From Echo To Park City
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The story of Union Pacific's Park City Branch
This page was last updated on Novmber 30, 2016.
(This article is an updated and expanded version of an article published in The Streamliner, Volume 15, Number 2, Spring 2001)
Although today Interstate 80 is the main transportation artery, and skiing is the number one industry in northern Utah's Summit County, the availability of railroad transportation historically played an important part in the economic development of the region, as it did in any given region during the late Nineteenth Century and first fifty years of the Twentieth Century. Railroad transportation contributed to the agricultural growth of communities such as Coalville, Wanship, and other communities in the upper Weber (pronounced "WEE-Burr") Valley. Without low cost rail transportation the agricultural industry would not have been able to ship livestock and other products to market. The railroad also helped the local economy by bringing in finished goods such as lumber, hardware, farm machinery, and automobiles.
Low cost rail transportation was a major factor in the development of the silver mining industry in Park City, and the coal mining industry at Coalville. The prospect of traffic to and from the mines brought a celebrated race between two separate railroads to complete the first rail line into Park City in 1880, to serve the Ontario Silver mine. And the loss of the phosphate mining traffic in 1986 brought an end to rail transportation in Summit County.
Railroad rails first came to Summit County in January 1869 as the tracks of Union Pacific were completed down Echo Canyon to the settlement of Echo, where Echo Creek joined the Weber River.
UP was racing to meet the Central Pacific at Promontory in May and complete the transcontinental railroad. As part of the construction of the original line, the contract for the grading of UP's roadbed down Echo Canyon and Weber Canyon was awarded to Brigham Young, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), who subcontracted the work out to many other individuals and groups for completion. (Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, p.261)
Soon after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, UP fell victim to all manner of financial woes and was forced to delay its final settlement of the grading contract with Brigham Young. He agreed to take approximately $600,000 worth of rails, tools, and rolling stock from Union Pacific in partial settlement for $1.14 million remaining in payment for the contract. The settlement included rails and rolling stock that would be used to construct the first two of the so-called "Mormon railroads" -- railroads owned and organized by leaders of the LDS church, and managed for the interests of the church, its members, and local communities. The first was the Utah Central Railroad, built between Ogden and Salt Lake City; the second was the proposed Coalville & Echo Railroad, to be built between those two cities. The settlement also included trackage rights for the Utah Central between Ogden and Echo Junction, for a period of five years. (Maury Klein, Union Pacific, Birth of a Railroad, 1862-1893, pp.246, 247; Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, p.267; Deseret Evening News, October 21, 1869, cited in Robert G. Athearn, Union Pacific Country, p.103)
These trackage rights would allow the Utah Central to operate its trains over the Union Pacific tracks to move the coal from the mines at Coalville to markets in Salt Lake City, the largest population center between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast. This would provide a solution to the high prices for coal UP was charging by its monopoly in the movement of Wyoming coal to these same markets.
Coal was a badly needed resource for both Utah's growing population and its rapidly growing economy, as a source of home fuel, and to fuel the fires of the territory's growing mining, smelting, and manufacturing industries. In 1854, the Territorial Legislature offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who discovered a source of coal within 40 miles of Salt Lake City. Daniel Wells had been working a coal mine in Grass Creek canyon north of Coalville since its discovery by S. W. Taylor in 1856. The Wells & Taylor mine, better known as the "Church Mine," missed the $1,000 reward by just five miles. In 1860 William Kimball and John Spriggs attempted to claim the prize for their mine in Chalk Creek canyon, just one mile east of Coalville, but were denied because the coal was found to be inferior, and a legislative committee found that the mine was more than 40 miles from Salt Lake. The mine was actually just 30 miles from Salt Lake City, directly across the Wasatch Range, but the politicians got out of paying the reward by measuring the travel distance required, 43 miles.
Coal from the Church Mine was shipped by wagon to Echo, where it was transferred to rail cars, and moved by Utah Central west to Ogden, making use of the Utah Central trackage rights over UP's line between Echo and Ogden. In an early attempt to get low-cost transportation for coal so badly needed in Salt Lake City, church leaders in Coalville, Echo, Ogden and Salt Lake City organized the Coalville & Echo Railroad. (Organization of Coalville & Echo Railroad in Deseret Evening News, October 26, 1869, cited in Reeder, p.321.)
The stated purpose of the company was to build a rail line between the coal mines and a connection with Union Pacific at Echo. In addition, the Coalville & Echo company was organized for the general benefit of the residents of the upper Weber Valley. Because building a railroad requires great amounts of cash, members of the local LDS congregations were called on to furnish their cooperative labor to complete the actual construction of the line. They were able to complete the grading and the laying of ties, but the rails were not laid because rails required cash. The settlement of the Mormon grading contracts had included rails and hardware, but there hadn't been sufficient materials after completion of the Utah Central to Salt Lake City, to complete the line between Coalville and Echo. Progress had been rapid, at least until all that was needed was rails. Labor for grading had been readily available, as was timber and labor for the laying of ties; but the iron rails required cash, something that the region simply did not have.
Work lay dormant for another year until private investors became interested and organized the Summit County Railroad, incorporated on November 29, 1871 by investors in Summit County and Salt Lake City, to build a three-foot gauge rail line from Echo to the Park City mines. The company took over the uncompleted grade of the Coalville & Echo Railroad between those two towns in exchange for stock in the new company. (Organization, construction, and initial operation of Summit County Railway taken from Deseret Evening News, April 7, 1873; Salt Lake Herald, March 28, 1873; UP corporate history; 44 Val Rep 196; and Salt Lake Herald, August 17, 1873; Reeder, pp. 325-329)
Repair work on the old C&E grade, dormant since the autumn of 1869, began in the spring of 1872 and by mid August the work was completed. Track materials were delivered in early 1873 and the laying of the rails began in March. The last rail was laid into Coalville by early April. In July 1874 the original Coalville & Echo roadbed and grade was formally purchased.
On April 6, 1873 the narrow gauge Summit County Railroad was completed between Echo and Coalville. The first day of regular operation was May 14, 1873, with earnings first recorded and the line officially opened on July 1, 1873. The Summit County line received their first locomotive in late April 1873; a locomotive named "Weber" that had its first day of operation on April 28th.
A 2-1/2 mile spur line to the coal mines above Coalville was completed during August 1873. The new spur was built with grades in excess of 5.8 percent, with construction beginning in April, with the completion of the new line into Coalville. Although the discovery of the Wells & Taylor mine in 1856, and the Spriggs & Kimball mine in 1860, hadn't qualified for the legislative reward of 1854, coal mines continued to be developed. The area above Coalville was seeing much coal mining activity, with the Wasatch, the Crimson (or Crismon), and the Robinson being the more important mines. According to an article in an 1874 issue of the Engineering & Mining Journal, 20 mines in the Coalville area were producing 200 tons of coal per day, and most of the 1,000 people living in Coalville were engaged in working the coal mines. The stated production of 200 tons per day would have provided the narrow gauge Summit County railroad with as many as 20-25 carloads of coal per day, considering the average 8-10 tons capacity of rail cars of the day. All of this traffic was moving in narrow gauge cars to Echo, where the coal was transferred to standard gauge cars and shipped to Ogden and Salt Lake City.
The prospect of making money by moving coal from the mines above Coalville to the Salt Lake City market was incentive enough for others to also organize their own railroad projects. In January 1873, before the completion of the Summit County line into Coalville, the Salt Lake & Echo Railroad was organized to complete a rail line between its two namesake cities. (Organization of Salt Lake & Echo on January 25, 1873, Utah corporation records, index 4289; Reeder, The History of Utah Railroad's, 1869-1883, p. 331)
However, the road's organizers were unable to raise the enough cash to begin construction and the endeavor came to nothing. Over the years still other companies also attempted building other railroads. These companies included the Summit County Railway & Transportation Company in 1888. That company almost immediately changed its name to the Wyoming, Salt Lake & California Railway when it changed its route to include a line from Salt Lake City to Coalville by way of Emigration Canyon, along with its 46 mile original route eastward from Coalville up Chalk Creek Canyon. Another company organized to build over a similar route was the Utah & Wyoming Railroad of 1891, which proposed to build from Garfield Beach, west of Salt Lake City, east up Parleys and Emigration Canyons to Coalville, then east to the Wyoming state line.
