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The Great Train Race -- A transcontinental railroad had been a dream for Americans since railroads first appeared in the 1830s. By the time the Civil War began, numerous rail lines crisscrossed the Eastern seaboard, but the West remained relatively disconnected, and no rails linked the coasts. Finally the government selected two companies to receive loans and land for each mile of track laid. One company would start in Nebraska and head west, while the other would start in California and head east.

With trains carrying supplies following the workers as they laid down track, the race became ridiculous -- opposing crews actually passed each other, furiously building parallel roadbeds, in sight of each other, in opposite directions! An end to this silliness finally came when Congress named Promontory, Utah, as the meeting spot. In 1869, four symbolic spikes (two golden, one silver, and one gold-plated silver) were driven in with a silver-plated hammer to mark the occasion, and the country was finally united by rail.

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