As AMC prepares to debut the last seven episodes of its Western railroad drama, Hell on Wheels, this Saturday (June 11th), it is worth taking a look at the two steam locomotives that symbolize both the completion of the first transcontinental railroad & the series.
Completed May 10th, 1869, the joining of the westward Union Pacific Railroad and eastward Central Pacific Railroad marked the creation of the world’s first transcontinental rail line. The two railroads met at Promontory Summit, Utah (Territory), in a moment that was both captured by photograph and transmitted via telegraph across North America. In what has been described today as the world’s first social media event, with the final hammer swing, the word “DONE” was sent. That message launched celebrations across the US, with cannons fired in New York and San Francisco, and a seven-mile parade across Chicago.
The steam locomotive that represented the Union Pacific at this famous meet was No.119, built in New Jersey just the year prior. It would continue service until 1903, when it was scrapped for just $1000 (approximately $28K in 2015 money). The Jupiter, also built in 1868 (in New York), was the Central Pacific’s engine and its career would end in 1909, when it was bought by scrappers for yes, $1000. The 119 was a coal-burner while The Jupiter used wood (it was later converted to coal).
The significance of the two original steam engines would grow in time. The US National Park Service commissioned the building of replicas, a process that began in 1975 and was completed in 1979. Those replicas are now used at the Golden Spike National Historic Site (at Promontory Summit, UT) to re-enact the original completion of the transcontinental railroad.
The actual site of the “last spike” is just 300 feet from the park’s Visitor Center. Re-enactments of the driving of that “Golden Spike” take place Saturdays and holidays from May to mid-September. The two replica locomotives are also run for photos during the spring and summer.
In the following AMC-produced clip, the producers and crew of Hell on Wheels give a behind-the-scenes look of how they built a train for use in the show’s first season:
The June 11th return of Hell on Wheels debuts at 9pm (EST).
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)