By the mid 1870s, Union Pacific owned several coal mines in southern Wyoming and in a move intended to protect its coal monopoly, in late June 1874 raised its rates for the shipment of Coalville coal from Summit County to Salt Lake City from $1.50 to $3.80 per ton. The price increase was only possible because the five-year, Utah Central trackage rights between Ogden and Echo were no longer in effect. UP now held a monopoly for importing coal from the east. The sudden increase in coal rates, and therefore coal prices to the public, started a public outcry about UP's coal monopoly in Utah. The public opposition and the need for competition was the reason for the organization of both the Salt Lake & Coalville Railroad, and the first instance of the Utah Eastern Railroad, joining the previously mentioned Salt Lake & Echo Railroad. UP yielded to the pressure of public opinion within six weeks and lowered the coal rate back down to $1.75 per ton on August 8th. The lower coal rates took away the support for the new railroad companies and neither were able to progress beyond the planning stage. (UP raises coal rates in Reeder pp.330-336; Arrington, Utah Eastern)
Union Pacific took care of its competition in the Coalville coal trade on February 24, 1877 when it took control of the Summit County Railway, by purchasing from Brigham Young all of the road's first mortgage bonds and a majority of the capital stock. Young died just seven months later. UP had previously, in October 1876, purchased some of the church-owned coal lands in Grass Creek canyon, near Coalville. (UP control of Summit County Railway in 44 Val Rep 196, Reeder p.338, Athearn p.276, UP corporate history; UP purchase of Grass Creek mines, in Summit County Old Records, Book F, p.138)
What today is known as the Snyderville Basin, and is today filled with freeway, condominiums, golf courses, and upscale single family homes, and all the frantic commercial development that goes with all that, was in the 1870s known as Parleys Park. The large basin was named for Parley Pratt, an early Mormon explorer and community leader who built the first territorial road east from Salt Lake City by way of the canyon that also bears his name, Parley's Canyon, with the road being appropriately known as Parley's Road.
After exploring the route for his toll road east from Salt Lake City in 1848, Parley Pratt took up "squatter's rights" in the park that lay east of the summit. When his toll road was completed, westbound travelers used Parleys Park (today's Snyderville Basin), with its good grazing and fresh water, as a resting place before descending the toll road through Parleys Canyon, and eastbound travelers used the park to recover from the climb out of the valley. In 1856, Parley Pratt traded a span of oxen to Samuel Comstock Snyder and gave up his rights to the large basin that soon became known as Snyderville.
Silver had been discovered in the canyons and ridges south of Parleys Park as early as the mid 1860s, and the mining camp that grew up around the silver strikes took the name of Parley's Park City. The ore being mined was actually known as galena, a combination of silver, lead, zinc and gold that had to be smelted to separate the precious metals. The first large shipment of galena was forty tons that were shipped by wagon to Echo in 1871, where the ore was transferred to rail cars and taken by Union Pacific to Salt Lake City for smelting.
The largest mine was based on the Ontario Lode, established in July 1872. The Ontario claim was purchased in August 1872 by George Hearst and soon became the basis for his personal fortune (his son was William Randolph Hearst, of newspaper fortune and fame). Another large claim would later become the Silver King mine, owned by David Keith and Thomas Kearns.
The combination of increasing activity in the Park City mining camp, and improved railroad transportation to the camp, is a typical combination in which one almost always accompanies the other. As the mines grew, they needed more fuel in the form of coal, and they produced more reduced ore that needed cheap transportation to the smelters in Salt Lake City, which by 1890, would become the largest smelting center in the West. The Ontario Silver Mining Company was reorganized in December 1876 to finance further development, but the mine itself was already the territory's largest silver producer. The growing Ontario mine, and the need for low cost (non-UP) rail service, was the basis for a new rail line in Summit County, the Utah Eastern.
Competition for Union Pacific's Summit County Railroad, and its lock on the Coalville coal trade came in late December 1879 when the second instance of the Utah Eastern Railroad was incorporated to build from Salt Lake City to Coalville. This was a different Utah Eastern than the company that had earlier been organized in 1874. The new company was organized with special provisions in its articles and by-laws to keep UP, or any other railroad, from gaining control of it and getting a strangle hold on the coal traffic into Salt Lake City. On October 26, 1880 the new Utah Eastern began laying its narrow gauge track at Coalville. (Utah Eastern organized, in Reeder pp. 339-342; Utah's Coal Road p.51)
Also in October 1880, to ensure a good traffic base, the Utah Eastern directors organized the Home Coal Company to operate several coal mines in the Coalville vicinity, and furnish coal to their Ontario Silver Mining Company in Park City. (Home Coal Co. in Salt Lake Daily Tribune, October 27, 1880)
In a move to expand its traffic base, and to compete with the new "independent" Utah Eastern, in 1878, the Summit County Railroad (by now controlled by UP) itself began building toward Park City. To enhance its own operations and traffic potential in the region, Union Pacific had the Summit County build its new Park City extension as a standard gauge line. The original Summit County was built as a three-foot narrow gauge line, causing delays in feeding traffic to the Union Pacific because of the need to transfer traffic from narrow gauge cars to standard gauge cars at Echo. As the construction of the extension progressed, the Summit County line converted its original route between Coalville and Echo to standard gauge. The expansion of the line soon stretched the financial resources of the Summit County company to its limits, causing the corporation's failure to make regular payments on its debt. On November 23, 1880 the Summit County was sold under foreclosure, with the company's books being formally closed on December 31. At time of sale the road had 31.21 miles of track, including 27.27 miles between Echo and a point near Park City, and a 3.94 mile branch, completed earlier in the year up Grass Creek canyon to the Church coal mine.
As already mentioned, Utah Eastern began the grading its line south from Coalville in May 1880, with track laying starting in early November. Rails were laid to what is now Kimballs Junction by November 26, 1880 and the three miles of line south into Park City were completed on December 9, 1880. (Utah Eastern construction to Park City, in Salt Lake Daily Tribune, October 27, 1880; Utah's Coal Road pp.50-52; Salt Lake Daily Tribune, December 8, 1880)
Although the construction of the two competing railroad lines into Park City was seen as a race by most of the local residents and the local press, UP's Summit County company did not reach Park City until January 19, 1881, about six weeks after the Utah Eastern had completed its own line. As already stated, the costs of the expansion to Park City were too much for the limited finances of the Summit County company, and it was forced into receivership to protect itself from the creditors. In an effort to better finance the expansion of the Summit County railroad into Park City, and to further exercise its control over the road, Union Pacific organized the Echo & Park City Railway on January 17, 1881, with many of the organizers and directors of the new company holding similar positions with either Union Pacific, or other UP controlled lines in Utah. The bondholders for the Summit County forced a foreclosure sale and the road was bought by Sidney Dillon, president of the Union Pacific, for $75,000. (Summit County to Park City, in Utah's Coal Road, pp.53, 54; Deseret Evening News, January 19, 1881; 44 Val Rep 196)
Dillon sold the Summit County property to the Echo & Park City company in early May 1881 for the stated price of just over $1 million in Echo & Park City stocks and bonds. The sale was approved by the directors of both roads and was made final on July 1, 1881. (Organization of E&PC, Summit County sold to E&PC, in Utah's Coal Road pp. 53-55; 44 Val Rep 196; Utah corporation number 69; UP corporate history)
The competition between the Utah Eastern and the newly organized Echo & Park City was fierce, with both roads anxious to complete their facilities in Park City. During March 1881, just two months after reaching Park City, the Echo & Park City line completed its Park City depot. At the same time the Utah Eastern completed a new two stall engine house at the end of its Park City "wye" (a set of tracks used to turn locomotives and cars). During 1883 the Echo & Park City extended its line further south into Park City by completing a one mile spur to the foot of Main Street, where the company built a new depot, which still stands today at the same location. (Improvements at Park City, in Salt Lake Herald, March 3, 1881; March 25, 1881; UP corporate history)
With the completion of both lines into Park City, the two companies settled down to the business of moving coal, goods, and materials into Park City, and moving ores from the mines out. The Utah Eastern had an advantage over the Echo & Park City by being closer to Salt Lake City. The original intent of construction of the Utah Eastern line was between Coalville and Salt Lake City, with a branch to Park City. Construction was completed to a point near the Kimballs stage station in November 1880 and the branch was completed to Park City. The Utah Eastern was never able to extend its line beyond Kimballs. Union Pacific still held a monopoly over the rail transportation into Salt Lake, so in order to get coal for a cheaper price, many coal dealers began shipping coal from Coalville over the Utah Eastern to Kimballs, then reloading the coal onto wagons and moving the wagons down the former Territorial toll road through Parleys Canyon to Salt Lake City. There were reportedly comments in the Salt Lake newspapers about the steady stream of coal freight wagons between Kimballs and Salt Lake City. The amount of coal being moved over this route was enough for two railroads to be proposed between a connection with the Utah Eastern at Kimballs and Salt Lake City.
