Prairie Village News 5/7/19

Faron Wahl, Manager.

This summer our nation will recognize a few major anniversaries of high-impact events…. groundbreaking ones which affected everything that followed. I intend to point them out in this column, as they are key pieces of the very history puzzle we are preserving.

On May 10, 1869 – 150 years ago this week – the United States saw the completion of one of the boldest undertakings our country has even known. The Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads tackled what has never been equaled in sheer mass and scope as they created a transcontinental rail line. They finally met near Promontory, Utah, and nothing after that day would ever be the same.

Virtually all progress that followed hinged on it. The westward movement of settlers. Commerce. And perhaps the least recognized gain as we look back from today’s vantage point: communication.

Telegraph lines were placed as the right of way was constructed, the start of which had put the Pony Express out of business only a few years prior. Even as the final spike was driven, the ceremony was broadcast to all points east and west. This included a Morse code message of three dots signaling the commencement of hammer blows, followed by perhaps the most understated single-word message in our country’s history: “DONE!”

It’s not just that these kinds of historical keystones are fun to think about, especially near their major anniversaries. This stuff matters, because much of what we know and how we live today funnels back to that mighty pair of rails brought together at an otherwise nondescript area of northern Utah.

We don’t pretend to relive or re-enact that event on our modest railroad here at the village, as they do so effectively at the Golden Spike National Historic Site (and this month’s celebrations there are off-the-charts). But as I often say, operating a full-size railroad next to a recreated village on the prairie is quite unusual and most appropriate, as typical villages sprang up and thrived only because of the westward movement of the Iron Horse.

We can do much to honor, celebrate, and educate regarding this crowning and consequential construction event. For one thing, when you visit us and ride our train, let your thoughts wander. It’s not all that difficult to imagine rolling into Wentworth amidst flying cinders many decades ago, or perhaps waiting on that station platform until a distant steam whistle indicated your imminent transport to places otherwise well beyond your reach.

Moreover, as it’s critical to the future of our mission at the village to seek out and take hold of new educational opportunities, I recently attended a meeting in Ft. Pierre with five other institutions from around South Dakota. The invitees were gathered to begin discussion on implementing a network of partners to be linked across South Dakota via telegraph capabilities. Yes, I said telegraph.

As we read regularly about the 5G network headed our way, it’s quite the paradox to be so excited to join a project at the ground level involving a defunct means of communication, one based on a working knowledge of binary-rooted Morse code tapped out one letter at a time.

But as our motto here attests, we’re building the future by preserving the past….and this project has the potential to create a landmark interactive exhibit to teach all ages about how those early cross-continental electronic messages, chiefly following rail lines, truly catapulted our nation forward.

You’ll hear more about this as details become more concrete, but I can tell you it’s exciting stuff.

Our deep thanks to our volunteer auctioneers who again led the charge through a successful consignment auction this past Saturday: Al Kooima, Duane Schmidt, Mike Corcoran, LD Henrichs and Rick Becker. Additionally, our clerks – Lonnie, Brenda, Bev, and Bill – as well as our volunteer runner and office staff, plus the Stewart family handling concessions, all made this important event come together. Thank you so much!