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Piedmont Road: the place on the Transcontinental Railroad where Thomas Durant was delayed traveling to Promontory

By | April 4, 2019

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Piedmont Road: The place along the Transcontinental Railroad where Thomas Durant was held up by workers or washouts (or both!)
Piedmont Road: The place along the Transcontinental Railroad where Thomas Durant was held up by workers or washouts (or both!)
A view of the Union Pacific main line from Piedmont Road near the Altamont and Alpine tunnels along the Transcontinental Railroad route. The location is where, legend has it, that Union Pacific workers delayed Thomas Durant’s train on his way to the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Summit, Utah.
Jim Wrinn

A tried and true method of discovery is to get lost.

The rationale is that you can’t find a new discovery if you aren’t lost in the first place. So, it was with me in June 2018 when I went on a scouting trip to look for places along the first Transcontinental Railroad where we should photograph Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 on its inaugural run this May.

East of Evanston, Wyo., Union Pacific has a pair of twin bores: the Altamont and Alpine tunnels.

They’re in a remote area with few public roads and lots of private land.

Translation: Unless you’re there on official UP business with company permission, there’s no reason to go there.

I located the approaches to the tunnels easily from public roads and got off a few photos that I’ll share here. But then, when I was on the west side of the tunnels and it came time to keep going east to scout the line around Granger and Green River, I was stymied: How to get back to Interstate 80?

I studied my GPS maps program and found a county road that looked like it would work. Just south of the Sulphur Creek Reservoir, I turned off state Route 150 and onto county Route 173. The name clicked immediately: Piedmont Road.

Piedmont was the site of a helper locomotive station and engine terminal on the original Transcontinental Railroad. It was where Dr. Thomas Durant was delayed from making the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Summit on May 8, instead of May 10, 1869 (some sources say due to failure to pay his employees; others, due to washouts on the line in Weber Canyon). It also was the location of a major charcoal kiln operation that began with the coming of the UP.

Was I really on the road to Piedmont? Yes, I was, and it was soon apparent that the county road was laid on the railroad grade in several places. This route was bypassed in 1902 with the construction of Alpine tunnel. That move shaved 10 miles of the Transcontinental Railroad and a lot of steep grades.

My drive on Piedmont Road ended at Interstate 80 and the location of Leroy, Wyo., where the original main line and the 1902 main line separated. It was great to drive another lost segment of the original route. I recommend getting lost on Piedmont Road so you can experience it for yourself.

Want to find out more about the Transcontinental Railroad?

 

Facts, figures, history, and more are available from our special Journey to Promontory magazine, available at our partner shop, the Kalmbach Hobby Store.

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