The Salt Lake & Park City Railway was proposed as a subsidiary of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway as part of its expansion into the territory of Utah in 1881. The Salt Lake Eastern Railway was proposed in May 1888 for the same purpose. Neither road came to anything, for a myriad of reasons, some of which may have been fear of investors of competing against the powerful Union Pacific. (Salt Lake & Park City Railway of 1881, Utah corporation index 4309, also in 15058 for D&RGW; Salt Lake & Eastern railway of 1888, Utah corporation index 487; Reeder, page 415, 417)
To remove its competition in the coal business in Salt Lake City, by autumn 1883 Union Pacific had secretly gained control of the Utah Eastern stock and bonds, circumventing the little company's special provisions of control by another railroad company. At the November 19, 1883 annual meeting UP elected its own choice of directors. On December 20, 1883 Union Pacific suspended operation of the Utah Eastern, after completing a connection between the standard gauge Echo & Park City and the narrow gauge Utah Eastern at Coalville, thus providing direct access to the Utah Eastern-owned spur from Coalville up Chalk Creek canyon to the Home Coal Company's Weber coal mine, which furnished large amounts of coal to the Ontario Silver Mining Company in Park City. The contract to deliver coal to the Ontario mine and mill in Park City was transferred to UP's Echo & Park City, which operated the coal spur at Coalville until they formally purchased the Utah Eastern in May 1887. With the completion of the connection, the coal was moved from the Weber coal mine down to Coalville in narrow gauge cars, then transferred to standard gauge cars on the Echo & Park City line. Within a short time, the narrow gauge branch was converted to standard gauge, allowing standard gauge cars to be moved directly to the mine.
After Union Pacific gained control of the Utah Eastern in 1883 they took away the Ontario coal contract, the only real traffic that the Utah Eastern had. With the loss of the coal contract, the Utah Eastern was in reality, out of business. Almost immediately, the company was unable to pay any of its expenses and by February 1885 it was forced into receivership. The Utah Eastern officially went away during 1887. The Park Record newspaper of February 26th said that on February 21, 1887 the Utah Eastern was sold to P. L. Williams, UP's Western Division attorney. Edward Dickinson, as a trustee for other interested parties, purchased the Utah Eastern under foreclosure on April 30, 1887, and on May 18, 1887 the Echo & Park City Railroad purchased from Dickinson the property of the abandoned Utah Eastern. The remaining Utah Eastern tracks between Coalville and Park City were completely removed by December 1887. (UP control of Utah Eastern, in Park Mining Record, February 16, 1884; Reeder pp. 283, 284, 349; UP corporate history; Park Record, February 14, 1885, February 26, 1887; Salt Lake Herald, December 20, 1887)
The abandoned right of way south from Kimballs was used a couple years later by the narrow gauge Salt Lake & Eastern as it completed its line up Parleys Canyon from Salt Lake City. Before reaching Park City, however, this line was consolidated with others in the Salt Lake Valley to become the Utah Central Railway. That company later became Denver & Rio Grande's Park City Branch.
The 1890s were hard for Union Pacific. The railroad finally lost its battle against the government bondholders and was forced into receivership in October 1893. As UP went into receivership, it took all of its subsidiaries along with it, including the Echo & Park City line. At the request of the bondholders for the Echo & Park City property, a separate receiver was named. By 1899 Union Pacific was sold to new management, which included E. H. Harriman, and was able to begin building up its network of feeder lines. In late December 1899, UP bought the Echo & Park City at foreclosure, merged the company into its own organization and began operating the Park City line as a branch. (Echo & Park City receivership, in Klein pp.657, 658; UP corporate history; 44 Val Rep 193)
Freight traffic on the branch consisted mainly of mineral ore being shipped out, and coal being shipped between Coalville and Park City, along with basic services that would have been provided to the small mostly agricultural communities between. Mineral ore consisted almost entirely of galena, the combination of lead and silver ores from the many mines in the Park City area. The Ontario mine was the largest, with the Silver King coming in a very close second. The coal traffic came from the mines in both Chalk Creek Canyon, above Coalville, and from Grass Creek Canyon, just across the ridge to the north.
The development of the coal resources in the area began with the discovery of coal in Chalk Creek Canyon in 1849. Much of the coal was mined and used locally as heating fuel, with limited quantities being shipped to Salt Lake City and Ogden by wagon. The mines in the area were first seen as serious businesses with the completion of the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869; the close proximity of the railroad allowing for the low-cost transportation of the coal to market. Soon after the construction of the Summit County Railroad into Coalville in 1873, additional coal resources were discovered three miles north of Coalville in Grass Creek Canyon.
As noted above, the first spur to the Coalville mines was completed to the Weber Mine by the Summit County Railroad in 1873, and the Utah Eastern built a spur in 1880 from Coalville to the Home Coal mine, further up Chalk Creek Canyon. After UP took control of both the Summit County rail line in 1877, and the Utah Eastern rail line in 1883, it continued to serve all of the Chalk Creek mines, converting the spurs to standard gauge after the mid 1880s.
Coalville continued to be a major source for coal to markets in northern Utah until the turn of the Twentieth Century, when coal from mines developed by Denver & Rio Grande in central Utah far surpassed the Coalville mines in both quality and quantity. In January 1918 Union Pacific completed reconstruction of the 2.6 mile Weber Mine Spur from Coalville up Chalk Creek Canyon to the Weber Mine of the Weber Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Ontario Silver Mining Company. The Ontario mining company had been getting its coal from other locations which were becoming more expensive, and decided to begin getting its coal from its own Coalville mine. The railroad work was started in October 1917 and the mine went into production in March 1918, after pumping out the flooded areas and cleaning out the old drifts. Other active coal mines in the Coalville area at the same time included the Summit Fuel Company. The Weber Mine Spur remained in service for 30 years and was removed in 1949. (Weber Mine Spur, in Salt Lake Mining Review, January 30, 1918, p.40; February 15, 1918, p.44; May 15, 1919, p.35; UP South-Central District Engineering Department records)
In 1880, about six months before the Summit County Railroad was completed into Park City in early 1881, the railroad built a spur up Grass Creek Canyon to reach a coal mine owned by the LDS church. The operation of the Grass Creek Branch was turned over to the Echo & Park City when that company purchased the property of the Summit County Railroad in 1881.
During the 1880s Utah's attempts at statehood were blocked by many individuals and special interest groups, and their zealous anti-Mormon activities. This anti-Mormon zeal reached its peak in 1887 with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which allowed the federal government to confiscate the financial assets of the LDS church. The assets of the church included the coal mine and coal lands located in Grass Creek Canyon. With the coal mine closed, the traffic for the branch line was no longer there. With the loss of the coal traffic from the now closed coal mine, and to allow the use of the rails elsewhere, the Echo & Park City abandoned and removed the four mile Grass Creek Branch in 1887.
The Grass Creek coal mine laid idle for several years awaiting a decision by the federal courts concerning the ownership of church assets. In anticipation of a positive decision, on September 19, 1894 the church organized the Grass Creek Terminal Railway to construct a branch from the Echo & Park City mainline up Grass Creek canyon to the "old Church coal mine". The company's organizers were actually prominent Mormon businessmen who held the property as trustees for the church's interests. The company built 2.87 miles of new railroad line on the grade and alignment of the original Grass Creek branch that had been torn up in 1887, along with an additional 2.7 miles of new construction, making the new branch just over 5-1/2 miles in length. Although the railroad did not own the line, the new branch was constructed in 1895-96 by Union Pacific construction forces and upon completion, it was operated by the Echo & Park City company as their Grass Creek Branch.
Operation of the branch was by Union Pacific after UP's purchase of Echo & Park City company in 1899. In July 1907, Ogden industrialist David Eccles purchased the 1,040 acres of coal lands that comprised the Grass Creek coal mine and organized the Grass Creek Coal Company of Utah. Eccles needed the coal to supply fuel for the sugar factories of his Amalgamated Sugar Company located in Logan and Ogden. The new company was a reorganization of a previous Grass Creek Coal Company that was organized in late 1896 to manage the church owned coal mine in Grass Creek Canyon. Eccles' purchase of the Grass Creek coal lands also included the Grass Creek Terminal Railway. The Coalville area was still a regular supplier of marketable coal and by early 1910 the coal mines in the Coalville area, in addition to Eccles' Grass Creek company, included the Weber Coal Company, the Union Fuel Company, and the Rees Grass Creek Company.
