'The Iron Road Pioneers' – San Luis Obispo, California - Atlas Obscura

'The Iron Road Pioneers'

A simple statue outside a California Amtrak station honors the overlooked contributions of the "silent spikes." 


Countless towns owe their very existence (and survival) to being a stop on one of the many train routes across America. San Luis Obispo, some 185 miles or so northwest of Los Angeles, California, is one of them. Today, the city honors the often overlooked role that Chinese immigrants played in the construction of America’s railways with the monument known as “The Iron Road Pioneers.” 

At least 20,000 Chinese immigrants helped with the superhuman task of constructing the Transcontinental Railroad. Often living and working in an atmosphere of open discrimination, their contribution was largely ignored in the congratulations. These workers have sometimes been referred to as “silent spikes.”

“The Iron Road Pioneers,” the small statue outside the San Luis Obispo Amtrak station, pays tribute to these nameless workers who toiled on the rails. It also memorializes the many who died in the process, buried in unmarked graves.

Unveiled in 2003, this bronze statue was created by Elizabeth MacQueen. It features two traditionally dressed men standing opposite each other levering tracks into position, a pile of rivets alongside ready to complete the next small stage of their endless task.

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