Centennial plaque marks city's role in railroad history

Hunting for heavy metal in Colfax
By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
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By Nancy Hagman Special to the Colfax Record On Friday, May 9, 1969 Colfax received a very special delivery. The train, “Centennial Plaque Special,” carried dignitaries from Southern Pacific, the state of California, the California Historical Society and the Placer County Board of Supervisors. Also on board was the plaque honoring Colfax as one of the landmarks in the construction of the transcontinental railroad, completed 100 years before. The last spike was driven at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, tying the east coast to the west by rail. During the Colfax ceremony, which included a performance by the Colfax High School Band, the plaque was placed facing Main Street. Also dedicated that day, on the same spot, was a caboose purchased by Soroptimist International of Colfax for the purpose of housing a history museum. Jim Henry acted as master of ceremonies. Originating in Sacramento, the train made stops in Rocklin and Auburn, then went on to Truckee for another ceremony. It then returned to its starting point. A second train, the “Golden Spike Special,” followed the plaque train, but took its passengers on to Utah where a larger ceremony marked the historic event on the following day. Part of the mystery to this tale is that this particular hunk of metal spent some time in the window of the Colfax Pharmacy. However, Dick Wayland, then owner of the business, is no longer sure of the details. “That was a long time ago,” he said. After many years of being literally overshadowed by the caboose, an Eagle Scout candidate (whose name is also a mystery) volunteered to give the plaque a fancy rock mounting and moved it to a more prominent location at the corner of the new Depot Plaza. He asked the Depot Restoration Planning Committee for approval and was charged with making sure the Office of Historic Preservation in Sacramento was notified. However, Colfax Area Historical Society archivist Helen Wayland said the notification was evidently not done. She said she caught trouble from the Sacramento folks at a later date. They apparently get upset when an official landmark marker isn’t where their records say it’s located, Wayland explained. The plaque, which states in part “the real assault on the Sierra began here,” was rededicated at its current location during the Spring Festival in May 2003. Two other pieces of heavy metal accompany the Centennial Plaque. One commemorates the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad. Another, which is located on the base of the Schuyler Colfax statue, tells of his visit to Colfax. This means more homework for this writer.