October 26, 1895
"A railroad is being built from Coalville to the Grass Creek coal mines. It will be standard gauge and six miles long and connect with the Union Pacific." (Park Record, Park City, October 26, 1895)
September 7, 1916
UP leased 5.698 miles of trackage from Grass Creek Junction to Grass Creek, Utah, plus 0.403 mile of yard and side tracks, for an indefinite period from September 7, 1916. UP to pay all expenses and receive all revenues. (44 ICC Val. 135; UP ICC Valuation Docket 1060, done July 30, 1982)
Ownership of much of the Grass Creek coal mine and railroad passed from the LDS Church to the church-owned Zion Securities in June 1922. The Grass Creek Coal Company was actually owner of only part of the coal lands, and leased the remainder of its operation from the church, and later Zion Securities. By the 1920s the railroad branch was in need of major repairs and upgrading, so in 1923 Union Pacific purchased the branch from Zion Securities for the sum of $10.00, agreeing to relay the line with heavier rail and maintain it in operable condition.
June 16, 1922
Heber J. Grant, as Trustee in Trust for LDS Church, sells by quit claim deed to Zion Securities, in the amount of $1.00, the coal lands in Grass Creek canyon, described as follows: S-1/2 Section 18; N-1/2 of NE-1/4 Section 19; SW-1/4 of NE-1/4, NE-1/4 of NW-1/4 Section 24; W-1/2 Section 26; S-1/2 of SW-1/4 Section 8; including Grass Creek Terminal Railway, which begins at center of east line of Section 8, T3N, R6E. (Summit County Quit Claim Deeds, Book E, p.266)
August 22, 1923
Zion Securities warranty deeds to Union Pacific Railroad the right of way and track of the Grass Creek Branch, plus 8.78 acres in SW-1/4 Section 18 and NW-1/4, Section 19, including coal tipple. Purchase price was $10.00. Heber J. Grant is president of Zion Securities. (Summit County Warranty Deeds, Book N, p.81)
September 30, 1924
Union Pacific completed the purchase of the Grass Creek Branch, and commenced rehabilitation of the track and right-of-way. The purchase was authorized by UP's upper management in New York City using the company's "authority for expenditure" process. (Union Pacific AFE 66, 1923)
Coal traffic from the Grass Creek mine averaged about 3-5 carloads of coal per week, with the mine shipping 207 cars during 1927, and 335 cars during 1928. In 1929 Zion Securities leased the Grass Creek mine to the Grass Creek Fuel Company of Coalville, who also operated the Weber mine in Chalk Creek canyon above Coalville. The new operators shipped 210 cars of coal in 1929 and 353 cars in 1930, showing that coal production remained relatively constant during the late 1920s. In 1930 the mining engineers decided that the Grass Creek mine had reached the end of its productive life, and the mine operators made the decision to shut down the mine, which had been in continuous production since the mid 1890s. In 1931 the mine shipped 243 cars, even though actual production had stopped. The coal being mined was coming from the removal of the mine's supporting pillars. The most common method of coal mining in effect at that time, prior to today's longwall techniques, was to form a room within the coal seam, leaving large pillars about twenty feet square to support the mine roof. The coal being shipped from the Grass Creek mine was coming from the removal of these pillars. As the pillars were removed, the mine roof was allowed to collapse. There was sufficient coal in the pillars to allow the mine to continue to ship large amounts of coal for approximately the next four years.
In the first ten months of 1932 the mine shipped 130 cars, with the mine shut down between March and June. In June they began shipping coal to the Union Portland Cement plant at Devil's Slide, located on UP's Weber Canyon mainline. The cement plant at Devil's Slide was in heavy production to furnish cement for the construction of Boulder Dam.
Union Pacific applied to abandon the Grass Creek Branch in August 1932 but the Interstate Commerce Commission denied the application because UP requested that the abandonment not become effective for a full year. Union Pacific wanted the unusual effective date to allow the mine to furnish all of the coal needed for the cement plant. The mine remained in limited production for several more years and Union Pacific decided to delay its abandonment efforts.
In June 1939 Union Pacific applied again to the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon the branch, but on August 1st the ICC dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. UP had been operating the branch as a spur from within the operational limits of the yard at Coalville, three miles south of where the Grass Creek Branch left the Park City Branch's main track. UP was using a locomotive to push two or three empties up to the mine and returning to Coalville with the loaded cars.
The Grass Creek mine was finally shut down in the winter of 1938. One of the major customers for the mining company for most of the mine's life had been the Ogden Union Railway & Depot Company, with a large part of its production being used to heat the Ogden Union Station. By the late 1930s the OUR&D was getting their coal from other sources.
Only one carload of coal was shipped in 1936; 11 cars were shipped in 1937, three cars in 1938, and none were shipped in 1939. In June 1940 the Utah State Public Utilities Commission approved Union Pacific's request to abandon the Grass Creek Branch. By early April 1941 UP had completed the removal of all of the rails and improvements on the 5.75 mile branch.
Echo Dam Line Relocation
During the mid 1920s, water reservoir projects in Utah, and the west, were becoming important sources to aid in the development of the western agriculture industry. They were also an important feature in flood control. The upper Weber River was seen as a potential candidate, and in 1927, construction had begun on what was to become Echo Dam and Reservoir. The dam itself was completed in 1930, and water in the Weber River was soon filling the new reservoir. Part of the dam construction included relocating the Park City Branch. In April 1928, UP sold the property along the old alignment to the U. S. government, and during 1929, the line itself was relocated. On May 22, 1931, the actual right of way itself, which by this time was under water, was sold to the government. (Echos Of Yesterday, Summit County Centennial History, Daughters of Utah Pioneers of Summit County, 1947, page 79, "In the fall of 1927 construction began on the Echo Reservoir. It was completed in the fall of 1930"; Summit County Quit Claim Deeds, Book F, page 20 and page 323, recorded on April 19, 1928, and on May 22, 1931; Echo Dam was formally completed in December 1931, with the final bond payment being made on June 11, 1966.)
One factor that may have made abandonment of the Grass Creek Branch easier for Union Pacific in 1940 was that there was never any passenger service on the branch. However, that cannot be said for the Park City Branch, which from earliest times, had provided regular passenger service for residents between Park City and Echo. Railroad travel was the major method of long distance travel for well into the 20th century, and like almost all of the nation's rural and remote communities, the towns along the Park City Branch were served by regular, daily passenger trains.
A public timetable from 1887 shows that the branch had two daily trains that each made round trips. One, an express between Ogden and Park City, left Park City at 7:15 a.m. and arrived at Ogden at 9:45 a.m., then left Ogden at 6 p.m. and arrived back at Park City at 8:50 p.m. This schedule would allow travelers to spend a day in Ogden, and return to Park City in the evening. The other train was the local mixed train that operated between Echo and Park City. It left Echo at 11:50 a.m. and arrived at Park City at 2;20 p.m., and left Park City at 4:30 p.m., arriving back at Echo at 7:00 p.m.
The Park City passenger traffic was subject to the competition from the Rio Grande's own Park City Branch between Park City and Salt Lake City, by way of Parleys Canyon. Union Pacific served Park City with both a daily passenger train and a daily mixed train, which consisted of a freight train that also had a passenger coach tacked onto the train's end. The mixed train was subject to numerous delays en route and was therefore considered to be the secondary choice. Coalville was served by its own daily passenger train between there and Echo.
As the nation's highways were slowly being improved with the use of federal highway construction dollars, the roads in the Upper Weber River Valley also benefited from these improvements, albeit only grading and improvements in bridging and drainage rather than actual hard surfacing. Summit County's travelers soon discovered that they could drive to their destinations, at their own convenience, instead of going by train.
The decline of railroad passenger service in Utah was much the same as it was throughout the nation. As the railroad passenger traffic began declining, the railroads began seeking permission to reduce the number and frequency of their passenger trains, especially local and mixed trains. One of the first trains that Union Pacific sought to abandon in Utah was the local train between Coalville and Echo, known as Train 223 and 224, "the Coalville Local". UP received Utah State Public Utilities Commission permission to cease operating the Coalville Local on February 27, 1925, with the justification that the Park City Local and the Park City Mixed were providing parallel service, through the same communities.
During the 1930s, the snows of the Park City area became known among the early skiers, those diehard pioneers who would willing strap a couple long boards to their feet and willingly head downhill. This was in the days before ski lifts, or even uphill rope pulls. The first ski trains were operated by Denver & Rio Grande Western over its own branch between Salt Lake City and Park City. Rio Grande continued to operate ski trains on regular basis until the line was closed in 1946, when operation of the occasional ski train specials was moved to Union Pacific, by way of Ogden and Weber Canyon.
