Sunnyside Coal Mines
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This page was last updated on October 3, 2018.
The Sunnyside coal mine was located at the mouth of Whitmore Canyon, about 26 miles east of Price, Utah. The first coal mine was opened in Whitmore Canyon in eastern Utah in 1896. At about the same time, that mine became known as the Sunnyside mine.
The coal was of good coking quality, and Sunnyside became the major supplier of coke in the intermountain region. In 1889 the Utah lines of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway were reorganized as the Rio Grande Western Railway to finance the conversion to standard gauge. The Rio Grande Western also owned the Utah Fuel Company, which owned the new Sunnyside mines, and these same interests organized the Carbon County Railway on November 20, 1899 to provide transportation for the coal and coke coming from the Sunnyside Mine. This Carbon County Railway of 1899 should not be confused with the company of the same name that operated in the region between 1923 and 1983.
In 1899 the mine was purchased by Utah Fuel Company, as a subsidiary of Rio Grande Western Railway. For the years following, the Sunnyside mine was a major source of coking coal, and coked coal (also known as metallurgical coal, or met coal) for the entire Western United States. By 1909 the Sunnyside mine was mining 3000 tons of coal per day, with most of it feeding the 650 coke ovens that were located adjacent to the mine. During 1914 alone, the coke ovens at Sunnyside furnished over 300,000 tons of coke (7500 car loads, or about 20 cars per day), with most if not all of it being shipped to the copper smelters at Anaconda, Montana.
During the 1920s and 1930s, smelters were updating their processes to allow the direct use of coal, and several iron and steel plants were built that could also use coal directly instead of using coke. By 1942, the coal from Sunnyside was being shipped to either the new U. S. Steel plant at Geneva, Utah, or to the new Kaiser Steel plant in southern California, all to support the war effort.
In 1943, Kaiser Steel directly leased the entire Sunnyside mine from Utah Fuel Company, and in 1950 Kaiser Steel purchased all of Utah Fuel Company, which owned coal mines at Sunnyside, Castle Gate, and Clear Creek, all in Utah. The beehive coke ovens remained in operation until 1958.
Kaiser was one of the first companies to make a deal with the railroads for the movement of coal in a dedicated train set, known as a unit coal train. In mid 1968, three railroads (UP, D&RGW, and AT&SF) got together with Kaiser Steel to move full trains of Sunnyside coal to the steel company's mill at Fontana, California. The production of Kaiser's Sunnyside mine, as much as 5,500 tons per day, was matched to the steel mill's capacity of two 11,000-ton unit trains. The mine loaded an 8,400-ton train every other day, and each train ran on a four-day cycle. The trains continued to run until the the steel manufacturing portion of the Fontana mill shut down in 1983.
A. C. Watts, Chief Engineer for Utah Fuel Company, described in detail the crushing and screening plant at the Sunnyside mine. The plant was capable of furnishing both the commercial market for coal and the preparation of coal for the coking operation at the mine, each without interfering with the operations of the other. The coal vein mined at Sunnyside dipped into the mountain at a ten percent incline. Coal was mined from both the No. 1 and the No. 2 openings and was transported to either of two tipples. The No. 1 mine was located about 100 feet from the Sunnyside tipples, and the opening was on a slope down into the mine. The loaded mine cars were hoisted out of the mine in sixteen-car "trips", or trains, through the use of a Webster, Camp and Lane hoist, each trip averaging about twenty-eight to thirty tons. The opening for the No. 2 mine was on the level and was located on the same seven foot thick coal vein in a side canyon, about one and a half miles east of the tipples. Loaded mine cars were moved from the mine to the tipple with the use a thirteen-ton Jeffery electric main haulage locomotive in trips of forty to fifty loaded cars, each trip averaging 85 to 106 tons. The coal from either the No. 1 or the No. 2 openings was dumped into either the No. 1 dump, for commercial grading, or the No. 2 dump, which was mostly used to crush the coal into slack and pea (less than 3/8 inch) size for use in the coke ovens, but could also grade and process the coal into lumps for the commercial market. The Sunnyside mine also made use of its own slack and pea coal to power its power plant located adjacent to the tipples. (Watts: Utah Fuel, p. 161, citing a 1909 article in Mines & Minerals magazine)
(The A. C. Watts Utah Fuel article in Mines & Minerals magazine also contains very detailed descriptions of the exact methods of crushing and screening the coal at Sunnyside. Also shown was a photo of the Sunnyside tipples, a general layout of the tipple yards, a cross section of the processing plant, and a plan view of the plant.)
