Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Golden Spike Centennial
Lang, California

September 5, 1976 — Members of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California and the nine-month-old Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, along with Southern Pacific Railroad representatives, the Canyon High School band and local history buffs, celebrate the 100th anniversary of the driving of the "Last Spike," aka golden spike, at the site of Lang Station — which was declared a California State Historic Landmark in 1957 and torn down in 1971.

TO7601b: The original golden spike in its Plexglas case at the 1976 celebration. Photographically processed halftone print, 4x6 inches. Photo file. Click to enlarge | Download archival scan | Click here for later color photos.

A century earlier, the last spike marked the completion of the railroad that linked Los Angeles with the rest of the nation. The Central Pacific rails, coming down from the north, and the Southern Pacific rails, coming up from the south, met in present-day Canyon Country.

March Fong Eu, California's Chinese-American secretary of state, and CHSSC President Stanley Lau were the featured speakers at the centennial event. Robert Banning, grandson of early Los Angeles freighter Phineas Banning, whose coaches passed through Lang when it was a stage station on the road to the Cerro Gordo silver mines in the early 1870s, channeled Charles Crocker as he drove a replica golden spike into a railroad tie.

Meanhile, the real golden spike stood nearby in a Plexiglas case, brought down for the occasion from its usual home at the California Historical Society museum in San Francisco. It's believed Crocker personally removed and pocketed the spike after driving it in 1876; it remained it the Crocker family until it showed up one day in 1956 at the California Historical Society office.

The 1976 event included the placement of these two plaques.

March Fong Eu would reprise her appearance at the Golden Spike Quasquicentennial celebration (125th anniversary) in 2001.

Photos by Tom Mason / SCV Historical Society.

Further reading:

1876 Lang Station Golden Spike

50th Anniversary Reenactment (1926)

Golden Spike Centennial Program (1976)

Eu's Remarks at the 125th Anniversary Event (2001)

100th Anniversary of Rail Link

Turning Point for L.A. Marked.

Click to enlarge.

David D. Colton, vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, rose to his feet in the crowded dining salon of Los Angeles' Union Hall the evening of Sept. 5, 1876. Some of the most prominent men of California looked on as he rapped on his glass with a spoon.

"Gentlemen, a toast," Colton cried. "To the Tehachapi Loop, the greatest feat of engineering since the digging of the Suez Canal!"

The guests had spent the day witnessing what was to be a major turning point in the history of Los Angeles. The driving of a golden spike at Lang Station near Newhall had marked the completion of a railroad line — three years in construction — from Bakersfield to Los Angeles tying the latter city into the transcontinental route which ran east from San Francisco. It would begin the transformation of Los Angeles from an isolated town of 10,000 persons into a modern megalopolis.

Sunday, about 500 persons gathered at Lang Station to mark the 100th anniversary of the railroad's completion and to watch the reenactment of the driving of the golden spike. Southern Pacific, no longer in the passenger business, sent a special bicentennial freight train for the occasion. The caboose was No. 1776.

The construction of the railroad from Bakersfield was begun after prolonged negotiations between Southern Pacific and Los Angeles officials. For some time, San Francisco had been the terminus for the overland route to the East. By [1872], Southern Pacific, formerly the Central Pacific which pioneered the original route, had pushed a line south from the Bay region to Tipton in the San Joaquin Valley. There, stagecoach connections were made for Los Angeles, 250 miles to the south. The time schedule for the entire trip was 48 hours.

In planning the southward route from San Francisco. Southern Pacific leaders seriously considered bypassing the then relatively unimportant Los Angeles by building the line farther to the east. The most direct and cheapest route for the line would have been through the Cajon and San Gorgonio passes to the Colorado River, with a branch line to Los Angeles.

Civic leaders in Los Angeles, aware of the enormous commercial benefits of a railroad connection, pressed for a terminus of their own and on Nov. 5, 1872, the voters of Los Angeles approved a proposition to support construction of the line. To sweeten the pot, they ceded a 22-mile line between Los Angeles and Wilmington to Southern Pacific.

Work began, but there was a serious obstacle ahead. The Tehachapi mountains, a formidable barrier, had to be crossed. Four thousand Chinese labored with wheelbarrows and shovels to lay a roadbed over the grade which towers more than 4,000 feet at its highest point.

While work crews dug tunnel after tunnel through the mountains, the engineer, William Hood, quietly studied the terrain. It was not feasible to lay a straight run of track, for it would create a grade much too steep for trains crossing the summit of the Tehachapi range.