Fewer than 200 men were working in the Park City mines during the late 1950s. With Colorado mining towns such as Aspen and Vail being developed as ski resorts, United Park City Mines Company, decided that it too should take advantage of the growing sport of snow skiing. The company, which owned the surface rights to over 10,000 acres of mining claims, along with the other mining companies, obtained and matched a $1.2 million redevelopment loan from the federal government and set about its work. In 1963, the Treasure Mountain Inn was opened, the resort's first ski lifts were built, and a new golf course was completed, forever changing Park City's history.
On May 11, 1963, United Park City Mines Company and the town of Park City held a "Bonanza Day" celebration, which included a ground breaking ceremony for a $636,000 aerial enclosed gondola 2-1/2 mile tramway, as the first step of a new "multimillion dollar, major year-round playground" resort called "The Treasure Mountains." In attendance was Utah governor George W. Clyde, who swung a symbolic silver-coated mining pick to open the event. The project was being financed by a $1,232,000 loan from the federal Area Redevelopment Administration, the largest ARA loan granted west of the Mississippi River. Also in attendance was U. S. Senator Frank E. Moss, who had worked with the ARA to secure the loan. (Davis County Clipper, May 10, 1963; includes a full description of the plans for the resort; May 16, 1963, which included a full description of the ceremony)
The new aerial gondola tramway was completed and held its grand opening on December 21, 1963. Known as the "Treasure Mountains Tramway", the gondolas traveled 2-1/2 miles, rising 2,300 feet from Park City, up to the summit of Pioneer Ridge at 9,300 feet elevation. Each gondola car carried four persons. (Summit County Bee Park Record, January 9, 1964)
December 21, 1963 has been reported as being the first day of business for Treasure Mountains Resort Company. (Deseret News, December 22, 1988)
United Park City Mines "recently utilized" a $1.2 million loan from the federal Area Redevelopment Administration, using the money to construct a two-and-one-half-mile gondola lift, a chair lift and two J-bar tows. By February 1964, the company had 100 employees working on the resort side of the company, which they called their recreation division. (New York Times, February 16, 1964)
In May 1970, United Park City Mines sold 4,200 acres to Treasure Mountain Resort Company for the purposes of resort and recreational development at a reported $5.4 million, and leased to the resort company another 6,100 acres for the development of ski lifts and ski runs. At the time, United Park City Mines was 30 percent owned by Anaconda and ASARCO, which was also controlling interest. (Deseret News, June 18, 1970)
On at least six occasions, Union Pacific operated passenger specials to bring skiers to Park City.
The special Snowball Express trains were run on the following dates:
- Saturday December 4, 1965
- Saturday February 18, 1967
- Saturday February 24, 1968
- Saturday March 8, 1969
- Saturday February 28, 1970
- Saturday February 27, 1971
On Saturday December 4, 1965, UP operated the first of what became known as the "Hootspa Special," the first passenger train to serve Park City since 1950. The train departed from Salt Lake City, and added more riders in Ogden, then proceeded to Echo and its route along UP's Park City Branch to Park City. The occasion was the first Utah Winter Hootspa, sponsored by the Olympics for Utah, Inc. to promote Utah as the site of the 1972 Winter Olympics. A photo in the May 1966 issue of Trains magazine shows that the train was pulled by three of UP's EMD E-type passenger locomotives, with UP 952 in the lead. The train was remembered by many for the liberal serving of liquor-by-the-drink, which was not allowed on the ground in Utah, but was allowed on trains because Utah's liquor laws did not apply to the federally-regulated railroads. It was reported the following year that the first run had been a complete success, with more than 500 people riding the first train.
Photos indicate that the 1965 train used three UP 900-class passenger units (two cab units and a booster), with number 952 in the lead. The train had 10 cars. No dome cars were used that year.
Other ski specials were operated, with at least one being pulled by UP's new SDP35 passenger locomotives. Others used UP's famous E8 and E9 passenger locomotives. Research has not found if a train was run in 1966, but trains were run the two following years, on Saturday February 18, 1967 and Saturday February 24, 1968. Both were sponsored by Olympics for Utah, in conjunction with the Utah Winter Carnival.
The run on March 8, 1969 was sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and with a new sponsor came a new name, "Snowball Express." The run for 1969 had 300 riders, on board the sold-out 12-car special. It departed from Salt Lake City at 1 p.m., and the return trip departed Park City at 10 p.m., reportedly leaving several riders in Park City.
Photos indicate that the 1969 train used three UP 900-class passenger units (two cab units and a booster). The train had 11 cars, including two dome cars. The three "party" baggage cars were located on each end of the dome cars, and were immediately behind the motive power.
The fifth annual train ran on Saturday February 28, 1970. Photos indicate that the 1970 train used three UP 900-class passenger units (two cab units and a booster), with number 910 in the lead. The train had 11 cars, including two dome cars. Four coaches were at the front of the train, then a dome car, then two "party" baggage cars, then the other dome car, followed by the remaining cars.
The last "Snowball Express" operated on February 27, 1971, a nine-car train that departed Salt Lake City at 12 Noon, and arrived at Park City at 4:15 p.m. This final run had more than 400 passengers and was also sponsored by the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. It was reported that the run in 1971 would be the last, because Amtrak was to start operations on May 1, 1971, and Union Pacific would not be allowed to operate passengers trains for the general public.
Freight traffic along the Park City Branch throughout the 1930s and into the 1970s consisted of the out-shipment of livestock and other agricultural products, along with the in-shipment of finished manufactured goods, such as automobiles and lumber. The railroad also brought in other products needed to support the economies of the local communities of Coalville, Hoytville, and Wanship, along with the off-line communities of Oakley, Kamas, and Francis.
A major portion of the railroad freight traffic was made up of the out-shipment of mining ores and concentrates from the mines and mills around Park City. At Park City itself, the railroad maintained a loading ramp for the dumping of ores from wagons, and later trucks, directly into railroad cars. The railroad also served the Ontario mine directly, over jointly owned (with Rio Grande) tracks south through Deer Valley and up to the mine above Park City. The joint trackage veered east from the UP depot, and proceeded into Deer Valley about a half mile, where a switch back the took the tracks up the hill about three-quarter of a mile to the Ontario mine opening. In 1930, the joint trackage was extended one and a half mile further into Deer Valley to the Park City Consolidated Mining Company's tipple.
During the early years of the 1920s, UP and Rio Grande were in the midst of a heated competition for rail traffic in Utah. In a purely competitive move to steal traffic away from D&RGW's Park City Branch, UP worked with Ontario Mining Company to close its original surface works above Park City, expand its drainage tunnel, and allow UP to serve the new opening as a shipment point for the Ontario's ores. UP christened the new station Keetley, named for John (Jack) Keetley who had been the Superintendent of the Silver King Consolidated Mining Company. (Keetley on the Union Pacific was shown of the USGS maps as Keetley Station, to show it as separate from the nearby town of Keetley.)
The station at Keetley was named for John (Jack) Keetley, Superintendent at the Silver King Consolidated mine from 1902 until his death in 1912. He was a well known and popular person in Park City history, and in Utah's mining community. Besides being one of Utah's best known mining men, Keetley's claim to fame was that he was one of very few people who was a rider for the Pony Express throughout its entire 19-month period of operations. Keetley was born in England in 1841 and after the Pony Express was disbanded in 1861, Keetley moved to Salt Lake City and became active in mining, working his way up the career ladder over the next 40 years to become Superintendent of the Silver King, which was right behind the Ontario in overall wealth produced for any mine in Utah. The Ontario Mine was owned by George Hearst, and served as the foundation for William Randolph Hearst's publishing empire.
This new location meant that locomotives did not have to move up the steep and curving spur from Park City to the Ontario mine, situated above the town, improving safety for the railroad and for the town's citizens. The new location also allowed larger locomotives and cars to be used, allowing for increased traffic.
To serve this new ore loading point at Keetley, in 1923 Union Pacific constructed the Ontario Branch, which left the Park City Branch about four miles east of Park City, at a point that the railroad chose to name Keetley Junction. The station at the Ontario drainage tunnel at Keetley soon became the major traffic point on UP's Park City Branch
In 1925 when several mining companies (including the Ontario company) merged to form the Park Utah Consolidated Mining Company, the company was shipping about 200 tons per day. In a later move to consolidate it's agency stations on the branch, in 1931 Union Pacific closed the agency station at Keetley and moved the agent to Park City. Other mines continued to operate at Park City, so UP continued to serve Park City, competing with D&RGW until D&RGW abandoned its own Park City Branch in 1946.
