupiter locomotives will be featured during a Friday reenactment at the summit.