“Dam Work Starts-Will be ‘Hoover Dam,’” read the Las Vegas Evening Review on Wednesday, September 17, 1930. That was the day Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur struck the first spike in a ceremony that launched construction of Union Pacific Railroad’s twenty-two miles of line from Las Vegas to the damsite.
Thousands of men poured into Boulder Junction from Las Vegas to witness what is known today as the “Silver Spike Ceremony,” which marked the beginning of the monumental construction project. Almost a year later, on September 4, 1931, Lewis Construction Company completed the stretch of track from Boulder City to the damsite and trips by rail could finally take place. By the time the Dam’s last generator had been installed, 35,000 loads of equipment and supplies had been hauled into the Boulder City Depot for movement onto Hoover Dam.
Passenger trips on the new line began April 26, 1931 at 7:30 am with the first ticket sold the prior morning to Las Vegas newspaper reporter Elton Garrett. An interesting and obscure fact about the line is that Railroad Pass Casino, located just outside of Boulder City, housed a walk-in vault that served as the Union Pacific payroll office.
Since the abandonment of the railroad in December 1986 remnants of the railroad’s existence, such as the grade across Highway 93 at Railroad Pass, have slowly disappeared from sight. However, history of the railway still lives on at the Clark County Museum in Henderson, which showcases the old Union Pacific depot building and cars, and the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City, which runs refurbished trains on a loop of original track.
Almost lost to time is a significant event that also occurred on that groundbreaking day in 1930. Secretary Wilbur completed his three-swing try to drive that first spike home with an address to the people in which he announced his privilege of naming the project “Hoover Dam.” This, of course, caused applause and cheering from those who supported the man instrumental in the Dam’s planning and design, but sighs of dismay from those who stuck firm in their beliefs that Boulder Canyon it was and Boulder Dam it should remain.