Wooden chip cut from a railroad tie, Promontory, Utah, 1869

Wooden chip cut from a railroad tie, Promontory, Utah, 1869

Traveling west with his mother in June 1869, eight-year-old Hart F. Farwell stopped at Promontory, Utah, to cut a chip from a special railroad tie. The previous month, on May 10, 1869, the ceremonial “Golden Spike” had been driven into the “last tie” to complete the first transcontinental rail link in the United States.
The joining of east and west by rail at Promontory was a significant event in American life and culture. A national network of iron, steel, and steam, represented by the driving of the Golden Spike, became a unifying metaphor in the years after the Civil War.
But, alas, the railroad tie from which young Farwell cut this chip was not the real “last tie.” After the driving of the Golden Spike, the ceremonial last tie was immediately removed and replaced with a pine tie no different from the others. In the weeks and months following the ceremony, relic hunters whittled replacement ties to bits at the rate of about one tie a week. The wooden chip that Farwell cut from one of these ties was his lifelong possession.
Gift of Hart F. Farwell, 1922
Object Name
tie fragment, railroad
date made
associated date
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 3/8 in x 1 1/2 in;.9525 cm x 3.81 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Hart F. Farwell
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History, General History Collection
Souvenir Nation
Government, Politics, and Reform
Transcontinental Railroad
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object