Hood traced a route through the mountain range that would give the trains a gradual ascent to the summit.

While Southern Pacific's Chinese laborers shoveled and blasted their way over the Tehachapi crest, other crews from Los Angeles bored a 7,000-foot tunnel through the mountains near San Fernando.

Finally, the two lines met at Lang Station on Sept. 5, 1876. Col. Charles Crocker, president of the Southern Pacific, whacked the final spike soundly into a wood tie with a silver hammer and the job was done.

The Tehachapi route has been changed little since Southern Pacific's engineer Hood designed it. However, the giant trains that now clatter across its trestle would dwarf the wood burners which once puffed their way over the mountains.

Click image to enlarge.

A Chinese Lion — A Golden Spike.

More than a thousand people turned out Sunday to celebrate the final official event of this anniversary year: the driving of the golden spike that connected Los Angeles with San Francisco and the transcontinental railway.

The ceremony, at the site of the onetime Lang Station, where early travelers stopped to bathe in mineral springs and where today a contractors' school trains laborers — and contributed mightily to the preparation of the site and the monument.

Highlights of the afternoon were the dragon and lion dances sponsored by the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, in which the decorative serpents writhed at the end of sticks carried by Chinese youngsters amid the sharp explosions of firecrackers.

For some three hours before the program, visitors admired the antique cars lined up at the site by the Santa Clarita Valley Antique Car Club, along with the antique fire engine supplied by the County Fire Department.

Two beautiful model trains (1¼ inch scale) were brought by Ed St. John of Los Angeles and Lowell Brown of Arleta, both members of the Los Angeles Live Steamers. Both were replicas of the locomotive that brought guests from Los Angeles to the driving of the original spike.

And that spike itself was on display in a plastic case, having been brought down from San Francisco for the occasion by the California Historical Society, in whose archives it rests.

The hours before the ceremony were enlivened by the music of country-western star Carl Cribbs of Canyon Country. As the only real train at the celebration came in from the East, the Cribbs combo played "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain."

The train fell somewhat short of what the sponsors had hoped. At the fiftieth anniversary of the occasion, passengers had arrived aboard a steam train, in costume, giving style to the event.

This time, however, Southern Pacific stood by its adamant corporate stand that it would tolerate no passengers, whether or not there was a ceremony. The train was one of its three bicentennial diesel engines, showing visible signs of wear after a year on the road, and ignominiously hauling freight cars towards Saugus.

The crowd, however, maintained its spirit, and cheered the Canyon High brass band, and the presentation by school song leaders of American flags.

The program included introduction by chairman Charles Weeks of Bobbie Trueblood, local bicentennial chairman, who led the salute to the flag; invocation by Fr. Timothy Nichols of Our Lady of Perpetual Help church; and introduction of guests by James G. Shea, vice president of the Southern Pacific Company.

A brief history of the building of the railroad of Los Angeles was given by S.P. regional operations manager John Ramsey of San Francisco.

The members of E Clampus Vitus, a society of California history buffs, paraded in their miners' costumes of red shirts and other assorted garb, carried aloft their symbols of hoopskirts and ladies' pantalettes. They were introduced by Don Torgeson, who presented a plaque for the occasion.

The feature of the day was the Chinese contribution. California Secretary of State March Fong Eu spoke briefly of the part played by Chinese in California, and was followed by eloquent Stanley Lau, president of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, who introduced the dancers.

After the dance, Mrs. Eu read the plaque in English and, haltingly, in Chinese (which she had to memorize for the occasion).

Robert Banning, grandson of Phineas Banning, who brought the first stage into the Santa Clarita Valley and built the first railroad in Los Angeles, drove the replica of the golden spike. (He offered Mrs. Eu the first crack, but she missed and happily turned the maul back to him.)

This anniversary was especially significant because of the part played in the celebration by the Chinese, who were actually the builders of the railroad and have only in very recent years emerged from the long night of discrimination. It was the first golden spike ceremony in which Americans of Chinese descent have actively participated.

The day concluded with a barbecue and dance at the Elks Lodge, presided over by the Mint Canyon Lions' Club.

TO7601: Download original images here. SCV Historical Society collection.


Program & Stories


Photo Gallery


Marie Harrington Story


1976 Plaques


CHSSC Press Kit


Postal Cover


Plate 1996

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