Railroads in Little Cottonwood Canyon
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This page was last updated on April 11, 2018.
The Little Cottonwood branch was built in 1872-1873 as a 3-feet narrow gauge line by the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railway. W&JV was controlled by D&RG after 1881. The 1937 D&RGW branchline summary shows that the line above the granite quarries went out of operation in the 1880s, suggesting that the mines at Alta had played out. The rails likely remained in place, explaining the interest in 1902-1907 (below) about the horse tramway along the same route.
From Clarence Reeder:
The Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad did not remain in existence long after the consolidation of 1879. The road, as may be seen from the financial statements, was able to show a profit after expenses and interest payments on its bonds through 1878. In 1879, however, the mines of Alta on which the road was dependent for its income began to fail. Income during 1879, 1880 and 1881 was large enough to meet operating expenses; but interest on bonds could not be paid, and foreclosure action was taken in August of 1881. The road was sold to the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad on December 31, 1881. The portion of the road between Sandy and Alta was closed sometime in the 1880's because of the failure of the mines, but the Sandy to Bingham portion was made standard gauge and remained in profitable operation until the 1950's.
General description of branch, from the 1937 D&RGW Branchline summary:
- LITTLE COTTONWOOD BRANCH - SALT LAKE DIVISION
- 3.41 Miles
- Purchased narrow gauge 1881
- Standard gauged to Sandy 1890 - to Wasatch 1913.
- The upper part of the branch from Sandy to Wasatch was built by the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad Company in 1873 and extended to Alta in 1876, primarily to reach the rich gold mines at Alta, bringing the ores from those mines to the old smelter at Sandy. Soon after the construction of the branch, granite quarries were opened at Wasatch from which granite for the Mormon Temple and other important buildings was obtained. While the narrow gauge track was built from Wasatch to Alta, it was found impossible to operate the upper part of the line successfully with steam power, horses being substituted as motive power for operating the track as a tramway from Wasatch to Alta.
- In 1881, the branch and tramway were acquired by our predecessor, The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway Company, but operation of the upper part of the branch was soon discontinued.
- The lower part, from Midvale to Sandy, was originally a part of Bingham Canon and Camp Floyd Railroad which was acquired by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway Company in 1881.
- After many years of inoperative ownership, during which the upper part of the branch was leased to the Little Cottonwood Transportation Company; the track was removed above Sand Pit in 1934.
- The rail in this line is 90 pound, laid in 1937. It is on natural dirt and sand.
- There are approximately 3,200 ties per mile, 90 percent of which are treated.
- Maximum grade 4.2 percent.
- Maximum curvature 16 degrees.
- The only natural resource of any consequence remaining on this branch is a sand and gravel pit located at Sand Pit, Utah. A movement of ore and concentrates from points adjacent to the branch has been discontinued, with no possibility of movement in the future.
- The Ideal Sand Company, located at Sand Pit, Utah, ships sand, gravel and engine sand. During the year of 1937, 50 cars of commercial sand and gravel, and 267 cars of engine sand for the Union Pacific Railroad were shipped from Sand Pit. At Sandy, Utah, we have one coal and lumber dealer and one retail gas and oil dealer.
- Irregular service - operated as required - average service about one trip per week which is made by the "Ping-Pong" crew. This crew handles all industry work at Sugar House, between Roper and Midvale, and on Little Cottonwood Branch.
- Our conclusions are that that portion of the branch beyond the spur serving the Superior Oil Company at Mile Post 1.4 be abandoned.
- (Mile Post 1.4 was east of the UP/D&RGW gantlet crossing of State Street, and west of the crossing of UP at Sandy.)
In 1913, the Utah State Board of Equalizations showed three separate parts of the Little Cottonwood Branch:
- 4.00 miles assessed at $1,000 per mile (Midvale to Sand Pit, used regularly);
- 6.16 miles assessed at $500 per mile (Sand Pit to Wasatch, used irregularly);
- 7.76 miles assessed at $300 per mile (identified as the Alta tramway, out of service).
Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad
Midvale to Wasatch (1872-1882)
Sandy to Wasatch (narrow gauge) operated as Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railway
Midvale to Wasatch (1882-1913 and 1917-1933)
Midvale to Sandy (standard gauge) and Sandy to Alta (narrow gauge) operated as D&RGW's Little Cottonwood Branch
Wasatch & Jordan Valley became part of a consolidation with its sister railroad, Bingham Canyon & Camp Floyd Railroad, from a shared terminal at Midvale and the mines in Bingham Canyon. According to Clarence Reeder, soon after D&RGW took control of the consolidated railroads in 1881, the mines at Alta began to fail and that portion of W&JV above the granite quarries at Wasatch was removed from service.
According to a D&RGW branch line summary, and as part of its overall surveying effort for all of its lines in Utah, D&RGW completed a full survey of the entire 16.7 miles of line from Sandy to Alta in November 1882. A filing map was accepted by the U. S. Land Office on September 14, 1883. Further, in September 1925, D&RGW later provided, and the Land Office accepted, a formal proof of construction. (U. S. Interstate Commerce Commission, Valuation Report, Denver and Rio Grande, pp. 806, 896, 901; Robert v. Sloan, ed., Utah Gazetteer and Directory of Logan. Ogden, Provo, and Salt Lake Cities for 1884, pp. 107, 110; J. Cecil Alter, Utah the Storied Domain, 1932, pp. 498, 499.)
The Alta Tramway
Wasatch to Alta (1875-1895, 1900)
The Alta tramway was operated by horses and mules throughout its existance. It connected at Tannersville with the narrow gauge railroad, which in-turn, after 1890, connected with Rio Grande Western's standard gauge Little Cottonwood Branch.
Little Cottonwood Transportation Company
1916-1925, Wasatch to Alta (narrow gauge) operated as Little Cottonwood Transportation Company
Salt Lake & Alta Railroad
1913 to 1917, Sandy to Wasatch (standard gauge) operated as Salt Lake & Alta Railroad
September 6, 1933
D&RGW received ICC approval to abandon 6.8 miles of the Little Cottonwood Branch between Sand Pit and Wasatch. The line was built as narrow gauge in 1873 by the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad. Operation was discontinued in 1899 and the line was relaid as standard gauge in 1913. It saw daily service from 1913 to 1917, while leased to the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad. Between 1917 and 1923 there was only irregular service, about two or three times per week. There was only occasional use after 1923, with two trips made in 1932 and none in 1933. No shipments of ore were made after June 1930. There was no service on the branch after June 1932. Car loadings of granite building stone furnished "considerable traffic, but all of that traffic now moves by truck". (193 ICC 461)
(LeMassena, p. 149, says that the line between Sand Pit and Alta was removed in 1934.)
Little Cottonwood Canyon Railroads -- A Google map of the railroads in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Alta Mines -- Information about the mining activity at Alta.
Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad/D&RGW (1873-1895)
Clarence Reeder's research for the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railway
Salt Lake & Alta Railroad (1913-1917)
Little Cottonwood Transportation Co. (1916-1925) (including Alta Scenic Railway)