Keli Gwyn
‘Way Back When’sday: The Last Spike and the Lost Spike

As a native Californian, I learned early in life about the Transcontinental Railroad. The enterprise was envisioned and spearheaded by San Francisco businessmen Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, known as the Big Four.

The Last Spike

On January 8, 1863, California’s newly elected governor, Leland Stanford, hefted the first shovelful of dirt at the Central Pacific groundbreaking ceremony in Sacramento. Just six years, five months and two days later, Stanford drove the celebrated Last Spike into the final tie when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads met at Promontory Summit, Utah.

"The Last Spike" by Thomas Hill

“The Last Spike” by Thomas Hill, commissioned by Leland Stanford, was completed in 1881. The oil on canvas painting was on display in the California State Capitol for several years. In 1981 it was moved to the California State Railroad Museum, where visitors can enjoy it today.

After the celebratory joining of the two railroads, the Last Spike, or Golden Spike as some call it, was returned to San Francisco businessman David Hewes, who provided it. He gave it back to Stanford in 1892. From 1936 to 1954 it was displayed in the Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. It’s currently on display at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Click here to see it.

The Lost Spike

For decades, many wondered about the existence of a second Golden Spike. The engraving receipt shown below, which is on display at the California State Railroad Museum, indicates that two spikes had been engraved.

Last Spike Engraving Receipt

Receipt for the engraving of two spikes: the final Last Spike driven by Leland Stanford at the celebratory joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah, and a little-known second “Lost” Spike that didn’t surface until 2005.

As seen in the plaque below, which contains the story of the two spikes, a second spike had indeed been manufactured and engraved. The second spike surfaced in 2005 when descendents of David Hewes put it up for auction.

The Lost Spike Story

The story of the “Lost” Spike ordered at the same time as the well known Last Spike, which was driven into the final tie by Leland Stanford at the celebratory joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads.

The museum acquired the Lost Spike and put it on display, so visitors can enjoy this long-hidden piece of history. I spent several minutes in front of the glass case drinking in the site. A trip to the Cantor Arts Center to see the Last Spike is on my Places I Must Visit list for sure.

The Lost Spike

The “Lost” Spike, which was ordered at the same time as the well known Last Spike that was driven by Leland Stanford at the celebratory joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads.

“The Lost Spike” painting by Thomas Hill and the Lost Spike itself are but two of the many treasures at the California State Railroad Museum. If you’re ever able to visit Sacramento, I highly recommend including the museum as one of your stops.

California State Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento.

  Photos taken by Keli Gwyn while visiting the California State Railroad Museum.
Comment Link 1 Comment
Keli Gwyn
‘Way Back When’sday: Buttonhooks

Unlike us, the Victorians didn’t have zippers or Velcro. They relied heavily on buttons. Lots and lots of buttons.

The buttons were often small, making them difficult to slip through their buttonholes. Enter the buttonhook, a simple device that saved one’s fingers.


The hook was slipped through the buttonhole and around the button’s shank. A tug and a twist of the wrist later, and the button was in place.

Buttonhooks came many shapes and sizes. If you visit The Buttonhook Society, you can see a number of examples. The buttonhook seen above is one I purchased at a local antique shop.

Can you imagine having to fasten the buttons on a pair of Victorian boots, such as the ones below that I saw at the Placer County Museum in Auburn, California? Without a buttonhook, the task would be tiresome.

Boots at Placer Museum

Victorians had buttons on much more than just their boots. Jackets, bodices, waistcoats, gloves and corsets all had them. Thus, it’s easy to see why a Victorian lady or gentleman would have several buttonhooks. They might have longer models at home and a shorter version in their reticule or pocket.


Have you ever seen or used a buttonhook?

Comment Link 0 Comments
Keli Gwyn
‘Way Back When’sday: Child’s Food Pusher Utensil

Babies in the Victorian Era had child-sized utensils, just like children do today.

The child’s table service below is on display
at the Bernhard Museum in Auburn, California.

Child's Table Service

While touring the museum, the docent pointed out the utensil
to the left of the cup. It’s call a food pusher.

Food Pusher

This special utensil helped a child transition from eating with the fingers
to using silverware. The youngster would use a food pusher to load
a bite onto a fork or spoon. Clever, isn’t it?


What unique utensils from yesteryear have you discovered?


Comment Link 0 Comments
Keli Gwyn
Next Page »