It was a monumental coincidence that the new 43-foot tall Golden Spike stopped in Golden on its cross-country tour.
But, Colorado Railroad Museum visitors were thankful it did.
On Oct. 17, the new monument commemorating the Transcontinental Railroad and its workers made a new-fashioned “whistle stop” at the Colorado Railroad Museum. In celebration, the museum hosted special presentations, crafts and storytimes, along with free admission.
The Transcontinental Railroad, which spanned from Iowa to California, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019.
The Union Pacific Railroad built more than 1,000 miles starting from the east; and the Central Pacific Railroad Company built almost 700 miles starting from the west; and the two met in the middle at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869.
After six months of planning, Blumberg said he and his team spent two years and three months putting it together at his Kentucky workshop. The bulk of the monument is aluminum covered in gold leaf, he said, adding that the combination will be lightweight and non-corrosive.
Blumberg said he built the monument on its side, using a structure that rotated it like a rotisserie. After that, the team put it on a flatbed truck, so even he hasn’t seen it upright and won’t until it’s installed next summer.
Once it was completed, the Golden Spike Foundation decided to set up a cross-country tour from Kentucky to Utah and then from California to Utah. Foundation member Kirsten Dodge said whistle stops like the one in Golden are great chances for people to see the monument in case they can’t travel to Utah once it’s installed.
Along with the public whistle stops, the foundation’s also doing personal visits at elementary schools along the route. Blumberg and Dodge said it’s a way to teach children about the history of the railroad and the people who made it, as well as the artistic process behind the monument.
The Golden Spike has stopped through both small towns and bigger cities on its westward journey, and Blumberg said it’s been rewarding to meet so many people and tell them about the artwork and the stories behind it.
Dodge added: “We hope it sparks curiosity.”
The faces of the monument
To celebrate the Transcontinental Railroad, each side of the monument depicts a different aspect of its story, and “gives faces to the faceless,” as the monument’s promotional video explains.
Two sides honor the Union Pacific workers and the Central Pacific workers, respectively.
Transcontinental Railroad workers included immigrants from China, Ireland, Germany and other countries; freed slaves; and Civil War veterans. Their contributions to the railroad have been underrecognized historically, Blumberg and Dodge explained, but the monument commemorates their sacrifices and labor on the historic project.
Blumberg said he modeled the workers after photographs and other documentation of the time, adding that he wanted to depict them “how people looked at the time.” Because they were outside working long hours every day, he said they typically looked tired and weather-beaten in photographs, and he wanted part of the monument to reflect that.
The two other sides, which were more visible during the Oct. 17 whistle stop, depict:
- the innovations in technology and transportation during the late 1800s, such as the telegraph; and
- the land the Transcontinental Railroad crossed and the Native American people who call it home.
After working on the monument for almost three years, Blumberg said it was “humbling to be involved in something like this.” He hoped the monument would honor the people of the Transcontinental Railroad and help tell their stories for decades to come.
A Golden opportunity
After Golden, the monument was scheduled to stop in Loveland, Colorado before heading to Wyoming and Utah later in October. Then, it’ll do a west-to-east tour in the spring, starting in California and ending in Utah.
In total, Dodge said there were nine official whistle stops on the east-to-west tour, including the Union Stations in St. Louis and Kansas City. Dodge said the foundation considered stopping at Denver’s Union Station too, but it would’ve been logistically tricky to bring a 50-foot-long truck into downtown Denver, Dodge explained.
Once the foundation started exploring the Colorado Railroad Museum as a whistle stop, Dodge said there was “a lot of synergy” between the museum and the foundation’s work and interests.
“It made absolute sense that we’d become the host,” Paul Hammond, the museum’s executive director, said.
He also described how the Transcontinental Railroad “changed the trajectory” for Colorado. The railroad made travel so much easier for people going to and from Colorado, and it helped the territory’s population grow so much that it became a state less than a decade later.
Overall, Hammond, his staff and other visitors were excited to see such a unique piece of art stop by Golden, even if it was just for the day.
For more information on the Golden Spike Monument, visit spike150.org.
For more information on the Colorado Railroad Museum, including its upcoming Polar Express train rides that kick off Nov. 10, visit coloradorailroadmuseum.org.