After a good night’s sleep, we found that it was freezing outside. Dick got up early and went for a walk around the town of Helper. Unfortunately the Railway Museum did not open until 10.00 am.
We got going at 8.50 am and took photos of steam coming from a huge power plant as we drove towards the pass.
Dick was in a panic because the satellite TV suddenly stopped working at night, so we rang Bill at Earthroamer to find out what was wrong. He suggested we call and check with one of the dealers in Salt Lake City, so the decision was made.
|Steam rising from a huge power plant near Helper|
Every now and then we stopped to watch a huge train slowly going over the pass. They had up to 100 trucks, all virtually empty.
By the look of it they were used for coal. There was snow everywhere as we climbed up over the pass and we could remember the journey in the Californian Zephyr only a few days before. We reached the summit at 7,750 ft and took a photo ahead, looking towards Provo.
|Dick watching trains|
|A mountain ahead of us|
We stopped for fuel which was $2.69 per US gallon. Dick spent his time on the phone trying to get someone to help with the satellite TV. You could almost think this was an important part of the trip!
We noticed many of the houses being built beside the highway were the typical American design, rather than the Australian design of brick with cement mortar.
They tended to all be made of particleboard and then sprayed with a vermicular coating. No good if you had a fire but ideal if you have an earthquake.
|American homes beside the highway|
We were now down at 4,500 ft – quite low. At one stage we passed an accident where a car had rolled off the side of the road. By 12 noon, we were on a 12 lane highway – six lanes each way. Most vehicles were going at 65 mph.
We were travelling at 60 mph and felt very comfortable but were one of the slowest on the road. At one stage in front of us, a white Pontiac did a 360° horizontal spin – the type of thing you see on the famous police videos. It was quite frightening but the driver then drove off again in the direction that he was originally going. Tyres were smoking and it looked pretty exciting, but we didn’t really understand what had happened.
|Travelling along the 12 lane highway|
The Garmin Model 2720, which cost us US$980.00 with all of the maps in it – a complete American database – has all of the shopping centres, fuel stations, Wal-Marts, etc in it. You can just push a button, push enter for the nearest of what you want, and it will direct you there with a great Aussie female voice.
We drove to the North of Salt Lake City, we could see the city in the distance as we drove past.
We stopped at Sierra RV at the suburb of Sunset and a technician named Craig Smith tried to fix the TV. There was no luck and eventually we thought that the satellite must be down.
|Salt Lake City|
We headed off again at 1.45 pm, travelling at 60 mph at 2,000 rpm.
|Beautiful snow covered mountains|
This trip was (of course) to look at trains as well as other things, so we took the road to Golden Spike National Historical Site. On the way we passed what would have to be the world’s largest storage area. It was actually a warehouse for Wal-Mart. It was enormous! Pip took photos of the buildings and the trucks that were lined up.
|Huge Wal Mart warehouse and trucks|
Just before we got to the Golden Spike National Historical Site, we walked along the Big Fill track.
As the Union Pacific railway line was built, the two companies building it were competing to get as much public land as possible. Because of this, they built the two tracks beside each other until the Government told them to stop. The place the tracks were to join was at a location called Promontory.
|Dick walking along the Big Fill track|
|Dick at The Big Trestle site|
|Site of the Golden Spike where the two railway company tracks met|
We dashed into the Visitors’ Centre. We thought we had over an hour to look at things but unfortunately we hadn’t moved our watches forward and the Visitors’ Centre was just closing. We bought books and tapes and then went out and looked at the actual location where the Golden Spike went in. There was a famous photograph which we’d seen with all the dignitaries on the front of the engines.
Unfortunately, we were a little early in the season. Later on in the season, the National Parks run two steam engines, which are kept in shed nearby, and recreates the actual ceremony.
|The famous photo of the trains meeting at the Golden Spike|
We drove to the west for a short distance into the farming or ranching area, along the old railway track – then returned and drove back on Highway 83.
On the side of the hill was the huge Thiokol Plant – they make the solid-state rockets for the space shuttle.
|We drove the Earthroamer along the old railway track|
We parked in front of their main entrance area which had a display of the rockets they had made over the last forty years. Good to see but the original rockets seemed to be based on intercontinental ballistic missiles. They were deadly weapons designed to kill people, where the recent rockets now support the space shuttle programme. Maybe the world is moving ahead slightly.
We could see in the distance in the hill behind the plant, quarry areas where they actually test the rockets. It appears they notify the local people and everyone comes along and stands and watches. Obviously they keep many miles away, but it is supposed to be spectacular with flames and smoke roaring out and the most enormous noise. You certainly wouldn’t want one of the rockets to escape when it was being tested.
Whilst we were in the parking area, we could look across and see the track where the old Union Pacific climbed up towards Promontory. The original railway, built in the 1860s has moved and now runs on an embankment across the Great Salt Lake to save distance. It’s so sad to see this wonderful railway line abandoned.
Later on, as it was getting dark, we pulled off the huge highway at a place called Snowville. There was an old, seemingly abandoned house. We spoke to a man called Jim Rona and he gave us permission to camp the night about half a kilometre away beside an abandoned farmhouse.
|We camped in Jim's paddock|
The talk with Jim was a little frightening. He was a redneck and he told us about a convict who had escaped from a nearby prison. He said how he had confronted the convict with a shotgun. However we could see that he had lived there for a long time and we thought that we were pretty safe. As it turned out we were.
Because the satellite TV wasn’t working, we turned on the local TV and got one local station in Spanish – quite fascinating. So we decided to watch railway DVDs about the Golden Spike Ceremony. By about 9 pm Dick got the satellite TV to work. It might sound ridiculous, but he was pretty excited. We bet it won’t work in Russia.
It was freezing outside – probably around about 1°C, however inside the van was really warm. There is a little diesel heater with a fan and once you close the blinds for the night, it’s as if you’re in your cosy own little bedroom - you could be anywhere. We slept very well.
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