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Utah's Railroads and its Sugar Beet Industry

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This page was last updated on July 16, 2016.

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(This is a work in progress; research continues.)

(based on research completed in 1989; more research is needed)

Overview

Utah's railroads played an important part in the state's sugar beet industry. During the years between 1900 and the early 1950's, the railroads moved a large portion of the sugar beet traffic from the local sugar beet dumps located within short, wagon-driving distance of the beet fields. As the gasoline motor truck transportation capabilities improved, along with better roads, the railroads played a smaller role in the movement of the beets. As the trucks took over more and more of the effort of moving the sugar beets out of the fields, the railroads reduced the amount of their trackage that had spread into the beet growing regions. Even though there was less trackage, the railroads still moved a majority of the beets, but as reload traffic from the central sugar beet receiving stations to the beet sugar factories.

The percentage of outbound, finished sugar product traffic received by each of the individual railroad companies from the sugar companies was determined by the percentage of inbound beet traffic that each road handled. The sugar from the beets that the farmers brought to the factory in their own trucks was considered free traffic and was given to any railroad chosen by the sugar company. As more and more of the beets were moved directly to the factories by the farmers, the railroads became more competitive with each other over the outbound finished sugar products.

The growing of sugar beets in Utah was one of the major agricultural industries in the state. The other industries included dairy products, wheat (as feed and as flour), and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Most of the vegetables, and some of the fruits, were grown in support of the state's canning industry, which was centered mostly in Weber, Davis, and other counties along the Wasatch Front. The fruit traffic was mostly in the form of fruit as fresh produce directly off of the trees, and was shipped from the grower's warehouses located on the railroad branches and mainlines.

Utah's railroads played a vital role in moving the finished agricultural products to market. Finished sugar from sugar beets was shipped to the local markets in Utah, and to points in the middle and northwest states. Most of the dairy products were shipped to California, and the wheat was shipped, either as feed grain or as flour, also to California and the southern states. Utah's canned goods were sold mostly on the Pacific Coast and in the intermountain and middle western states.

The branch lines which the railroads built to serve the state's agriculture industry were almost solely built for the movement of sugar beets from the fields to the sugar factories. The major sugar beet growing regions in Utah included the Cache Valley, the Bear River Valley, and most of Weber and Davis Counties. Also included were parts of Salt Lake Valley, Utah Valley, and the areas around Gunnison and Delta.

The Oregon Short Line built several branch lines in these beet growing regions. Three OSL branches were built in the Cache Valley, four were built in the Bear River Valley, and both the Oregon Short Line and the Denver and Rio Grande completed branches into the area of northwest Davis County and southwest Weber County, west of Roy and Clearfield, where the fields stretched for over seven miles west to the eastern shores of the Great Salt Lake. The Los Angeles and Salt Lake built two branches to serve the region around Delta. Beet loading stations were also built at many other points along the railroads' branches and mainlines.

Because sugar beets are such a low density item, many of them are needed to produce profitable amounts of sugar. In the period between 1895 and 1950, before the widespread use of gasoline motor trucks, the railroads were the most efficient way to transport the beets from the fields to the factories. The largest sugar factories in the state were at Lewiston, Garland, Ogden, Layton, West Jordan, and Spanish Fork. Other factories were built at Logan, Amalga, Brigham City, Hooper, Lehi, Gunnison, and Delta.

At the peak of Utah's sugar beet production, during the 14-year period between 1935 and 1949 (when the central receiving stations were first coming into use), Utah produced as much as seven percent of the nation's beet sugar, with an average production of 5.5 percent. As comparison, during this same period of time Idaho produced an average of 10 percent of the nation's refined sugar from sugar beets.

The growing of sugar beets first came from Europe to America in the 1830's. The Mormon pioneers in Utah were among those making some of the early attempts at producing sugar from sugar beets. In early 1852 John Taylor purchased complete sugar manufacturing machinery in France and shipped it to Utah. After being floated up the Mississippi River to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, the machinery made the difficult trip to Salt Lake City in heavy freight wagons drawn by 52 teams of oxen. Unfortunately, all that resulted from the labors of these hard working pioneers was a nasty, inedible syrup.

The beet sugar industry in America struggled along until 1879 when E. H. Dyer built the first really successful sugar beet processing factory in Alvarado, California. After Dyer's successful factory at Alvarado went into production, others were also successful at producing commercial quantities of sugar from sugar beets. In 1888 Claus Spreckels built the second successful sugar factory, at Watsonville, California. By 1900 there were 30 operating beet sugar factories in eleven states from New York to the West Coast. Two of them were in Utah -- Lehi Sugar Company's factory at Lehi and Ogden Sugar Company's factory in West Ogden.

Commercial production of beet sugar in Utah began in 1891 when a group of Utah investors made another attempt at producing sugar from sugar beets grown in Utah. Their new factory at Lehi, built by Dyer, made use of the new processes that Dyer and others had brought from Europe. Most of the skeptics were proven wrong when on October 15, 1891 the Lehi factory produced a fine white granular sugar tasting as sweet as any that had been imported from the East.

The first sugar beets in Box Elder County were planted and grown by Jediah M. Hess of Fielding. It was a very satisfactory crop, and was sold to the sugar factory in Ogden. The planting had been under the supervision of sugar company, which was anticipating building a similar sugar factory at Garland. (History of Box Elder County, by Lydia Walker Forsgren, 1937, page 53)

(temporary end....research continues)

(Future research will include include material on the Utah Idaho Central Railroad, owned by the Eccles, Browning and Scowcroft families, who also owned Amalgamated Sugar and the First Security Bank. To a large extent the UIC was meant to be a railroad to deliver sugar beets to the sugar factories.)

West Jordan Sugar Factory

Located at 8250 South on 2200 West in West Jordan is the former West Jordan factory of Utah & Idaho Sugar Co. Completed in 1916, the factory was part of a network of 30 sugar factories operated by U&I. Produced a total of 11 million bags of white sugar over the 55 years of operation, including over 95,000 in its first year in 1916. In 1966, the factory processed 4 million tons of sugar beets. Closed in 1971 and sold to the LDS Church, which sold the plant to the City of West Jordan in the 1990s. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 2005)

Sugar Beet Harvesting

The yield of sugar for each field planted in sugar beets gradually increased over the years as better methods were found which increased seed germination and reduced losses due to pests. In 1900 the typical yield was 6.4 tons of sugar beets per acre. Production was slowly raised so that by 1935 each acre was producing 10.4 tons and by 1957 the average yield was 17.7 tons per acre. (Silver Wedge p.38) By 1959 an acre of land, yielding 20 tons of sugar beets, would produce about 6,000 pounds of granulated sugar. (Silver Wedge page 30)

Some of the factors that affected this increase in production included the use of fertilizers, using sufficient water, and regular rotation of crops. The growing of sugar beets rapidly depletes the soil of all of its nutrients. During the first three years in a new field a farmer would see his production go as high as 45 tons per acre. But if the farmer didn't pay attention to the nutrients in his soil, good watering practices, and crop rotation, within a period as short as three years his production could plummet from a normal average of 25 tons per acre down to less than 10 tons per acre.

The annual beet harvesting campaign generally started about October 9th or 10th, with the factories going into production about 2 days later. The unrestricted delivery date, the date that the annual campaign began, was usually October 12th. (Cottrell p.153) The campaign usually lasted until about November 15th, with some deliveries continuing for about a week afterwards. The factories usually stayed in production until the end of January. The shipment of sugar products continued from the factory year round, with about 20 to 25 percent of the product coming from that year's harvest. (Cottrell p.228)

Prior to mechanical harvesting the crop was harvested with hand forks and the beets were loaded into wagons and trucks. (Cottrell p.201) In a survey taken in 1924 it was found that harvesting by hand required 55 to 60 hours per acre. Some mechanization took place as early as 1915 when the horse, and later tractor, drawn beet lifter came into use.

Mechanical harvesting first came into regular use after World War Two. In 1945 just seven to ten percent of the crop was harvested mechanically. By 1949 that figure had risen to 52 percent and the next year, 1950, the number rose to about 60 percent. (Johns p.386, Cottrell p.198) By 1956 virtually all of the Utah harvest was brought in using mechanical methods. One source says that by 1952 100 percent of the national harvest was brought in with mechanical methods.

During an example year, in this case, 1919, before the widespread use of gasoline tractors and trucks, the beets were moved out of the fields using horse‑drawn wagons that generally held about four tons a piece. Depending on road conditions, the horse‑drawn beet wagons seldom traveled more than three or four miles to get to the local beet dumps, located on the railroad spur lines. (Harris p.49)

Modern receiving equipment at the factory, along with mechanical harvesting and the use of trucks, reduced the length of the campaign, or harvesting period. A full crop in 1952 could be delivered in 30 days instead of the previous 60 days. (Cottrell p.153)

Local Sugar Beet Dumps

Sugar beets were received at local beet dumps where the they were loaded directly into bottom‑dump railroad hopper cars and shipped direct to the factory. Sugar beets are light in weight, and float on water; allowing flowing water to be used as a means of short-distance transportation. At the factory the beets were dumped directly from the rail cars into a wet hopper and flumed into the factory for immediate processing. (Cottrell p.218)

The beets that were delivered to the factory by truck were stored on the ground in piles and were used to keep the factory in production after the annual campaign ended. (Cottrell p.218)

There was no difference in the prices paid to farmers whether they delivered their beets by truck directly to the factory, to central receiving stations, or to the local beet dumps. Beet prices included average freight rates. (Cottrell p.219)

Central Sugar Beet Receiving Stations

Included in the new receiving methods that came into use in the late 1940's and early 1950's was the development of the central receiving stations. These central stations were located on railroad spurs, but still at a location central to the grower's fields, usually within five to eight miles.

As the farmers began delivering more of their beets direct to the centralized receiving stations, these stations began playing a more significant role in the operations of the factories themselves. By the late 1940's and early 1950's about two‑thirds of each year's harvest was piled at the factories and at these central receiving stations for later processing. The central receiving stations, where the beets were stored in large piles, served as storage points until the beets were needed by the factories. The beets were then reloaded into rail cars throughout the following winter and spring and moved to the factories. The costs of reloading rail cars from the central piles was balanced by the lower costs of the sugar companies not having to maintain the large numbers of local beet dumps. Reloading from the centralized receiving stations was also better for the railroads because they were not required to maintain their numerous spurs into the beet growing districts. (Cottrell p.155)

The beet pilers at the central receiving stations, and at the factory, generally had one or two truck platforms, along with a hopper to receive the beets directly from the farmer's trucks. The receiving hopper fed the beets onto a moving belt elevator which discharged the beets to the actual beet piler. The beets were screened at the piler (to remove dirt and other foreign material) and were carried on an elevator belt along a swinging boom to the top of the beet pile. (Cottrell p.219) Pilers were able to place beets in piles 22 feet high, 140 feet wide at the base, and 110 feet at the top. There would be about five thousand tons of beets in each hundred linear feet of such a pile. (Cottrell pp.218, 223, 225)

Beet Sugar Factories

The production of sugar from sugar beets required large quantities of other raw materials, including coal, coke, and lime. Finished sugar was shipped in 100 pound bags. For 15 tons of finished, granulated (300 100‑pound bags) to be produced, the factory required the delivery of 100 tons of sugar beets, nine tons of coal, and five tons each of coke and lime rock. To put these numbers in more visible terms, for each average 50-ton carload of finished sugar, at a thousand 100‑pound bags in each 40-foot boxcar, the factory would need six carloads of beets and partial carloads each of coal, coke and lime. Or to turn it around the other way, for every two carloads each of coke and lime rock received, the factory would also receive three carloads of coal, 36 50-ton hopper carloads (1,800 tons) of sugar beets, and would produce six boxcar loads of granulated sugar in 100‑pound bags.

Of course each season's campaign varied considerably, but an average annual campaign for each factory's individual district might produce about 100,000 to 150,000 tons of beets delivered to the factory over a six-week period, either by railroad car or by the farmers' own trucks. Using an average of 125,000 tons per year, each sugar factory would then receive 2,500 50-ton hopper carloads of raw sugar beets, spread out over a six week period, or about 69 cars per day for each of the six work days per week (Monday through Saturday).

The coal was needed by the sugar factories because the process of extracting sugar from sugar beets requires large quantities of both steam and electric power, and each factory produced its own supply of each using huge steam boilers and electric generators. The lime rock and the coke were used by burning them in a lime kiln to produce lime powder and carbon dioxide gas. The lime was then mixed with water to make a milk of lime, which was used along with the carbon dioxide gas in the actual purification of the raw juice from the sliced beets.

Utah's Sugar Beet Production

In the 12 years between 1944 and 1957, Utah was producing a half million tons of sugar from about 30,000 acres of sugar beets, harvesting about 17 tons per acre. Idaho was ranked in the top four U. S. producers, producing an average of 1.5 Million tons of sugar from 70,000 acres, with about 18 tons per acre.

By 1958 Utah ranked eighth in the nation in beet sugar production, with five of the 66 producing factories in the nation. Utah's five factories had a daily capacity of 8,100 tons of sugar beets. Idaho ranked number three, also with five factories but with a daily capacity of 14,850 tons of beets.

In December 1988 Amalgamated announced that its owners, Valhi Inc. of Dallas, Texas, had accepted an offer from an undisclosed buyer. Valhi's principle owner, Harold Simmons, had acquired the company in 1982. During 1987 Amalgamated processed the beets harvested from 170,000 acres. The company operated sugar factories in Twin Falls and Nampa, Idaho and Nyssa, Oregon and produces about nine percent of the domestic sugar in the country. Amalgamated closed its last sugar factory in Utah , at Lewiston, in Cache County, in 1973. Amalgamated has taken up much of the market abandoned by the Utah‑Idaho Sugar Company when it closed its Garland factory in 1979. (Deseret News 12/6/88)

The Ogden Sugar Company was incorporated on December 16, 1897, the company was organized on December 6, 1897. (Bachman pp.1, 2) Construction of the factory on 131 acres of land four miles west of Ogden on Wilson Lane began on February 28, 1898. (Bachman p.4) Operations began with the 1898 campaign in early October 1898. (Bachman p.4) During the 1898 season 15,205 tons (or about 507 30-ton carloads) of beets were purchased and 25,716 bags (1,285 tons, or about 43 30-ton carloads) of sugar were produced. By 1910 the numbers of growers had increased dramatically. In 1910 Amalgamated purchased 147,268 tons of beets and produced 364,206 bags (18,210 tons, or about 607 30-ton carloads) of sugar. The 1910 harvest was lower than the previous year by about 70 percent because of a late planting date. There was a delay in planting because the growers wanted $5 per ton of beets compared to Amalgamated wanting to pay $4.50. The compromise, at $4.75, came late with little or no planting until the agreement was signed. (Bachman p.36)

Interstate Sugar Company

Interstate Sugar Company had beet dumps at:

October 1917
Amalgamated Sugar bought land in Hooper in October 1917. (Weber County Book of Deeds J, p.107)

November 1917
Amalgamated Sugar bought land for use as a beet dump at Kingsville in November 1917. (Weber County Book of Deeds J, p.79)

1919
The sugar factory of the Hooper Sugar Company was erected in 1919. The machinery was orignally erected in France; moved to West Farnham, Quebec; moved to Rome, New York in 1897; moved to Visalia, California in 1906; moved to Hooper, Utah in 1919; dismantled in 1936. The original capacity of the Hooper factory was 600 tons. (Beet Sugar Factories Of The United States, by the United States Department of Agriculture, Production and Marketing Administration, March 1950, page 12; research completed at BYU on August 19, 1989)

August 31, 1920
Interstate Sugar Company bought the sugar factory property at Hooper from Douglass Hooper on August 31, 1920. The property had been set aside in the name of the Hooper Sugar Company.

April 4, 1921
James Pingree of Ogden organized the Pingree Sugar Company in Visalia, California, and installed sugar making machinery in the plant. The Visalia sugar factory was dismantled and the machinery sold to the Hooper Sugar Company at Hooper, Utah, with the machinery being succesfully moved and installed. The Hooper Sugar Company was sold to the Interstate Sugar Company. After Interstate declared bankrupcy, the machinery was to be sold to the Pioneer Sugar Company, but a suit stopped the sale. (Facts About Sugar, Volume 12, April 9, 1921, page 287, "Ogden, Utah, April 4")

January 27, 1924
Amalgamated Sugar sold their land in Hooper to Interstate Sugar Company on January 27, 1924. (parts of SWQ Sec 13, SEQ Sec 14, T5N, R3W) (Weber County Book of Deeds O, p.107, line 33)

March 1926
In 1926 Columbia Trust brought suit against Interstate Sugar Company in Second District Court for default on Interstate's five year loan that was made on March 1, 1921, to be repaid by March 1926. (Columbia Trust's mortgage to Interstate Sugar Company in Weber County Book of Mortgages Z, p.186)

Interstate Sugar Company was placed into receivership, with James J. Burke as the receiver. Interstate's officers included, as defendants in the loan default case, Arthur Woolley, George E. Sanders, Edward O. Howard, Lou H. Farnsworth, Charles H. Barton, Richard Rowe, and the Halloran‑Judge Trust Company. (Davis County Book of Deeds 1‑I, pp.227‑239)

April 2, 1927
The liquidation decision was passed down by the court on April 2, 1927. Interstate was ordered to be sold on September 12, 1927 and the sale took place on the Weber County courthouse steps in Ogden on October 4, 1927. Walker Brothers Bank was the successful high bidder with their bid of $910,000, and took possession six months later on May 9, 1928. Walker Brothers sold their interests to Consolidated Assets Company on June 28, 1928. Consolidated Assets was a Utah corporation based in Ogden. James E. Ellison was vice president. Members of the Ellison family also controlled the interests of the Layton Sugar Company. (Weber County Book of Deeds O, p.1-12, line 16, and Book of Deeds P, p.105, lines 10, 11; Davis County Book of Deeds 1-J, p.569)

Consolidated then sold the remaining Interstate property in parcels over the next six years:

October 14, 1930
The "Interstate Sugar Company's Railroad" from Kingsville to Farnsworth was sold by Consolidated Assets to the Denver and Rio Grande Western on October 14, 1930. (Davis County Book of Abstracts 5, p.176, line 35)

September 11, 1936
The sugar factory site in Hooper was sold to the Amalgamated Sugar Company on September 11, 1936. (Weber County Book of Deeds V, p.107, line 27)

October 22, 1936
The former Interstate Sugar Company beet dump at Barnes, on the UP Syracuse Branch, was sold to Layton Sugar Company on October 22, 1936. (Davis County Book of Abstracts 4, p.210, and Book of Deeds 1‑O, pp.46,130)

Layton Sugar Company also had a beet dump at Syracuse, the siding on the northeast corner of present day 4500 West and 1700 South.

D&RGW's Hooper Spur

(Read more about D&RGW's Hooper Branch in Weber County)

D&RGW's Kingsville Spur

(More informaion about D&RGW's Kingsville Spur)

D&RGW's Farnsworth Spur

(More information anout D&RGW's Farnsworth Spur)

Union Pacific's Syracuse Branch

(Read more about Union Pacific's Syracuse Branch, which ran between Clearfield and the Great Salt Lake)

Sources

Books

Johns, Russell T., ed. Advances in Sugar Beet Production: Principles and Practices. (Iowa State University Press, 1971)

Amalgamated Sugar Company, Cottrell, R. H., ed., Beet‑Sugar Economics. (Caxton Printers, 1952)

Arrington, Leonard J. Beet Sugar in the West, a history of the Utah‑Idaho Sugar Company, 1891‑1966 (University of Washington Press, 1966)

Arrington, Leonard J. David Eccles, Pioneer Western Industrialist (Utah State University Press, 1975)

Arrington, Leonard. Great Basin Kingdom, (University of Nebraska Press, 1966 reprint of 1958 Harvard edition)

Bachman, J. R. The Story of the Amalgamated Sugar Company, 1897‑1961 (Caxton Printers, 1962)

Harris, F. H. The Sugar Beet in America. (Macmillan, 1919)

State of Utah, Department of Public Instruction. Utah -- Resources and Activities, Supplement to the Utah State Courses of Study for Elementary and Secondary Schools, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1933

United States Sugar Beet Association. The Sugar Beet Story. (United States Sugar Beet Association, 1959) First published as "The Silver Wedge" in 1936, and again in 1944.

United States Sugar Beet Association. The Silver Wedge. (United States Sugar Beet Association, 1944)

Government Documents

Davis County Recorders Office files, Farmington, Utah

Weber County Recorders Office files, Ogden, Utah

Box Elder County Recorders Office files, Brigham City, Utah

Newspapers

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah)

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