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Sego Coal Mine
Ballard & Thompson Railroad

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This page was last updated on July 2, 2013.

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Overview

Sego was originally known as Ballard, and was the site of a coal mine that was in operation from 1911 until 1947. The coal mine at Ballard (later Sego) was served by the Ballard & Thompson Railroad, which connected the mine with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad at the station of Thompson. Both Ballard (later Sego) and Thompson are located in Grand County in eastern Utah.

The region around Thompson was known for its livestock and limited farming activity throughout its early history. As the settlement grew, a local livestock man, by the name of Harry Ballard, eventually became the owner of most of the town of Thompson's, named after another early settler by the name of Thompson and whose first name is lost to history. The residents of the town and the surrounding area prevailed upon the D&RG to provide them with a station stop, which they named Thompson's, which was soon shortened to Thompsons and then to just Thompson. In addition to his grazing lands, Ballard also owned the townsite and the town's hotel, store, pool hall , and a few houses. Ballard owned an extensive spread with both sheep and cattle, and while exploring his land he discovered a surface coal vein about five miles north of the town. He started a small wagon mine at the outcrop and coal was sold to local customers who drove their wagons either to the mine or to Ballard's store at Thompson from as far away as Monticello. In about 1910, the coal property was sold to B. F. Bauer, owner of Salt Lake Hardware in Salt Lake City. Bauer organized the American Fuel Company in 1911 and the townsite at the mine was named for Dick Neslen, the mine's general manager. (Florin, pp. 382-387; Carr: Towns, p. 153)

January 3, 1911
The Ballard Coal Company was incorporated on January 3, 1911. The corporation was "suspended" on November 9, 1974. (Utah corporation, index number 8751)

July 15, 1911
The Ballard & Thompson Railroad was incorporated on July 15, 1911 to build a railroad from Thompson to a place called Ballard, Utah, a distance of about 5.25 miles. The president of the new company was B. F. Bauer of Salt Lake City. H. G. Ballard of Thompson was first vice president and C. L. Crockwell of Salt Lake City was second vice president. The other organizers of the railroad and coal company included W. S. McCarthy of Salt Lake City as treasurer and William Darke of Salt Lake City as secretary. The other organizers included R. F. Nelson and L. W. Hahn, both of Salt Lake City. (Utah corporation, index number 9102)

The Eastern Utah Advocate informed its readers that Ballard was a prominent livestock man in eastern Utah, Bauer was the manager of Salt Lake Hardware in Salt Lake City, and Nelson, Hahn, and Darke were with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy agency in Salt Lake City. (Eastern Utah Advocate, July 20, 1911)

Grading for the new railroad began, and rumors, as well as dirt, soon began flying. Many of the rumors must have merely been wishful thinking on the part of the local press because when asked to explain the possible involvement of the Union Pacific in the construction of the Ballard & Thompson, as part of a new line south out of Wyoming to the Carbon County coal fields, W. H. Bancroft, superintendent of the Utah lines of Union Pacific denied the rumor, saying that there was no connection between the Ballard & Thompson and the Harriman Lines. (Eastern Utah Advocate, May 23, 1912)

At some time between the organization of the railroad company and the completion of the construction, the name of the coal camp at the location of the mine was changed from Ballard to Neslen, supposedly for the name of the mine's general manager, Richard "Dick" Neslen. The mine employed about 125 men and the town's population was about 500. (Florin, pp. 382-387; Carr: Towns, p. 153)

By mid July 1912, Ballard & Thompson track laying was complete to Camp Bong. (Eastern Utah Advocate, July 18, 1912, p. 5)

Within a month, in mid August 1912, the Ballard & Thompson was completed, as "a 5-mile spur to serve Western Fuel Company." (Eastern Utah Advocate, August 15, 1912)

At the same time, the town at Nelson also gained a post office. The company which owned and operated was called out as the American Fuel Company rather than the Western Fuel Company, as mentioned the previous week. (Eastern Utah Advocate, August 22, 1912)

By late October 1912 the Ballard & Thompson was completed and in operation, between Thompson and Nelson, the site of the mine of the American Fuel Company. The new railroad was built using 65-pound rail and was five miles in length. Coal was already being shipped out. (Eastern Utah Advocate, October 31, 1912, p. 3)

