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Union Pacific Grass Creek Branch

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This page was last updated on July 17, 2019.

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Overview

(Much of the following comes from Don Strack's article about UP's Park City Branch.)

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.

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.

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.

Timeline

1887
Echo & Park City abandoned and removed the track of the 3.94-mile Grass Creek Branch, up Grass Creek canyon to the Church Coal Mine. (UP corporate history)

(The Grass Creek Branch was removed because the church-owned coal mine that it served was closed after being confiscated by the federal government, in the government's anti-polygamy moves against the LDS church under provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887.)

September 19, 1894
The Grass Creek Terminal Railway was incorporated to construct a branch from the Echo & Park City line, about three miles north of Coalville, to the Grass Creek coal mine located in Grass Creek canyon. The company built 2.87 miles of line on the grade and alignment of Echo & Park City's original Grass Creek branch, along with an additional 2.7 miles of new construction. The entire 5.59-mile line was owned by private individuals who were also leaders of the LDS church, which owned the coal mine. The line was constructed in 1895-96 by Union Pacific forces and upon completion it was operated by the E&PC, and later by the Union Pacific, as the Grass Creek Branch. (UP corporate history)

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)

July 1907
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. (Salt Lake Mining Review, November 15, 1907, p. 38; Arrington: Eccles p. 122)

The purchase of the Grass Creek coal lands also included the Grass Creek Terminal Railway. (Salt Lake Mining Review, July 15, 1907, p. 33)

January 30, 1910
By early 1910 the coal mines in the Coalville area included the Weber Coal Company, the Union Fuel Company, and the Rees Grass Creek Company. (Salt Lake Mining Review, January 30, 1910, p. 29)

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)

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)

December 1929
Union Pacific completed the relocation of its Park City and Grass Creek branches, making way for the new Echo dam and reservoir. The dam itself was completed to within 42 feet of its final height. (Morgan County News, January 23, 1930)

December 7, 1932
Union Pacific applied to the federal Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon its Grass Creek Branch in Summit County, Utah. The application was denied.

The following comes from ICC Finance 9608. Decided and denied on December 7, 1932 (189 ICC 195-196):

Finance Docket No. 9608. Union Pacific Railroad Company Proposed Abandonment. Submitted November 16, 1932. Decided December 7, 1932.

Present and future public convenience and necessity not shown to permit abandonment by the Union Pacific Railroad Company of a branch line of railroad in Summit County, Utah. Application denied.

The Union Pacific Railroad Company, on August 31, 1932, applied for permission to abandon its so-called Grass Creek branch, extending from Grass Creek Junction to Grass Creek, approximately 5.59 miles, all in Summit County, Utah. Following the filing of protest a hearing was held for us by the Public Utilities Commission of Utah, which body recommends that if we find that abandonment should be permitted our certificate should not become effective prior to January 1, 1934, unless by mutual consent of the interested parties.

The branch line in question was constructed in 1896 by an independent company and the operation thereof was assumed by the applicant in 1915. The applicant's title to the line was perfected in 1923. The line extends through a canyon and the only industry served is the coal mine of the Grass Creek Fuel Company at Grass Creek, a settlement with a population of about 70. The principal customer for the coal produced is a cement plant at Devils Slide, Utah, a point on the applicant's main line northwest of Grass Creek Junction. The cement plant suspended operation between July 1, 1931, and June 1, 1932, with the result that traffic from the mine declined sharply.

The income account for the branch for the five years 1927-1931 shows the following averages : Gross revenue $3,325, operating expenses $9,661, and net deficit $6,981.

Prior to the filing of the application the applicant consulted the management of the fuel company and was informed that inasmuch as that company was not in a position to furnish traffic to the line no objection to its abandonment would be offered. Subsequent to filing, however, the cement company secured a contract for furnishing cement for the construction of Boulder Dam, and its resumption of operation has caused renewed activity at the mine. The cement company hopes to secure additional contracts during the coming year. The applicant states that it is willing to continue operating the branch while the traffic is available, and the parties agree that the branch may continue in operation until January 1, 1934, unless abandoned sooner by mutual consent, or unless, by reason of continued operation of the cement plant or other conditions which permit of continued operation of the mine, the volume of traffic available justifies retention of the line.