The other mines continued to ship ores by rail as late as the early 1960s. There are newspaper accounts, in the form of regular weekly reports of mining activity, saying that 10-20 cars were shipped from various mines in any given one week period. The Ontario mine continued to ship material from its mine dumps above Park City throughout this same period. While the mine dumps were not high grade ore, they worked very well as what was known as flux-ore, a product needed by the smelters to balance the ores they were processing from other mines throughout the region, which included Nevada and Idaho. The Ontario dumps were trucked from the mine site down Park City's Main Street to a truck dump built for the purpose, and located about 300 yards north of the landmark Silver King Coalition building.
After UP abandoned its Ontario Spur in 1923, from Park City up-canyon about a mile to the Ontario Mine, other mines continued to ship their ore by rail by using one of two truck dumps in Park City, both of which dumped directly into D&RGW and UP rail cars, at least until 1946 when D&RGW left town. There had been a truck dump in Park City since the early days when wagons dumped directly into rail cars. The Ontario had to build its own truck dump because they were using much larger dump trucks than what the two smaller existing dumps could safely hold.
Later Freight Operations
Park City remained as a major source for freight traffic on UP. It was the destination for numerous car loads of general merchandise, including lumber and mining machinery. And the station continued to be the originating point for mineral traffic, with several truck loading ramps being built that allowed trucks to dump directly into the railroad's cars.
With the 1953 merger of the region's two largest mining company's, the Park Utah Consolidated (which included the pioneer Ontario claim) and the Silver King Coalition, forming the United Park City Mines Company, UP's business in Park City was greatly diminished. Although organized in 1953, the only work being done was tunnel extension and development work. According to the September 23, 1954 issue of the Park Record newspaper, ore shipment resumed in that month. The Silver King Coalition's ore loading station was closed, and the "Park City Con Spur" in Deer Valley was abandoned and removed in 1954. Almost all rail traffic, except the occasional carload from the Park City truck dumps, was focused at the Ontario mine opening at Keetley on the Ontario Branch, completed in 1923.
Prior to the 1953 merger, a major contributor to the UP's traffic was the lead and silver concentrates that were loaded at the Silver King Coalition Mining Company's ore loading station on North Main Street in Park City. Originally served solely by D&RGW, until it abandoned its Park City service in 1947, the Coalition tipple building was located at the downhill end of a 7,300 feet long aerial tramway from the Silver King's concentrator mill adjacent to the Silver King mine. After 1947, the building was served by UP and endured for 81 years as a symbol of Park City until it burned in July 1982.
This large wooden frame structure located in downtown Park City had been completed in 1902 with the formation of the Silver King Coalition Mining Company. The structure covered two tracks, and was served by a cable tramway from the mining company's mine and mill located across a ridge to the west. It remained long after the mine itself closed and the tramway was dismantled. Park City developed as a ski resort beginning in the late 1950s, and by the late 1960s, the Silver King Coalition building became a symbol for Park City and its booming skiing resorts. Development pressure mounted and the old building was in the way. Several proposals were considered to restore the wooden structure, and possibly incorporate it as part of further development. The controversy was settled on July 20, 1982 when a mysterious fire destroyed the landmark, which had been the subject of an Historical American Engineering Record study in 1971 by the National Park Service. Drawings and photos of this unique structure are available from the Historical American Engineering Records files in the National Archives.
United Park City Mines Company continued to ship ore from the Keetley location until 1970 when the mine was leased to Park City Ventures, a joint venture of Anaconda Copper Mining Co. and American Smelting & Refining Company. These two companies held controlling interest in United Park City Mines from its organization in 1953, but in 1970, United Park City Mines decided to get serious about developing its surface properties for skiing and other recreational use, and leased the mining operations to its two controlling interests.
In September 1941, the original track to the Ontario drain tunnel at Keetley, was extended 1.76 miles to a new mine known as the Mayflower. Union Pacific built the new line at a cost of $99,000, and the new spur was opened for service after a ceremony attended by 900 people on Sunday September 21. During the dedication ceremony, a special silver spike was driven. The station at the end of the line was called Crammer, named in honor of W. H. H. Crammer, president and general manager of New Park Mining Company. The construction work for the spur was completed by Morrison Knudsen. (Park Record, September 25, 1941; April 23, 1942)
Prior to the completion of the spur to the Mayflower, the mine's ore was hauled by truck to the Park Utah Consolidated Mines Company at Keetley, to be shipped to the Midvale smelter of the United States Smelting, Refining & Mining Company. (Park Record, December 12, 1940; this article includes an excellent technical description of the New Park properties)
By 1965, United Park City Mines was shipping 33 cars per week, but Hecla was only shipping five cars per week from the Mayflower. (Park Record, May 6, 1965)
As an indication of the continuing mining traffic coming from Park City, in one week in mid March 1970, United Parks City Mines shipped 22 carloads of ore over Union Pacific. (Park Record, March 19, 1970)
The Mayflower mine, leased by Hecla Mining Company, closed at the end of 1972. The Keetley site was abandoned as a rail operation in 1975 when Park City Ventures replaced it with a new vertical shaft located south of Park City, very near the former site of the original Ontario Mine. United Park City Mines still owned the mine, but after Park City Ventures closed the mine in February 1978, in 1979 the lease changed hands from Park City Ventures to Noranda Mining Inc. In April 1982, Noranda closed the old Ontario mine and all mining activity in the Park City district came to an end.
Beginning in early 1963, UteLite Corporation began loading covered hoppers at Coalville. Their product was an lightweight expanded shale aggregate that is used in concrete, and in more modern times, as a chip seal to rejuvenate road surfaces. The product was mined from a shale quarry between Wanship and Peoa, then heated on-site in a rotary kiln, which expands, "pops," it to become more lightweight. Expanded shale is about a third of the weight of standard aggregates used in concrete, as well as having greater strength and less absorption. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 6, 1963)
The Utelite Corporation was formed by the owners of Southern Utah Fuel company in Salina, Utah. Neal Mortensen, vice president and general manager, and a graduate mining engineer of the University of Utah, stated that the company had been looking for three years for a source of shale for the production of its expanded shale product. Mining would be by front-end loader, without resorting to blasting. Customers would be concrete companies in the area. Officers of the Utelite company were all members of the Mortensen family, and were also officers of the Southern Utah Fuel company. (Summit County Bee, December 13, 1962)
The UteLite quarry and kilns are located in Three Mile canyon, near Rockport reservoir, 12 miles south of Coalville (18 miles south of Echo). The company continued to ship from Coalville until the Park City Branch was abandoned in 1988, then moved its loading facility from Coalville to a spur at Echo, and continued to load covered hoppers. Additional shipments are by large hopper trucks directly to customers in Salt Lake, Davis, Utah and Weber counties.
Phosphate became the focus of operations on the Park City Branch in late 1966 with the completion of a new reloading facility at Phoston, a new location on the Ontario Branch five miles north of Keetley. Phosphate rock was trucked 155 miles from the Brush Creek mine located 13 miles north of Vernal, Utah, and was then moved by rail cars to Western Phosphate's fertilizer plant at Garfield, Utah where it was combined with sulphuric acid, a byproduct of Kennecott's copper smelter, to produce agricultural fertilizer sold under the Anchor brand name.
By the 1970s, mineral mining had essentially ended in the Park City mines. Instead, phosphate rock was becoming the major source of traffic on the branch. To support this increased phosphate traffic, in 1977 Union Pacific upgraded the Ontario Branch, along with the portion of the Park City Branch between Echo and Keetley Junction where Park City line connected with the Ontario Branch. The upgrading effort included new, heavier rail and the use of newer, more powerful GP30 locomotives, and would allow heavier cars to be loaded and moved over the branch.
Silver Creek Canyon
(Portions of this section were first published in the UtahRails.net blog on September 4, 2010)
The route of Union Pacific's Park City Branch took it through Silver Creek Canyon, west from Wanship to Snyderville Basin. Through the canyon, the Park City Branch split the eastbound and westbound lanes of today's Interstate 80.
The earliest road through Silver Creek Canyon was the territorial road that had evolved using the alignment and right-of-way of the abandoned Utah Eastern narrow gauge railroad, abandoned and removed in 1887. The territorial road was improved in the 1920s and was designated as U. S. Highway 530, later changed to U. S. Highway 189. It remained as an unpaved road, wide enough for two cars to pass each other. Research has not yet found a date that the road was paved, but it was likely in the late 1920s when federal highway funds allowed paving of many roads in Utah. At the time of a 1932 map of Utah highways, the road is shown as U. S. Highway 530, and is shown as "bituminous treated."