During December 1913, American Fuel Company was shipping 600 tons of coal per day. Most was going to Colorado, or to Green River, Utah, for use in D&RG's locomotives. (Eastern Utah Advocate, December 18, 1913)

At one time a gasoline motor was used, but its use was discontinued. The railroad was of light construction with a maximum grade of four percent. The rail used on the line included about 3.3 miles of 45- to 57-pound rail manufactured as early as 1888. The rest of the line was laid with 65-pound rail. During the early 1920s, the railroad shipped a yearly average of 100,000 tons from the coal mine, shipping about five or six cars per day. The coal mine was served by the D&RG as a switching move by the local that traveled between Grand Junction and Price. (72 ICC 644)

American Fuel announced that it would only sell coal in carload lots. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, March 13, 1913, p. 6)

The mines of the American Fuel Company at Sego were purchased by the Pacific Steamship Company of California. The mine was producing about 800 tons per day, that amount was to be doubled. (Salt Lake Mining Review, April 30, 1919, p. 35)

(The sale to Pacific Steamship may not have happened, as this is the only reference to it.)

There were other operating mines n the eastern Book Cliffs region. The Inland Fuel Company mined coal and shipped it over the D&RG from its loading tipple located at Thompson. (Salt Lake Mining Review, November 30, 1918, p. 30)

The coal company was reorganized in 1916, with the same directors, but a different general manager. Neslen was fired and replaced. American Fuel was under new management. Output was 600 tons daily. The name of the townsite was to be changed from Neslen, possibly to Hanson. (Coal Index: The Sun, March 22, 1918, p. 6)

The town changed its name from Neslen to Sego, in honor of the state's symbol flower, the sego lily, which grew in large numbers in the area. (Carr: Towns, p. 153)

The Chesterfield Coal Company was incorporated on June 1, 1925. The corporation was "dissolved" during December 1947. (Utah corporation, index number 16978)

The coal company was reorganized again in 1925 as the Chesterfield Coal Company, which consisted of the estate of Mr. Bauer and his associates at Salt Lake Hardware. The Chesterfield company owned both the mine and the railroad, at which time an agreement was made between the coal company and D&RGW that the railroad would continue service over the badly deteriorated track if the coal company would do the maintenance. Later, D&RGW agreed to maintain the railroad if any rail laid by D&RGW could be removed and operation over the line cease after a six month notice. The agreement was still in place in 1938. Total production for 1937 was 58,797 tons (about 1,176 car loads). Service was provided by D&RGW as a round trip between Grand Junction and the mine at Sego, and return to Grand Junction. During the summer months there were about four round trips per month, and during the peak winter months of high coal demand, there were about eight or nine round trips made in each month. The coal from the Sego mine was considered to be not as desirable as other Carbon County coals, and was inferior to Sunnyside coal by about ten percent. During 1936 and 1937, D&RGW purchased about sixty-five percent of the mine's output for use in its locomotives. (D&RGW: 1938)

The Chesterfield mine closed on November 1, 1947. The property was sold at a sheriff's sale in Moab. (Florin, pp. 382-387)

The miners organized themselves and purchased the property, renaming it to the Utah Grand Coal Company, with Walter Ronzio as general manager. Ronzio had worked at the mine since 1918 as one of the miners. Disaster struck on July 1, 1949 when a fire destroyed the tipple. Another fire in 1950 did further damage but the mine owners struggled to keep the mine operating. With the last fire, D&RGW informed the coal company that there wasn't sufficient traffic on the rail line to pay for its maintenance and removed the track. The mine's owners continued operations by building a truck loading ramp at Thompson, hauling the coal from the mine in trucks and dumping directly into rail cars at Thompson. The mine sold regular lump coal for the home heating market, but its major market was selling nut and slack coal to the railroad for use in its steam locomotives. As the railroad cut off its use of coal after converting to diesel-electric locomotives, the coal company finally gave up. Utah Grand Coal Company was sold in February 1955 to Seaburg Brothers of Dayton, Texas, not for its coal reserves, but for its oil and natural gas reserves. (Florin, pp. 382-387; Carr: Towns, p. 153; Carr: Rails, p. 195)

Railroad

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