We do not feel disposed to issue a certificate in this proceeding which will become effective more than one year from its date, and in view of the uncertainty expressed regarding the length of time during which the continued operation of the branch may be necessary, we will deny the application herein.

Mahaffie, Commissioner, dissenting:

The only service of the branch is handling slack coal accumulated about a worked-out mine, together with some coal from the destruction of the mine pillars. The applicant expresses a willingness to continue service so long as such traffic is available in quantity to justify it. In the nature of things it can not continue long.

The Utah commission heard the testimony for us. It recommends that we authorize abandonment, but that our order, if we agree, be not made effective prior to January 1, 1934, except by mutual consent. This is intended to take care of the movement of slack if a market can be found for it. I think this recommendation sound, and that we could well follow it. We have a record clearly justifying abandonment. There is no excuse for causing the carrier and the public the expense of another proceeding. A certificate issued by us is permissive only. The carrier would hardly cease operations in any event while traffic is available. But we can guard against that in the manner suggested by the Utah authorities.

August 1, 1939
Union Pacific applied to the federal Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the Grass Creek Branch in Summit County, Utah. The application was denied. (ICC Finance Docket 12140; denied on August 1, 1939 for lack of jurisdiction; 233 ICC 639-640)

The following comes from ICC Finance Docket 12140; decided and denied on August 1, 1939 (233 ICC 639-640):

Finance Docket No. 12140. Union Pacific Railroad Company Abandonment. Submitted June 21, 1939. Decided August 1, 1939.

Grass Creek branch of Union Pacific Railroad Company, in Summit County, Utah, held to be a spur. Application dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

The Union Pacific Railroad Company on August 15, 1938, applied for permission to abandon a line of railroad known as the Grass Creek branch, extending from Grass Creek Junction northeasterly to the end of the track near Grass Creek, approximately 5.59 miles, together with 0.42 mile of track serving a coal-mine tipple at the end of the branch, all in Summit County, Utah. Protests were filed and a hearing held.

The Public Service Commission of Utah suggested that the trackage in question is a spur or industrial track within the meaning of section 1 (22) of the Interstate Commerce Act, which excepts from the provisions of section 1 (18) the abandonment of spur, industrial, team, switching, or side tracks located wholly within one State, and therefore not within our jurisdiction.

The Grass Creek branch herein involved was built in 1895 and 1896 by the Grass Creek Terminal Railway Company to serve the Grass Creek mine, which mine is the only source of traffic on the line. There are no stations thereon, except Grass Creek, at which there is no agent, there being only one resident at the Grass Creek mine camp. The line is in a canyon and is inaccessible except by way of the junction. There are a few isolated ranches in the tributary territory but no villages or communities. The members of the Grass Creek Fuel Oil Cooperative, which now operates the mine, live at Coalville, about 7 miles distant. There is no service except as there are loads of coal to be shipped from the mine. When trips to the mine are necessary, the train is left at the junction or at Coalville on the so-called Park City line, with which the Grass Creek line connects, while a light engine goes up to the mine, shoving two or three empty cars ahead of it; then loaded coal cars are brought back ahead of the engine to the junction where they are run around to couple them up behind the engine for handling in connection with the other operations on the Park City line.

In Union Pac. R. Co. Proposed Abandonment, 189 I. C. C. 195, decided December 7, 1932, involving this line, we refused to issue a certificate which would become effective more than a year from its date, and because of the uncertainty regarding the length of time during which continued operation might be necessary we denied the application. No question was raised in that proceeding as to our jurisdiction.

There are no controlling facts shown in regard to the Grass Creek branch which distinguish or differentiate its purposes and uses from those of [an industrial spur]. Therefore, we now conclude that the Grass Creek branch is a spur within the meaning of section 1 (22) of the act and that we are without jurisdiction to authorize its abandonment. In view of this conclusion, discussion of the merits of the case is unnecessary. The application will be dismissed by appropriate order.

