Of all of the locations that Union Pacific marked either formally or informally in the 1860s as it worked westward toward Promontory, one of the most interesting is the 1,000-mile tree.
Nestled next to the tracks in Weber Canyon between Evanston, Wyo., and Ogden, Utah, workers set a sign on the fir tree to mark 1,000 miles of track completed since leaving Omaha, Neb., the eastern end of the first Transcontinental Railroad.
A famous A.J. Russell photo shows the tree while construction crews are hard at work on the track. This is the famed Wasatch Grade, and it’s 65 miles of hard railroading, either uphill eastbound or downhill westbound.
The 1,000-mile tree perished in 1900, and the spot was vacant until 1982, when thoughtful UP railroaders planted a replacement. Today, it’s a sizeable tree, more than 40 feet tall. If you’re observant in the twisting lanes of Interstate 80 here, you can catch a glimpse of the tree, across Weber Creek.
In June 2018, on a scouting mission for our special issue about the first Transcontinental Railroad, Journey to Promontory, and the May 2019 issue of Trains magazine, I visited this location on UP property with official railroad hosts. I could never figure out how to access the tree before, and its entry is not one that I would describe as easy.
But there, on a cloudy morning, was a reminder of the spirit of that first group of railroad builders 150 years ago. The deep green of the fir tree contrasts with UP’s Armour yellow and the earth tones of the surrounding rocks.
Everything does change over time. As I pointed out in an essay in our May issue, on sale April 9, even the 1,000 mile tree is no longer at the 1,000 milepost. Due to line relocations, today, it’s a milepost 959.66.
Want to find out more about the Transcontinental Railroad?
Facts, figures, history, and more are available from our special Journey to Promontory magazine, available at our partner shop, the Kalmbach Hobby Store.