Cold weather brings dramatic look at historic steam engines

Winter is a great time for visitors to Golden Spike park to see the iconic white clouds of historic steam engines.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 119 Steam Engine chugs down the track at the Golden Spike National Historical Park during one of the winter steam locomotive demonstrations, on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.

White clouds billow upward against a deep blue sky, signaling the approach of Union Pacific Locomotive 119 to Golden Spike National Historical Park in a late-December reenactment of a scene that enthralled travelers over a century ago — and entertains curious onlookers today, especially in winter.

When cold winter air mixes with hot air rising from a coal-fueled train engine, the ensuing columns of white steam from the iconic scene that most people identify with their favorite Old West films and television series. By the mid-1800s, steam clouds presaged the arrivals and departures of the best means available for transcontinental travel — aboard a steam-powered train.

To give modern onlookers the smells, the sounds, the sights of that bygone era, the National Park Service closed out 2020 with three days of demonstrations called the Winter Steam Festival at Promontory Summit, the jumping-off point in the mid-1800s for visitors bound of points east and west.

Locomotive 119 ran the approximately 1-mile transcontinental railroad grade, affording visitors a view of the long white trail of steam. Due to the pandemic, activities normally associated with the festival were limited. Though the park store was open, visitor center arrivals faced restrictions consistent with health guidelines.

Timed tickets were required for entry to the Last Spike Site and locomotive demonstration.

Updated information on winter hours for the visitor center, park store and engine house can be found on the park’s website or by contacting the park directly. For up-to-date information, those interested can call the visitor center at 435-471-2209 ext. 429 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Updates also are posted at www.nps.gov/gosp/ and the site’s Facebook page.