A connection that changed everything in Promontory Summit, Utah

Iden Elliott jumps on the Transcontinental Railroad.

Promontory Summit, Utah, is close to nowhere. But it’s home to a connection that changed everything.

To get there, you turn down a two-lane road near Brigham City, drive about 30 miles and then make a left at the ATK Thiokol Propulsion facility, where they test rockets.

On May 10, 1869, the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails here with the famed Golden Spike, completing the Transcontinental Railroad. It’s a National Monument, with a small museum and a welcome center.

On our visit to this historic landmark yesterday, my kids wandered around the tracks and watched a short movie about the railroad. A brisk winter wind kept us indoors mostly. But they’re unlikely to forget Promontory Summit, just in case it comes up in a history test.

Almost 150 years ago, no one could have predicted what this one small connection would mean, or how quickly everything would change as the result of that lone spike made of precious metal. If I’d paid a little attention in my history classes, maybe I wouldn’t be surprised at how quickly a connection would empower consumers.

Iden and Erysse Elliott where the famous golden spike was nailed. The spike changed everything.
Iden and Erysse Elliott where the famous golden spike was nailed. The spike changed everything.

The connection is made — D-O-N-E!

By most accounts, May 10 was a cool day and the Golden Spike ceremony was brief. A telegram announced the final nail: “D-O-N-E.” No one present that day could look into the future and see air travel, the interstate highway system, space travel or the internet.

When we visited the two trains that met along the tracks, a replica of Leland Stanford’s Jupiter and the No. 119, it was easy to understand why it was so difficult to see the implications. These simple, beautiful machines are dinosaurs compared to today’s technology. And our gadgets will seem vintage in another 100 years, too.

No one can see the tracks ahead.

Looking up at the 119, one of the locomotives that met for the Golden Spike ceremony and changed everything.
Looking up at the 119, one of the locomotives that met for the Golden Spike ceremony and changed everything.

Advocacy that changed everything

When I started posting the names, numbers and email addresses of executives more than a decade ago, I couldn’t imagine they’d start a small revolution. Back then, most customer service interactions happened by phone and executives could rest assured that their phone numbers and email addresses would be kept confidential, even inside their own company. Yes, you read that correct. Even in their own company.

Connecting consumers to real people changed everything. Instead of taking a “no” as as a final answer, they had options, and lots of them. My advocacy site guided them every step of the way. And as companies became better at telling their customers to get lost, my site became even better at them how to find the right executives.

Today, I hear from people every day who say my company contacts helped them when no one else could. That’s pretty revolutionary.

A view of preserved tracks looking east. These tracks changed everything.
A view of preserved tracks looking east.

What’s your connection?

When I hear from readers who have what they believe to be intractable problems, I think about Promontory Summit and that one connection made more than a century ago. It was just a single track connecting Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Francisco, and one single spike that formalized the connection. Yet it led to so many more connections and to the empowerment of an entire nation, and arguably of the world.

Sometimes, the difference between an intractable case and a solvable one is that one connection — a name, email or a proven advocacy strategy.

My consumer advocacy site is just a small part of the solution. It should not even be a necessary part of it. But aren’t you glad it’s there just in case?

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