Although UP's operations were not affected, in June 1960 the appearance of Silver Creek Canyon began to change, with the construction of an all-new alignment for Interstate 80 south of the tracks on previously untouched land. The existing U.S. Highway 189 on the north side had been built in the 1920s on the abandoned Utah Eastern alignment (abandoned in 1887), and remained in use. Two-way traffic was diverted to the new eastbound lanes upon completion in 1962, and the old U.S. 189 alignment was rebuilt to become the new westbound lanes. The entire project was completed in May 1963.
(Additional research is needed to determine the relationship between the Park City Branch, the territorial toll road and the abandoned Utah Eastern alignment through Silver Creek Canyon.)
During late 1985 the major shipper on the Park City Branch announced that they were about to change their transportation needs. For many years Chevron Chemical Corporation (as successor to Stauffer Chemical), had been shipping raw phosphate rock by truck via U. S. Highway 40 from a mine near Vernal, Utah, to a reloading facility at Phoston, located on the Ontario Branch of Union Pacific's Park City Branch, just east of the highway summit between Park City and Heber. At Phoston, the phosphate rock was processed and reloaded into rail cars. UP then moved the phosphate rock by rail from Phoston to fertilizer manufacturing plants at Garfield, Utah and in Canada. In early 1986, Chevron announced that their new $180 million processing facility near Rock Springs, Wyoming would be in production by early July 1986. The new facility would be using the entire production of the mine near Vernal, but the transportation of the phosphate rock would be by way of a new $70 million slurry pipeline from the mine directly north to the new Rock Springs facility. The new pipeline would do away with the truck/rail reload facility at Phoston. The fertilizer plant at Garfield would be closed as well.
The traffic from the Phoston reload facility furnished about 90 percent of the business on the Park City Branch. Although the new facility at Rock Springs would be taking away the phosphate traffic from the Park City Branch, UP would still benefit from the traffic itself. Part of the construction of the new facility included a new 8.5 mile spur off of UP's Wyoming mainline. The new plant would replace the fertilizer plants in Canada and Garfield, and would furnish UP with significant new traffic. From the new plant, Chevron planned on shipping approximately 11,000 rail cars per year, loaded with four different grades of fertilizer.
Regular operation of the Park City Branch during the 1980s called for Union Pacific to run a train every day except Sunday. With the new Rock Springs facility nearing completion, Chevron wanted to use up the stockpile of phosphate rock that had accumulated at Phoston. To ship the additional material, twice a week the railroad began doubling the number of rail cars being moved. This additional traffic required that an additional, third, locomotive be added to the train.
Without the Chevron phosphate traffic, the Park City Branch would provide only occasional service to the only other regular customers on the 27-mile branch. These other customers included a grain facility at Wanship and a lumber yard in Park City, which only received occasional flatcars of lumber. During late March 1986, the railroad moved three cars into Park City itself, business which only happened five or six times a year.
Regular service on Park City Branch ended in late July 1986, when Chevron Resources (formerly Chevron Chemical Co.) closed the Phoston Reload. Service after July 1986 was only as needed by the few other customers on the branch. The last regularly scheduled train ran on the branch on July 5, 1986 when UP moved the last 14 loaded rail cars from Phoston.
With the loss of a major portion of the traffic, UP let it be known that they were interested in either abandoning or selling the branch to a qualified buyer. Wasatch County and Summit County wanted Union Pacific to either sell or donate the 2-1/2 mile Ontario Branch, from Keetley Junction to Phoston, along with the three miles of line between Keetley Junction and Park City. The two counties also wanted to buy, for about $1.5 million, the unused and partially abandoned four miles of UP right of way between Phoston and the old Mayflower Mine, the two miles beyond the old Ontario Drainage Tunnel at Keetley.
Another use for the abandoned line soon surfaced. During the early and mid 1980s the construction plans for a new dam on the Provo River to be called the Jordanelle Dam had been progressing through the planning stages and the dam and reservoir project was now ready for actual construction to begin, with the new dam to be built near the highway intersection known as Hail Stone Junction, another five miles south of the old Mayflower Mine. Wasatch County was interested in the now inactive rail line to support Heber City, which wanted to use the railroad as an alternative to the construction of a highway by-pass for the movement of gravel-hailing trucks through the city to the dam construction site. The rail alternative would require the construction of a new eight mile rail line from Heber City to a connection with the former Union Pacific line at Keetley. Upon completion of the Jordanelle Dam, the new rail line would then be turned over to the Heber Creeper for operation as a tourist railroad between Heber City and Park City. A spur would also be built to serve the proposed Heber Industrial Park.
Union Pacific's asking purchase price was $11 million for the entire line, but Wasatch County held out for the railroad to donate the branch instead. As interest grew, Summit County became involved because they too could see the potential for tourist business. They were interested in operating a tourist railroad between Coalville and Park City. The two counties formed a Railroad Commission to study the possibility of purchase of the Park City Branch. Utah County soon expressed an interest in joining the Railroad Commission to promote extension of the Heber Creeper line down Provo Canyon to serve the Sundance Resort, at that time the home of the Sundance Film Festival. The entire project had the support of the Utah Department of Transportation and the Mountainlands Association of Governments. As preliminary negotiations progressed, Union Pacific stated that they would rather sell the line than scrap it. As of January 1987, only preliminary negotiations had taken place. By 1988, negotiations had stalled and in early December 1988 Union Pacific made formal application to the Interstate Commerce Commission for abandonment of the Park City Branch.
At the time of the application, and according to the ICC abandonment request dated December 28, 1988, service on the branch was limited to trains approximately six times in each month, with service being provided by the Evanston Local. After the closure of the phosphate rock loading station at Phoston in 1986, service did not go south of Wanship, and consisted of one carload of lumber, and four carloads of machinery. During 1986 alone, traffic consisted of 1,648 carloads of phosphate rock, and five carloads to Park City (one carload of lumber and four carloads of machinery, all to Anderson Lumber). During 1987 and the first nine months of 1988, Utelite at Coalville shipped a total of 189 carloads of rock; 74 carloads in 1987 and 115 carloads in 1988. (With the abandonment of the Park City Branch, UteLite moved its loading facility from Coalville to a spur at Echo, and continued to load covered hoppers.)
"In December 1988, UP sought to abandon two lines of railroad: (1) the 27.6-mile Park City branch between milepost -0.2 near Echo and milepost 27.4 near Park City; and (2) the 2.5-mile Ontario branch between milepost 0.0 near Keetley Junction and milepost 2.5 near Phoston, a total of 30.1 miles in Summit and Wasatch Counties, Utah." (Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 55, decided January 31, 2006, service date February 1, 2006; STB approval needed to allow the movement of two portions of the the rail-trail away from the rail-banked right-of-way)
The request to abandon the line was approved, and in January 1989 UP contracted with A&K Railroad Materials of Salt Lake City for the removal of the rails and ties from the branch's roadbed. A&K finished the job by July. The now-empty roadbed itself was deeded to the State of Utah Division of Parks and Recreation on May 11, 1989 for use as recreation trails, under the federal government's Rails to Trails program. (Summit County Book 527, pp. 47-56)
The Rails to Trails program has as its purpose to retain the nation's system of abandoned railroad roadbeds for potential use in future economic development of any given region, while allowing alternative use as hiking, biking, and snowmobile trails. The old Park City Branch, now known as the "Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail," was at first paved with crushed gravel, then in 1996, it received a layer of asphalt.
There were depot buildings at Echo, Coalville, Wanship, and Park City. There was also a small structure at Keetley on the Ontario Branch, that also served as both the scale house and the agent's office.
The depot at Echo was of the standard design that UP historians have labeled as the 14439 Type, after the drawing number of the engineering drawing that shows the general design of this unique structure. The depot at Echo was completed in 1913, three years before the mainline was double-tracked east of Echo (the mainline was double-tracked west of Echo in 1926). It matches almost identical depots built by UP between 1911 and 1922 at as many as 19 other locations in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. The Echo depot building was donated to Summit County and was moved five miles south to Coalville in May 1975, where it still serves as a senior citizen's center. The saving of the Echo depot was the work of O. A. "Scotty" Durrant, retired Eastern District General Manager, who was raised in Echo. The center in Coalville was dedicated in June 1976 to the memory of his parents, Leroy and Vera Durrant. Durrant's nephew, Rick, works for Union Pacific today as part of the management team for the Western Region, and also supports many aspects of historical preservation. A photo of the Echo depot was included as part of an article in The Streamliner about the 14439-Type depots, on page 38 of Volume 6, Number 4.
