We, and our truck, move more slowly now than seven years ago. The truck is just as strong and speedy as ever, but little pieces of it require care. The other day we noticed a flat tire -- the AAA came with a tow truck and in almost no time the flat The Golden Spike Monument, Promontory Utah The Golden Spike monument was fixed at no charge.

We sighed with relief: no new tires needed yet.

This morning we couldn't get the lock on our camper shell hatch to open. Off we went, to the Snug-Top dealer a half-hour away. Snug-Top only serves customers west of the Mississippi, so the last time this happened we had to order a new lock and figure out how to put it in. This morning, a friendly young man with the very good name of Robert replaced a cotter pin and then proceeded to clean the lock mechanism thoroughly. Again, no charge.

We think we are getting spoiled but we like it!

We celebrated by driving north from Salt Lake City to the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory; we wanted to learn how the first transcontinental Golden Spike track Plaque showing spike location railroad was built, which we remembered imperfectly from American history class. Predictably, there was a good movie on the subject showing at the Visitor Center. The project began in 1863, with an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln. The Union Pacific went west out of Omaha, while the Central Pacific ran east out of Sacramento. Both railroads faced an engineering challenge, but the Central Pacific had the tougher job, especially during the first year, when they worked through the winter building tunnels as they struggled to cross the Sierra Nevada near the Donner Pass. Some days they advanced as little as eight inches, while the mainly Chinese crews of the Union Pacific laid a mile a day across Nebraska. But the winter storms on Tools for laying track Track-laying tools the great plains caused the Union Pacific to suspend operations. Progress was slow until the Civil War ended, at which time the Union Pacific benefited from a good supply of discharged soldiers.

As was customary, railroads were rewarded with land rights adjacent to their right of way, so the two contestants were competing for lucrative real estate as well as prestige. Since the Congress had failed to legislate a method for determining the point the two lines would join together, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific teams kept right on laying track, passing each other and continuing on for up to 200 miles. At this point in the film we started giggling. Probably we'd be crying if it was today's taxes being squandered by the government.

Replica of the Golden Spike Golden Spike replica Finally Promontory was determined as the meeting point, the two lines each brought up a locomotive, and the crowd of construction workers was augmented by a few company and government officials, while a photograph was taken of the bosses driving the four golden spikes, May 10, 1869. The whole ceremony was telegraphed back to the coasts thus joined.

The golden spikes were quickly removed and replaced with the iron variety after the photo-op. Some were only gilt silver, anyway, but the one in the museum at Stanford University is definitely solid gold, around 18k. One of the four is currently missing. Part of the railroad tracks Tracks near the monument

Soon after the completion of the transcontinental railroad special trains were laid on so that hunters could fire from the railroad cars, decimating the buffalo herds. The buffalo were a nuisance to the railroads, often blocking the trains' progress, the hides were sold, the meat left to rot, and the Plains Indians shed bitter tears.

The combination of the railroad and the 1862 Homestead Act brought millions of settlers -- many of them immigrants -- to the West, and in a few decades there were essentially no more frontiers in the U.S.

Most of the early rails have been scrapped -- they were made of iron, which did not last long, and would certainly not be useful for today's heavy cars. We don't have View of nearby mountains The mountains the balance sheets handy, but we rather suspect the profits made by the railroads were in real estate rather than hauling passengers and freight.

Less than 50 years later a shortcut was made by constructing a railroad causeway over the Great Salt Lake. The track and ties through Promontory were taken up. A pyramidal monument was erected on the site and often photographed.

Why the location is a National Historic Site is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the answer lies with the railroad buffs. They came back for the 1969 centenary reenactment, when new track was laid (just around the site), and more photographs taken. Each May 10 there is another reenactment.

Promontory sits about 30 miles west of Brigham City, in turn about 50 miles north of Rocket display ATK rocket display Salt Lake City. The land is not good for much more than open range cattle grazing. It's nowhere near as gorgeous as Southeastern Utah's canyons, with many honest-to-goodness national parks, refuges, monuments, etc. But the drive is still beautiful, as are all drives through the back country of the Great American West (avoid the freeways, friends!)

And the land has one other use, as we determined by turning left as we exited the National Historic Site. ATK Launch Systems Group (successor corporation to Thiokol) has a good-sized rocket and satellite launch facility here, along with an exhibit of famous rocket propulsion systems the company has built for the Armed Forces and NASA. The Promontory facility is the home of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster.