I delight in a world full of unlikely events and serendipity, some of which may sound almost too good to be true. I doubt that I have the imagination to dream up some of these stories. Actually, I think these kinds of things happen to everyone; it’s just that I have learned to look for them and expect them and also to thoroughly enjoy them. While it is also true that almost everything that happens to us, good or bad, can be calculated to be highly unlikely. Sometimes events seem even more unlikely than that. Whoevever is running the universe must delight placing such situations in our paths. Someone once asked me what I thought a miracle was. This is a story about what I think a miracle is.
Pauline and I often take off on a weekend and absorb ourselfs in a local environment somewhere for a few days. There are so many such places that deserve a day or two of just walking around, not tourist places, but just interesting quaint and often beautiful places that there is no danger of depleting them all. Since we hadn’t done this in a while, we began checking where we could drive or fly in a few hours for a weekend. In the process we ran upon an American Airlines special rate for Salt Lake City. I had been through Salt Lake City on many occasions, but never lingered in the city for long. “Let’s go see the Morman Tabernacle, hear the choir on a Sunday morning, and just wander around the town.” A quick look at a Salt Lake City writeup convinced us we couldn’t go wrong.
After we had the tickets and a hotel, I suddenly realized that it was January, and, unlike California, some people around the country have winters. Salt Lake City might be cold this time of year. After an initial panic that our poorly made plan may lead us into something we were not prepared for, we concluded “Well, how cold can it be?” Just to be safe I reserved a four wheel drive off road vehicle in case we had a problem with snow. As we landed, just after dark, we could see a lot of white, not only on the ground but also in the air. We checked into a Holiday Inn Express, bundled up, and walked around the town seeing a lot of interesting things that we would return to the next morning.
We were awakened at 6 AM the following morning by a loud screeching, scraping sound just outside our window. A snowplow was busy scraping up six inches of snow that had accumulated on the parking lot in the night. Fortunately, by 9 o’clock, the sun was out and we were experiencing a beautiful day. Six inches of snow had not so much as slowed down Salt Lake City, and the vehicle proved itself as a worthy choice. We had a Saturday filled with neat architecture, sculptures, and a tour of the tabernacle that could make a second story, but this story is about what happened the next day.
For the first time, in the motel that night, we checked to see what places of interest lay around Salt Lake City within a short drive. There are quite a few. One that caught my eye is Promentory Point, the place where the east and west rail roads joined in the 19th century. I had read that a golden spike had been driven in the last railroad tie that brought the two together. I had no idea what we would find at Promentory point, but our decision was to go if weather permitted.
Sunday appeared to be a repeat of Saturday, cold but sunny, so immediately after hearing the Sunday morning Tabernacle Choir, we headed for Promentory Point. The drive was so beautiful that I began to care little if anything was at Promentory point or not. Promentory Point is literally in the middle of nowhere. We even talked of cutting the drive short since the views were enough to satisfy us. Nevertheless, we continued following signs to a visitor’s center that had an interesting museum with a history of the place. The only person around besides us was a ranger who was sitting behind a counter. Strolling around behind the visitors center we found the railroad track and a platform and plaque that commemorates the joining event. That is when we noticed a sledge hammer and a golden spike laying next to the track. Pauline and I took turns photographing each other pretending to drive in the spike. Eventually we got cold and tired of playing with the sledge hammer and went back in to warm up.
While Pauline was reading the displays I started a conversation with the ranger. “Are there any driving trails or monuments in the park that we might see?” I asked. He began describing a few of the park features. Among them is a road along the original rail bed that requires a four wheel drive vehicle. “No problem,” I replied. And then he dropped the bomb on me.
“You have about two hours before the show and that should give you just about enough time to drive the old road.”
“What show?” I asked.
“You’re kidding right?” he asked. He gave me a funny look and smiled as though I was having him on. Then he could see that I did not know what he was talking about.
“You didn’t drive all the way our here for nothing did you?” he asked through a chuckle. “Nobody comes out here this time of year.” And then he explained “The show”. He described an amazing scenario that was about to take place. “In an hour or so this place will be buzzing with people in period, dressed to the hilt for the reenactment. Every few years a few people gather here to celebrate the day the east met west. But what is about to happen now is once in a lifetime. The American Railroad Association is meeting for the first time in Salt Lake City this week, and they with the locals have planned a full reenactment of that day. We will have the president of the Santa Fe Railroad, the Secretary of Transportation, the governor, congressmen, and so on acting out exactly what happened that day when the golden spike was driven. It is extremely rare that we bring out both engines to meet here, but that is happening today. Fellow, if you just happened upon this, consider it your lucky day.”
As we were leaving to take the drive along the old road, the first couple arrived, fully dressed in clothes of the 1800’s. We asked if we could photograph them and they graciously agreed.
By the time we began the drive along the old road I was thankful for having the four wheel drive vehicle. The drive, which was well worth the effort took about an hour proceeding along the old rail bed with signposts designating special happenings. I learned many interesting facts about the time that I had never imagined. Two different railroad construction companies proceeding from east and west were being paid by the mile. So when they came to the same longitude a few miles north and south of each other they continued on for nearly a hundred miles to increase their intake before someone finally stopped them and ordered them to join at Promentory Point. The trail was laden with stories of hardship, heroes, and courageous achievements.
When we arrived back at the visitors center, it was as if we had stepped back 150 years in time. Just as the ranger had promised, the place was buzzing with men and women of the 1800’s. As we walked onto the platform an old bearded gentleman introduced himself as the governor soliciting our vote in the upcoming election, while claiming much of the credit for the railroad. The entire conversation was done in period. This was serious stuff, and these people knew their roles and history. We were really back in the 1800’s. Everything done and said at that point reflected the times back then. I began to hear the Twilight Zone theme song playing in my head.
They didn’t seem to mind that we were the only ones not in costume, and they invited us to join in the festivities. The ceremony lasted about an hour beginning with bringing out the trains. One of the two trains had not been out of its shelter in years. As each train huffed and puffed its way to the visitor’s center the crowd cheered loudly. After the two trains met the ceremony began with introductions, speeches, and finally the driving of the spike. Legend held that one railroad president was so drunk that he missed the spike and needed help. They even reenacted that part.
On our way back to Salt Lake City, we appreciated the scenery even more than before as a amazing sunset entertained us. To improve the view further we drove across the bridge onto island and parked along the shoreline to view the light show. Sometimes I wonder if the entire day was not just a dream I had. I am glad someone was along to confirm this sequence of events that would, indeed, have been too good to be true. This day is one thing I would call a miracle.