The depot at Coalville was another depot built to UP's Common Standard design. It was built in 1885 to Plan 6336-7, and was 20 feet by 40 feet in size. In 1891, it had a 30-foot extension added. There is no record of when this depot was retired. There are also no records of the depot at Wanship, just a representation on the overall drawing of the entire branch. It was likely a one of the smaller 20 feet by 40 feet examples of UP's standard depots.
During March 1881, just two months after reaching Park City, the Echo & Park City line completed its original depot in Park City. At the same time the Utah Eastern completed a new two stall engine house at the end of its Park City "wye" (a set of tracks used to turn locomotives and cars). During 1883 the Echo & Park City extended its line further south into Park City by completing a one mile spur that ended at the foot of Main Street.
The depot in downtown Park City at the foot of Main Street was completed in 1886, replacing an earlier depot completed 1881 at the original location, one mile north. The Park City depot served the town well, and was the home of the station agent until the agency was closed in 1976. After that date, except for the occasional ski train passenger special, there were few times that locomotives or cars ventured south of the Anderson Lumber siding, a mile to the north. The structure sat unused, and suffered heavy damage from an arson-set fire on April 21, 1985. It was purchased by an individual who restored the building, and it stands today at the foot of Park City's Main Street as a fine example of the preservation of railroad architecture.
Steam locomotives dominated Union Pacific's motive power roster until 1954, and it was no different for the Park City Branch during the steam years of the classic era (1934-1982). Park City Branch motive power during this time was usually 2-8-2 MK-class Mikado locomotives. Photos in Emil Albrecht's Union Pacific Small Steam book show Mikado 2710 in August 1951 at the head of an eastbound Park City Local at Gateway in Weber Canyon. The locomotive is at the head of a train of nine General Service gondolas and a wooden caboose, showing that mineral ore was still the major traffic, rather than the later phosphate rock. On pages 104-107 of Richard Steinheimer's "Backwoods Railroads of the West," published in 1963, the photographer included four photographs of UP's Park City Local with 2-8-2 steam motive power. The views show two different runs, one with eight GS-class drop-bottom gondolas, and the other with 12 of the same type of cars.
The use of steam power ended on the Park City Branch in 1955, when GP9s from Electro-Motive replaced the Mikados. EMD GP9s and other 4-axle motive power (UPHS member Ralph Gochnour has a photo taken in 1965 of a recently renumbered GP20 sitting at the Park City depot), continued to serve as the Branch's power until the GP30s arrived in 1973.
These GP30 locomotives, built by General Motors' Electro Motive Division, were at the time (and still today) popular among railfans because of their unique styling and rarity on the nation's railroads. Starting with their assignment to the branch in 1973, and ending only with the branch's abandonment, the branch was popular with the railfan community because it was one of only two or three locations in the country where these GP30 locomotives were being operated in sets of two or three units. Also, the "Park City GP30s" were unique on UP because they were the only GP30s on the railroad that were equipped with snowplows, which were needed for the year-round operation of the branch. As the GP30s began showing their age, having been built in 1962, the railroad tried operating different, newer locomotives along with them, usually without success. In November 1985, UP tried operating single six axle locomotives along with a single GP30; but the sharp curves on the branch soon caused problems and the operation of the branch was returned to using sets of the GP30s, along with similar GP35s. By the time of the last run of the branch in July 1986, GP30s were truly unique on both UP and on the rest of the nation's railroads. The two GP30s used during that last month of operation on the branch, UP 802 and 842, were two of only 29 of the type on Union Pacific, remaining from the 152 units that were delivered in 1962.
While diesel locomotives used on the Park City Branch were almost always serviced at Ogden, steam locomotives used on the branch were serviced either at Echo, or, later, at Ogden, 41 miles west of Echo by way of the Weber canyon mainline. At Echo, there was a four-stall frame engine house and an 80-foot turntable. The Echo enginehouse was in place before 1893, and was closed and likely demolished in 1906. Remnants of the turntable, or at least its abandoned pit, was still in evidence west of the Echo yard until grading for Interstate 84 the early 1970s removed much of the hillside at that location.
From the very first of UP's operations in 1869, Echo had been a helper terminal, where as many as five locomotives were kept to both help trains up the most severe portion of the Wasatch grade, and to power the locals on the Park City Branch. The Echo helper terminal was closed with the completion of the new roundhouse and engine terminal at Ogden in 1927.
Also at Echo was a large two-pocket frame wooden coaling trestle that was destroyed by fire in January 1941, and replaced by a modern concrete and steel one furnished by Fairbanks, Morse, & Co. (Echos Of Yesterday, Summit County Centennial History, Daughters of Utah Pioneers of Summit County, 1947, page 78, "A new coal chute was built in 1941 after a fire destroyed the old one. It was the fourth one to be built at Echo.")
According to Clive Carter's recent article in The Streamliner (Volume 14, Number 4), there was also a single-stall enginehouse at Coalville. It was 55 feet long, having been extended from 49 feet in 1907. The building was apparently demolished in 1913.
(see also: Union Pacific at Echo)
The movement of livestock to market was a regular source of freight traffic for the Park City Branch. Using Union Pacific Form 70, Number 63, dated January 1, 1943, as an information source, there were stockpens with loading ramps located at Coalville, Wanship, Atkinson, and Park City, along with a stock pen at Keetley on the Ontario Branch.
UP rated its stockpens by their equivalent capacity of single decks of stock cars, a measurement of 600 square feet. To figure actual capacity for livestock, agents were advised to use one-half for cattle and three-fourths for sheep and hogs. The stockpens on the Park City Branch were rated with the following features: Coalville had two pens, plus two more for sheep only, a single double deck loading chute, and a total capacity of 14 decks for cattle or 62 decks for sheep; Wanship had two pens, plus three more for sheep only, a single double-deck loading chute, and a total capacity 15 decks for cattle or 48 decks for sheep; Atkinson had four pens (all for sheep) and two double-deck loading chutes, with a total capacity of 48 decks for sheep; Park City had a single pen, with two more for sheep only, a single double-deck loading chute, and a total capacity of 11 decks for cattle or 46 decks for sheep; Keetley had five pens (all for sheep) and two double-deck loading chutes, with a total capacity of 24 decks for sheep. Obviously, Summit County was sheep country, as was most of northern Utah. During its peak years, Ogden Union Stock Yards handled four times the number of sheep as it handled in cattle and hogs: 1.8 million head of sheep versus 300,000 head of cattle and 350,000 hogs.
As the local highways and roads were improved during the 1950s, to allow the movement of heavy trucks, the livestock traffic for both sheep and cattle on the railroad started to decline. The stockyards at Wanship were officially abandoned in July 1983, but in reality livestock hadn't been loaded at Wanship for at least ten years. The branch's other livestock facilities experienced similar lack of use and eventual abandonment. (Approval for UP to abandon the stockyards at Wanship, see Utah Public Service Commission case number 83-400-03, approval dated July 21, 1983.)
Thanks to R. V. "Rick" Durrant, Ralph Gochnour, and Terry Holdeman for their help on the article.
Arrington, Leonard. Great Basin Kingdom. (University of Nebraska Press, 1966)
Arrington, Leonard J. "Utah's Coal Road in the Age of Unregulated Competition". Utah Historical Quarterly, January 1955, pp.35-63.
Athearn, Robert G. Union Pacific Country (University of Nebraska Press, 1976)
Carter, Clive S. "Union Pacific Engine Houses" The Streamliner, Volume 14, Number 4, Fall 2000, pages 9-21 (Union Pacific Historical Society)
Klein, Maury. Union Pacific, Birth of a Railroad, 1862-1893 (Doubleday & Co., 1987)
Metcalfe, Terry. "UP Common Standard Depots" The Streamliner, Volume3, Number 2, April 1987, page 26 (Union Pacific Historical Society)
Metcalfe, Terry, and Robert Odland. "Union Pacific Depots, Plan No. 14439" The Streamliner, Volume 6, Number 4, page 38 (Union Pacific Historical Society)
Price, Raye Carleson. Diggings and Doings in Park City (University of Utah Press, 1972)
Records of Summit County Clerk, Coalville, Utah
Reeder, Clarence A., Jr., History of Utah Railroads 1869-1883, PhD dissertation, University of Utah, 1970
Ringholz, Raye Carleson, and Bea Kummer. Walking Through Historic Park City (Raye Carleson Ringholz, 1984)
Thompson, George A, and Fraser Buck. Treasure Mountain Home, Park City Revisited (Dream Garden Press, 1981)
Watson, James W., and Hol Wagner. Emil Albrecht's Union Pacific Small Steam Power (Motive Power Services, 1985)
Miscellaneous information and incomplete research about the railroads from the Summit County Recorder's Office, Coalville, Utah.