As any American schoolchild knows, the United States were physically united on May 5, 1869, when a silver hammer drove the Golden Spike into the iron rails of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit in Utah. 500 officials attended the ceremony, perched on the Central Pacific’s coal-belching Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s Engine 119 in a setting that is now a National Historic Site.
But the ceremony almost didn’t happen. With the project complete, rumors began to swirl that the government-funded and massively profitable contractors were about to file bankruptcy in order to avoid paying their workers. The citizens of Piedmont, Wyoming, responded by hijacking the train carrying the Union Pacific executives to the Utah event.
The railroad officials wanted the US Cavalry sent in to take on the town and rescue the hostages. Instead, when a cashier’s check finally arrived from New York, the locals recoupled the cars and sent the dignitaries onward to make history.
Piedmont was a little less lucky—the four saloons soon shuttered and, by 1940, the last general store had closed its doors. This abandoned ranch and a few other structures are all that remain in this classic boom-and-bust ghost town in southwestern Wyoming. We stumbled onto the place entirely by accident on a cold winter morning.