By Dave Maxwell
150 years ago next month the United States became a little bit smaller. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit in Utah, the first Transcontinental Railway was completed.
How that made America a tiny bit smaller was that what had taken six months to cross the country by wagon was reduced from six months to six days!
It dramatically reduced the time and cost for people and goods to move across the country and accelerated the western expansion of the industrial revolution.
While Lincoln County did not have a role in this particular chapter of railroading in the U.S., the county certainly has its own rich history of railroading with the Union Pacific running through Caliente. Walter Averett’s book “Through the Rainbow Canyon” details much of that colorful part of Lincoln County’s past.
This spring the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City will unveil a major new exhibit. According to a press releases, the exhibit is titled “The Transcontinental Railroad: What a Difference it Made.”
The exhibit will be in place in time for the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike Ceremony to be held at Promontory Point where the Union Pacific, forging westward across the plains, and the Central Pacific pushing relentlessly eastward from Sacramento over and through the Sierra Nevada mountains, met and the last spike was driven on May 10.
A number of other presentations will take place at the museum in Carson City later this month and in early May.
The centerpiece of the museum will be the only original railroad car from the 1869 ceremony still in existence, Coach 17.
On April 25, at 6 p.m. at the museum, a special presentation about “Coach 17 and the Road to Promontory” will be given.
Wendell Huffman, curator of the Nevada State Railroad Museum said, “Before the railroad was completed, it had taken six months to go by sailing ship around the horn of South America and up the west coast to San Francisco.” The Panama Canal was not built yet (1914). Going cross country by stagecoach took about four months and an ox-pulled wagon even longer. Now the time was reduced to six or seven days!
Coach 17, after Promontory Point, was later used on the V&T Railroad between Reno, Virginia City and Carson City.
By 1937, it was sold to Hollywood as a movie prop after having appeared in John Ford’s 1924 film “The Iron Horse,” about the building of the transcontinental railroad. It also appeared in movies like “Jesse James,” “Centennial Summer,” and even in the Elvis Presley movie “Love Me Tender.” In 1972, it was one of the train coaches in Kenny Roger’s film, “The Gambler,” and in Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider.”