June 15, 1940
Union Pacific applied to the Utah Public Utilities Commission to abandon the Grass Creek Branch in Summit County, Utah.

The following comes from Utah PUC Case 2381, Union Pacific Railroad.

To abandon Grass Creek Spur.

One car was shipped in 1936, 11 cars shipped in 1937, 3 cars shipped in 1938, no cars shipped in 1939 and thereafter.

The spur is 5.59 miles long. Originally built as a 2.87 mile branch in 1880. Reconstructed and extended 2.72 miles in 1895–96 to serve the Grass Creek Mine. The mine has not operated since the winter of 1939. The coal was sold to OUR&D, who now gets its coal elsewhere. There was never any passenger service on the line. The line has been wholly owned by UP since 1923.

Approved June 15, 1940.

April 2, 1941
Union Pacific completed removal of the 5.75-mile Grass Creek Branch. (Work Order 8737; Public Service Commission of Utah, case 2381, approved June 15, 1940)

Union Pacific had purchased the branch from Zion Securities (the investment arm of the Mormon Church) in 1923 for the sum of $1.00, agreeing to relay the line with heavier rail and maintain it in operable condition.

In 1927 the mine shipped 207 cars, and in 1928 335 cars. In 1929 Zion Securities leased the Grass Creek mine to the Grass Creek Fuel Company of Coalville, who also operated the Weber mine near Coalville. The new operators shipped 210 cars of coal in 1929 and 353 cars in 1930. In 1931 the mine shipped 243 cars, even though actual production had stopped. The coal being shipped was coming from the pillars of coal that had supported the mine roof while it had previously been in production. The amount of coal in the pillars was sufficient to allow the operators to ship large quantities of coal.

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 Devils Slide, which was in heavy production to furnish cement for the construction of Boulder Dam.

Union Pacific applied to abandon the branch in August 1932 but the ICC denied the application because Union Pacific requested that the abandonment not become effective for a period of more than a year. Union Pacific had wanted the unusual, extended effective date to allow the mine to furnish all of the coal needed for the cement plant.

In June 1939 Union Pacific applied again to the ICC for permission to abandon the branch, but on August 1 the ICC dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. Union Pacific had been operating the branch as a spur from Coalville by using a light engine 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 1938/39. For most of the mine's life, a large part of its production had been furnishing coal as heating fuel for the Ogden Union Railway & Depot, but by now the OUR&D was getting their coal from other sources.

Only one car was shipped in 1936, eleven cars were shipped in 1937, three cars in 1938, and none were shipped in 1939 and thereafter. There was never any passenger service on the branch. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 2381; UP Drawing 36268, Park City Branch; ICC Finance Docket 9608 --"Return to Questionnaire" and testimony of November 16, 1932 hearing, 189 ICC 195; Finance Docket 12140, 233 ICC 639)

Maps

Grass Creek Branch and Weber Mine Spur -- A Google map of Union Pacific's Grass Creek Branch, and the Weber Mine Spur at Coalville.

Grass Creek Branch -- Portions of a Union Pacific map of the Grass Creek Branch in 1922.

Documents

1932 Proposed Abandonment, Testimony

1932 Proposed Abandonment, Return To Questionnaire

1939 Final Abandonment, Approved August 1, 1939 (ICC Reports)

Sources

Compiled from handwritten notes, dating from 1978-1988.

Most of this information was transcribed from handwritten notes taken while doing research in the files of UP's engineering department during 1982-1983, then compiled as a computer file in 1988, with additions through September 1994.

The notes from the early 1980s were completed prior to the closure of UP's engineering office in Salt Lake City in about 1984. All files and most personnel were moved to Omaha in 1983-1984. The office was located in the Utah Division offices in the former depot annex building, just south of Union Pacific's Salt Lake City depot. The building was demolished in 1999 to make room for The Gateway Project.

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