Celebrate the transcontinental railroad sesquicentennial
Two suburban groups will help celebrate the sesquicentennial of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
A celebration on Saturday, May 4, at The Illinois Railway Museum in Union will recognize the 150-year milestone. Visitors can board a coach train pulled by a diesel, and electric interurban and streetcars will be available for visitors to ride. Illinois residents will be treated to 50 percent off the ticket price with a valid ID.
On Saturday, May 11, the North Central "O" Gaugers Model Railroad Club will recognize the significant anniversary by running model steam engines from the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines. The tracks open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Fremont Public Library, Mundelein.
The event is free and includes the club's monthly book sale, which sometimes offers train books. All ages are welcome.
The epic story of the 1869 completion of the transcontinental railroad personifies the American spirit. By the 1850s, railroads crisscrossed the East Coast, continued through Chicago and crossed the Mississippi River. From there, travelers negotiated a hodgepodge of transportation modes in order to land months later on the West Coast.
The Civil War's split between the North and South provided the opportunity to negotiate a northerly route and realize the country's destiny to link the two coasts. Steam locomotive from opposite directions met on May 10, 1869, in Promontory, Utah, joining the east and west routes with a ceremonial golden spike.
This year, the Golden Spike National Historical Park in Promontory will kick off a three-day celebration of the sesquicentennial of the transcontinental railroad, expecting attendance of as many as 50,000 train enthusiasts beginning Friday, May 10.
Other events in museums, universities and communities throughout the state are posted on a website, www.spike150.org.
In California, the Railroad Museum in Sacramento will feature artifacts relating to the Central Pacific's pursuit to blast through the Sierra Nevadas and lay rails to meet the Union Pacific in Promontory.
This single event proved transformational for almost every aspect of American society: it created a significant call for immigration of Irish and Chinese laborers, the demise of the Native American traditional way of life, the first law banning immigration to the U.S. of a specific ethnic group, changes in women's fashion, a boon for westward migration, time standardization, and statehood for 11 western territories, among other things.
The Union Pacific Railroad has been hosting a traveling exhibit in seven western states along the railway. These exhibits will continue through July. Find dates and locations on www.up.com/aboutup/community/great-race.
For an online tour of historic photos of sites along the two rail lines, see the railroad's website, "The Great Race to Promontory" at www.up.com/goldenspike/index.html.
Sign up for steam engine news on www.up.com/heritage/steam to follow the railway's steam engines Big Boy No. 4014 and Living Legend No. 844 as they ride the rails between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, through May 19.