Except for the white hair, it could have been railroad entrepreneur Leland Stanford standing between steam-belching locomotives Wednesday driving in a gold spike that bound the nation together by rail.
Like Stanford 120 years ago, actor Sam Gordon missed on his first swing with the sledge. So did the actor portraying Union Pacific's Thomas Durant."They were totally inebriated as far as we know," said John Stewart, a Utah State University historian and frock-coated member of the local troupe that annually re-enacts the makeshift ceremony.
Nearly 2,000 people gathered at this spot near the Great Salt Lake to watch giant steam locomotives come face to face as they did May 10, 1869.
Gordon, nearly 80 and a teetotaler, has played Stanford since 1961 and co-directs the 18-member cast. He apologized for his snow-white mane.
"I feel kind of bad because Leland Stanford had black hair" and was 45 at the time, Gordon said. "I thought it was OK because Leland got older, too."
Once the ceremonial spikes were placed, another sledge and spike, both attached to the telegraph wire, were used to alert a waiting nation that the 1,776-mile line was finished.
"The last rail is laid! The last spike is driven! The Pacific Railroad is completed!" read the telegram from Durant and Stanford to President Ulysses S. Grant.
Stanford was a former governor of California and president of the Central Pacific Railroad. He later represented California in the U.S. Senate.
A bottle of champagne was broken over the ceremonial tie and Central Pacific's "Jupiter" engine and Union Pacific's "119" were driven over it. After the ceremonial tie was removed - it burned in the San Francisco fire of 1906 - historians believe an unknown Chinese worker probably drove the last steel spike into a wooden tie.
If so, it was only fitting.
Using up to 400 kegs of blasting powder a day, some 12,000 Chinese immigrants labored dawn to dusk for about $30 a month without board to carve a rail bed out of the granite of the Sierras.
It took them more than a year to bore a 1,650-foot tunnel at Donner's Summit, four years to pound the 690 miles from Sacramento, Calif., to this sagebrush-dotted valley, which has been home to the Golden Spike National Historic Site since 1969.
Occasionally, National Park Service employees find shards of broken rice bowls and brass opium boxes that were furnished to the workers by the railroad.
"It was their way of keeping them happy," said Park Service engineer Bob Dowty.
Two weeks before the rails merged in 1869, the Central Pacific crews had laid a record 10 miles and 56 feet of track in a single day.
Durant's Union Pacific crews, made up largely of ex-soldiers of the Union and Confederacy and young Irish and German immigrants, hammered 1,086 miles over the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Missouri River, frequently braving Indian attack.
The rail link was completed six years ahead of schedule at an estimated cost of $500 million.
"The minute that spike was driven, you changed six months from Omaha to Sacramento to six days," Dowty said.