Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Who drove the last gold spike?


Who was the person who drove the last gold spike in the transcontinental railroad.


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Your question has no answer, because the gold last spike was not driven – it was dropped into a pre-drilled hole in the laurel last tie. You'll get different answers as to the "person" depending how you modify the question to conform with the actual events. The following description of the events provides the details:

"The central actors then took their places. Mills, who acted as master of ceremony, called the group to order, and introduced the Rev. J. Todd from Massachusetts for the invocation, which took about 2 minutes. At this point, at 12:27, the operator told the system that 3 dots would indicate the first blow and "done" the last blow, and "hats off" during the prayer. During the next 13 minutes the following events must have taken place: the ceremonial driving of the last iron spikes by H. Nottingham of the Michigan Southern & Lake Shore R.R., by W. Sherman of San Francisco and other participants, and finally by Commissioner J. W. Haines of Nevada, who also bolted the last fishplates; then came the adjustment of the laurel and other ties and their tamping after the alignment. At 12:40 the operator answered a question from the cast that "we have done praying. The spike is about to be presented." In the next 7 minutes the central events occurred. Dr. W. H. Harkness in a short talk presented the Hewes gold spike to Durant who "placed it in the auger hole prepared for it," no doubt on the outside of the east rail. No doubt also Harkness presented Durant with the second gold spike for its hole on the inside of the rail, but no reporter recorded this probable fact. Gov. F. A. Tritle of Nevada presented, with a few words, the silver spike to Stanford, who supposedly placed it in another auger hole in the laurel tie at the west rail; and Gov. A. P. K. Safford in like manner presented his ceremonial spike of iron, silver and gold, in the name of Arizona Territory, and also no doubt handed it to Stanford who similarly placed it in the last of the holes in the ceremonial tie. In about 2 1/2 minutes Stanford made his response on the acceptance of the spikes and concluded with "Now, gentlemen, with your assistance we will procede to lay the last tie, the last rail, and drive the last spike." This speech was quite evidently written in Sacramento and distributed to the reporters between the 8th and 10th, and so was not quite in keeping with the fact that the last rail and tie were already in place and the gold "last" spike already "driven."

In these 7 minutes there would only be time for the driving of the last spike — the gold one had already been placed in its auger hole. On behalf of the Union Pacific, General Dodge made a much shorter response in place of Dr. Durant, who had a severe headache and after the last blow retired to his sleeper. Mills made a few remarks, followed by L. W. Coe, of the Pacific Express Co., who in a very few words presented the silver sledge to Stanford. Time would not have permitted the wiring of this sledge and the gold spike after these presentations, as is generally reported in the dispatches and stories of the reporters. Stanford may have given the gold spike or other spikes token touches with the silver sledge, but for the last spike he used the regular and wired maul, standing on the south side of the laurel tie, and no doubt on the outside of the rail, while Durant stood on the north side of the tie and also on the outside of the rail.

It is reasonable to infer that the last spike was 1 only and served both roads, and that Stanford alone used the wired sledge. If the 2 officials stood on opposite sides of the rail, the heads of the silver or regular sledges were of such length that the spike could have been driven across the 3 1/4 inch rail. Perhaps at about 12:45 the operator wired "all ready now," and, after a short pause, the 3 dots for the first blow went over the wires from coast to coast, followed by a single dot for each blow until at 12:47 "done" went out for the final blow. Stanford and Durant both missed the spike at the first blow, so the wired sledge did not work; but W. N. Skilling, the Union Pacific operator at the key, performed the task of sending the 3 dots for the first blow and one for the missed blow of Durant. Whether the final driving home of the spike was done with the wired sledge or not is not known, but probably not, and the operator would have performed his task of noting the blows on the wires. The number of blows driven is unknown; yet a San Francisco paper in a local item mentions 9, without indicating the source of the data. That number may have been correct, but surely not a larger number. Stanford and Durant gave the light token and ceremonial blows; the driving home of the spike was done by general superintendents Strobridge and Reed, but which one gave the actual last blow for the "done" is unknown."

Quotation from: "Driving the Last Spike at Promontory, 1869." by J. N. Bowman, 1957.

5/16/2007 7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the J.W. Haines in this text the same J.W. Haines senator from Douglas county NV, rancher and creater of the "V-Flume"?

5/30/2007 1:38 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


According to the Deseret News, J. T. Haines was one of the Commissioners of Inspection, along with F. A. Tritle and William Sherman.  J.T.? or J.W.?  We do know that Tritle was from Nevada (he gave the Silver Spike), so Haines might also have been.


6/01/2007 7:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages