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|Posted: Mon Jan 15, 2024 11:27 am Post subject: Chapter 19 ~ The Golden Spike
CHAPTER 19 ~ The Golden Spike
Laura and on-Max were standing smack-dab in the middle a rowdy western crowd of happy people. On a wooden platform, 30 feet away, a group musicians were strumming banjoes, playing fiddles, and blowing harmonicas. It was a noisy Western celebration, an American Ho-Down, with square-dancing, whoppin', and hollerin'! It was party time in the American Midwest! The Transcontinental Railroad was finally finished!
The place was Promontory Summit, Utah, and the date was May 10, 1869. On the far side of the crowd, Laura could see the spot where the railroad tracks from the East coast and the West coast would soon be joined.
"Wow, I didn't know there would be so many people here," said Laura.
Jon-Max nodded, then he said, "Some of them have traveled for hundreds of miles to see this celebration." As he spoke, Jon-Max tipped his cowboy hat courteously to a lady who walked by. The lady wore a long, faded dress and a wide-brimmed bonnet that almost covered up her face. He could barely see her quick smile when she nodded at him as she passed by.
Behind the lady was a line of kids, seven in all, following the lady like a row of ducklings. Their ages ranged from four to fourteen. The older ones gave Jon-Max and Laura quick looks of curiosity, wondering where they from. Laura smiled and wished she could tell them that she was from the future, a time-traveling fifth grader who was gathering information for a Social Studies report.
The people near the wooden platform were dancing so energetically that they raised a cloud of dust from the hard dry ground. Nobody seemed to mind the dust. They were having too much fun.
Amidst the crowd, Laura saw three real, honest-to-goodness cowboys! They wore wide-brimmed cowboy hats, and they carried six-guns in leather holsters. They even wore spurs that made jingling sounds when they walked Laura felt like she had stepped into a western movie!
The cowboys walked through the noisy crowd and smiled at the people they passed. They grinned at the young girls who were dancing to the lively music, and they tipped their hats when the girls grinned back.
A group of men strolled past Laura. These men were red headed and pale-skinned, with their shirt sleeves rolled up to show off the muscles in their brawny arms.
"Uh-oh," Jon-Max grinned and spoke quietly as the men went past. "The Irish have arrived."
"Is that bad?" Laura said with a worried voice.
"No, it's not bad! It's good! Those guys are from Ireland. Like so many other immigrants, the Irish came to America to find a new life. A lot of them worked on the crews that built the Transcontinental Railroad. They're nice people, but they love to fight!
Laura studied the men's red hair and light-colored skin for a moment, then she said, "Hey, these guys kinda remind me of you!"
Jon-Max answered with a big smile and a funny accent in his voice. "Aye, me old frrr-riend! That's because I'm Irrr-rish, me-self. Remember? Jonathan Maxmillian O’Malley!"
Laura could tell from the smile on Jon-Max's face that he was very proud of his heritage — which didn't surprise at all. Laura was proud of her own heritage, too.
A group of young children dashed around between the adults, chasing each other, playing tag. One of them was singing "Pop Goes the Weasel". The dry ground beneath their feet sent clouds of pale dust rising up as the kids raced back and forth. The adults ignored both the kids and the dust because they were having so much fun themselves!
"Hey, look out!" Jon-Max said in a laughing voice as he jumped out the way of a dancing couple who came bouncing through the crowd. The other people in the crowd jumped back to make a path for the two lively dancers, laughing and shouting and clapping in time with the music as the couple went past. Both of the dancers were lean and lanky, dressed in faded clothes. The smiles on their happy faces were as bright as the sun above, and the gladness in their hearts was as pure as the deep blue sky.
The two bouncing dancers plowed a wide opening through the happy crowd for more than fifty feet. Then they stopped and came bounding back towards the wooden platform, raising a new cloud of dust as they danced their way back towards the musicians who were sending their magic music floating out over this cheerful celebration. The two lanky dancers merged with the other dancers and were quickly lost from sight — but Laura knew that she would never forget the sight of that joyful man and women as they danced their way into the hearts of the people here at Promontory, Utah, on this great day in history!
The crowd went wild after the dancing couple pranced through them. A tall young man standing next to Jon-Max turned to a short man who stood next to him. He grabbed the short man around the neck and pretended to dance with him. The crowd started laughing and pointing at the two clowns. After a few moments they started wrestling instead of dancing, and they both ended up falling to the ground!
Several other young men in the crowd grabbed each other threw each other to the ground. Laura was suddenly reminded of the wrestling programs she had seen on TV! The pale Utah dust floated up into the air around the crazy young men who rolled around in the dirt for several minutes until some of the older men stepped up and began pulling their sons away from each other, stopping the friendly fights that had suddenly turned this Western celebration into a crazy free-for-all!
After the fighters had been dragged away by their friends and fathers, the crowd went back to what they had been doing before: talking excitedly about the historic event that was about to happen.
And that historic event was this: after many years of hard work and human sacrifice, the continent of North America finally had a railroad that spanned from the East coast to the West coast. Now, for the first time in history, people on the East coast of the United States could get on a train and travel in comfort and safety all the way to the West cost more than 3,000 miles away.
This long journey could now be made in just a few weeks, instead of the months it used to take, traveling by the slow, wooden wagons that rolled across the American plains. Those wagons were pulled by horses, mules, or oxen — and sometimes the wagons would break down and leave their passengers to freeze in the frigid winter, or to die of thirst in the scorching summer heat.
Thousands of people died trying to make the trip out west to build new homes and create new lives in this savage, beautiful land.
What America needed was a better way to travel.
And now America had it! The Transcontinental Railroad. It had not been easy. Immigrants from many nations had worked and died to make this day possible. Since the introduction of the railroad out west. playful competitions between stagecoaches and trains has been held — the trains always won, hands down!
It was a happy day for these people at Promontory Summit, Utah, the place in American where the tracks from the East coast and the West coast would finally be joined together. This was the day when the long, hard job would finally be finished!
The sky was the bluest thing Laura had ever seen in all her young life. It was a deep, clear, perfect blue, dotted with delicate clouds from one side of the Utah horizon to the other. The sun was so bright that everybody around her was squinting their eyes from the brightness.
A little boy about seven years old ran into her as he dashed through the crowd, almost knocking Laura off her feet.
"Hey!" Laura cried out. "Watch where you're going, you little dork!" She said angrily.
Jon-Max glanced quickly at his friend and said, "Whoa! Be careful what you say."
Laura blushed and quicly replied. "Oh, yeah, right,"
She and Jon-Max had to be careful not to act too differently from the other people of 1869 or they might attract too much attention. After all, they were time travelers from the future, and even though they looked just like the people around them, the clothes they wore were actually just holographic images that were being projected by Gidget and Gazmo.
The young boy who bumped into Laura muttered a quick apology and then dashed off after his friends. Laura watched the boy weave quickly through the crowd. As she watched him disappear from sight, she wondered if she had been that wild when she was younger.
After a few seconds, she thought, Yes, I probably was.
"Let's get closer to the place where the golden spike will be driven into the tracks," Jon-Max said.
The two time-traveling fifth graders wove their way through the excited crowd until they were within twenty feet of the place where the work crews were laying the last two pieces of the steel track. On the other side of the tracks, Laura saw a dozen wooden tables loaded with food for the big party that would start when the spikes were driven into the rails which completed the transcontinental railroad Laura could hardly wait for the celebration to start. She was hungry!
Laura looked to her right, toward the East, at the long, continuous railroad track which stretched all the way to the distant horizon. The Central Pacific Railroad Company had built that track. It was a continuous railroad line which stretched from this point to the East coast of the United States.
But the track didn't stop here. It also stretched all the way from here to the horizon on Laura 's left, continuing from Promontory, Utah, to Sacramento, California, on the West coast of the United States!
"Hey, look!" Jon-Max said suddenly. "A fight! I told you those Irishmen just loved to slug it out!"
The crowd had pulled back to make room for three of the brawny Irishmen as the rolled around on the dusty ground. After a few seconds, several other Irishmen closed in on the fighters and pulled them apart. As soon as the three Irishmen had been separated, they dusted themselves off, looked at each other for a moment, and then they busted out laughing!
The whole group walked off into the crowd, talking and joking with each other.
Over by the railroad tracks, Laura saw the work crews getting ready to lay down the last two pieces of track, the pieces which would join the long stretch of track on Laura's left to the track on her right. And when that happened . . . America would have its very first Transcon¬tinental Railroad!
With growing excitement, Laura gazed at the place on the dry ground where the tracks from the East had been joined with the tracks from the West. All the wooden ties and the steel rails had been put into place on the ground. The only thing left to do was to drive in the metal spikes which would hold the rails in place.
Laura knew that the spikes for these rails where not like any other spikes that had been used before. There would be three special spikes used today. One of these spikes was made of gold, the second was made of silver, and a third was made of bronze!
"Hey, look!" Jon-Max said in an excited voice. He was pointing towards the long track that stretched to the East. Across the flat, dry landscape, a dark shape was moving along the railroad tracks towards Laura and Jon-Max. Above the dark shape was a rising cloud of black smoke. A long, mournful sound drifted across the prairie and reached the ears of the celebrating crowd. As soon as the people heard it, an eerie silence fell over them for a few seconds. And then a deafening cheer rose up that shook the air around Laura and Jon-Max.
A train was coming!
The people in the crowd were laughing, jumping up and down, and hugging each other as they watched the approaching train from the Central Pacific Railroad. The president of the company, and several of his top executives, were on that train. They were coming to join the ceremony that would complete the transcontinental railroad.
"Hey, there's another one!" shouted one of the musicians on the platform. Everybody turned to look in the other direction, towards the West. There, in the distance, was another puff of black smoke rising into the air above a dark shape that approached along the track.
"That must be the train from the Central Pacific Company," said Jon-Max.
"Wow, that's cool," said Laura.
"What's cool?" asked Jon Max.
"They way they timed the two trains to get here at the same moment," said Laura.
"Oh, yeah, you're right!" agreed Jon-Max. "Railroad companies gotta run on really tight schedules. It's important for trains to arrive and leave on time."
Laura thought about what Jon-Max had said for moment, then she said, "Oh, I get it! The two train companies know how to arrange for their trains to show up like this at the same time. All the trains have to run on exact schedules, right?"
"You got it!" said Jon-Max. He wore a wide grin as he spoke, and she knew that her friend was feeling a deep sense of pride in all the Americans who had worked to make this great day possible.
A few minutes later, the two trains were chugging slowly up to the place where the last two pieces of track were joined together. Both of the massive black iron engines were decorated with small American flags, and the dark metal of both the engines had been polished to a gleaming luster. The black smoke from their tall stacks billowed out and rose into the clear blue sky.
Jets of steam hissed from the sides of the engines as their engineers turned the levers which released some of the great pressure which had built up the two trains' boilers. The steam spewed out the sides of the engines and flowed around the feet of the happy people that walked along next to the two great iron monsters as the distance between them grew smaller and smaller.
While the two trains approached each other, several men from the work crews of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific climbed up onto the "cow catchers" at the front of the engines. Laura watched with fascination as the two trains closed the gap between them. Twenty feet . . . fifteen feet . . .ten feet . . . and then the men who clung to the front of the two enormous engines reached out their hands to each other.
Closer and closer they came, until finally the two engines gently bumped together. When they did, the men on the front of the engines grinned at each other as they took hold of each other's hands and shook them energetically.
The news photographers selected a group of the railroad workers to pose for a picture — including some of the Chinese immigrants who'd played such an important role in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The two young time travelers recognized the picture from their histerory books!
"Wow, look at that, Laura!" said Jon-Max. "The East coast meets the West coast. Those guys who are shaking hands represent the meeting of two sides of an entire continent!"
Jon-Max was right. The people of America had actually managed to bring together two sides of an entire continent, as well was people countries around the world. A distance of 3,000 miles had been closed by the building of the transcontinental railroad. This was a great moment in history.
And the railroad was just the beginning!
In the future the east and west coasts would be brought even closer together by the invention of high-speed highways and fast airplanes. By the 21st Century, the computer internet would make it possible for people to talk to each other instantly.
During the next twenty minutes, Jon-Max and Laura mingled with the celebrating crowd as they enjoyed the sight of two important men — the presidents of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads — as they took turns hammering the three special spikes of gold, silver, and bronze into the wooden ties beneath last rails which spanned America.
Everybody laughed as both these important men missed the golden spike with the big hammers when they swung at it! Several of the workmen finally finished the job of driving in the gold, silver, and bronze spikes that completed the transcontinental railroad.
When the ceremony and the speeches were all done, the crowd headed for the tables that were loaded with food, and the whole celebration turned into one big picnic celebration.
Jon-Max and Laura filled up their plates with food and then wandered away from the noisy crowd. When they were sure that nobody would hear their conversation, Laura said, "You know something, Jon-Max? I'd really love ride on one of those trains. I'll bet that would be fun!"
Jon-Max had a mouth full of fried chicken, so he couldn't speak right away, but as soon as he could swallow, he answered in an excited voice. "I was thinking the same thing!" he exclaimed. "Those trains are such awesome machines. We just gotta ride one."
Laura thought about the idea for a moment, then she said, "Can we really do it? Can we really ride a train?"
"Sure we can," Jon-Max said with an excited smile. "And think about how that will help your social studies report! A description of a train ride in your report will really make it interesting!"
Laura looked puzzled for a moment. "Social Studies report?" Then she remembered why they were there. "Oh, yeah! The report! I forgot." She looked embarrassed for a moment, then she said, "Okay, yeah, you're right. Let's ride on a train."
"Come on," Jon-Max whispered. "Let's get out of sight."
The two time-traveling fifth graders hurried through the happy crowd until they reached one of the many tents that had been set up for the railroad crews who completed the tracks from the east and west. There were few people in tent town, because most of them were at the big celebration down by the railroad tracks. The two fifth graders found a gap between two tents, after making sure no one was close by.
"Okay, the coast is clear," Jon-Max said. He spoke to the device on his belt. "Gidget? Gazmo? Locate a train that's moving at high speed across the prairie. We want to jump to a train where we can see buffalo, Indians, and anything else that would be exciting and educational."
The two fifth graders waited with breathless impatience for five whole seconds until the two lifequard unit finally spoke in unison.
"A train like the one you requested has been located, Jon-Max. The time coordinates have been down-loaded to your Anywhen devicet."
"Thanks," Jon-Max said. He spoke to Laura. "Okay, my friend, here we go. We'll find out what it was like to race across the American plains, with buffalo herds going past us at 45 miles per hour! We'll be riding on a roadway of steel that stretches across the America wilderness. Are you ready?"
Laura answered immediately. "Yep. Let her rip!."
Jon-Max pressed the button on his anywhen device, and the two time-traveling fifth graders vanished in a flash of blue light!
NEXT: CHAPTER 20 ~ The Real Wild West!
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)