(These events focus on the mines at Sunnyside. Click here to read more about the history of Utah Fuel Company)
The first coal mine in the Sunnyside area was opened early in 1896 by Jefferson Tidwell and his sons, John, Jeff, and William. Early in 1897 George Holiday became a partner and the coal mine became known as the Tidwell-Holiday coal mine. The Pleasant Valley Coal Company bought the rights to the property in late 1898. (Zehnder, p. 39)
April 15, 1897
"The Holliday Coal Company which was recently incorporated in Salt Lake City, and whose claims are located in this county, some nine miles from Sunnyside, is working to make a shipment of four cars right away. The coal is said to be a good anthracite and bring $7.70 a ton on the Salt Lake market. Most of the incorporators are residents of Wellington and their enterprise deserves success. We understand the company intends making another road as soon as practicable to shorten the distance of hauling. As it is now the road is some fourteen miles long and this can be cut down some five miles. The seams of coal are 9-1/2 feet and four feet and are separated only by a thin strain of rock." (Eastern Utah Advocate, April 15, 1897, page 4)
April 15, 1897
"A number of our [Wellington] boys are at the Tidwell Holdaway mine digging coal and making a road to Sunnyside over which the coal is to be hauled. This mine will be a heavy shipper in the future." (Eastern Utah Advocate, April 15, 1897, page 1, "Wellington")
Coal was discovered in the vicinity of Whitmore canyon in 1898 by cattlemen from Wellington. The land for the Sunnyside mine was purchased by Robert Forrester for Utah Fuel Company for $250.00. The excellent coking properties of the Sunnyside coal was discovered when Forrester sent a sample to the coke ovens at Castlegate. Work began on the Sunnyside mine in 1898. (Madsen, p. 52)
November 19, 1899
The first coal was shipped on November 19, 1899, the first day of railroad operations from the coal camp. (Gibson: Sunnyside, p. 203)
The branchline was completed between Mounds and Sunnyside on November 7, 1899. (Salt Lake Herald, December 31, 1899)
Royal C. Peabody, treasurer of the Rio Grande Western Railway, purchased 6,130 acres of coal lands located at Sunnyside. The purchase price was reported as $47,235.20, and the lands were purchased from Orange Seely, John T. Tidwell, W. J. Tidwell, and others. (Salt Lake Mining Review, August 15, 1900)
(In January 1908, in a deposition, Peabody confessed that in all the coal land sale papers he signed, he had never seen the land, and did not read the papers he signed, which he signed at the request of a brother who was an "attache" of the coal company.)
December 15, 1900
Rio Grande Western operated its largest coal train to date. Thirty-six cars with 2 million pounds (1,000 tons) of coal was shipped east from the Sunnyside mine number 3. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 17, 1900) The Tribune stated that the train had 2,000,000 pounds of coal, making 55,555 pounds of coal in each of the thirty-six cars, that's 27.7 tons per car.
About thirty miners were used in the Sunnyside No. 1 mine, producing 350 tons per day, and about 200 miners worked in the No. 2 mine, producing about 1,000 tons per day. Sunnyside No. 1 was located in the main Whitmore canyon. Sunnyside No. 2 mine was originally located about 400 yards up the side canyon. (Higgins: Industries, p. 12)
Slack coal from the Sunnyside mine was shipped to Utah Fuel's Castle Gate mine and used in the 201 coke ovens there to produce about 5,000 tons of coke per month. (Higgins: Industries, p. 14)
January 16, 1902
One hundred coke ovens were being built at Sunnyside, to replace those at Castle Gate. This will reduce costs by not having to send Sunnyside coal to Castle Gate to be made into coke. "The present capacity of the company is 240 ovens." (Salt Lake Herald, January 16, 1902)
All coal from Sunnyside from 1899 to 1902 was sent to Castlegate to be made into coke. In the years 1902-1903, 480 coke ovens were built at Sunnyside. These were increased to 550 in 1912, to 624 in 1914, and again to 713 ovens in 1917, although not all ovens were in operation at the same time. The first coke was produced at Sunnyside in April 1902, and the volume grew steadily until the late 1920s. At its peak in the 1920s, there were 1,100 men on the Utah Fuel payroll at Sunnyside. In 1929 coking operations were practically suspended. Coke production was suspended at Castlegate in 1905. (Madsen, p. 53)
In 1904 the Utah Fuel Company was furnishing 100 to 200 tons of coke per day from Sunnyside to the Anaconda smelter in Montana. (Salt Lake Mining Review, July 30, 1904, p. 30)
Utah Fuel opened the Somerset, Colorado mine in 1905. (Gibson: Sunnyside, p. 205)
A report in 1907 stated that Utah Fuel Company "disposes of the larger part of output to local consumers for domestic and steam purposes ... It has been shipping approximately 15 percent to neighboring states ... has been shipping 350 tons of coke daily to Anaconda." (Engineering and Mining Journal, Volume 84, November 23, 1907, p. 980)
(RESEARCH: Coal hearings were being held in Salt Lake City on April 9, 1908 concerning numerous claims on the coking coal lands being mined at the Sunnyside mine. Check out the Salt Lake papers for more information. from Zehnder, pp. 38,39)
Sunnyside in 1909 was working six days per week, producing coke in 480 coke ovens. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, January 28, 1909, p. 5)
In 1909 the Utah Fuel Company's Sunnyside mines No. 1 and No. 2 produced 3,000 tons per day, for commercial use and to furnish pulverized coal for coking. (Mines & Minerals, October 1909, p. 161)
The 650 coke ovens at Sunnyside were fed with coal that would pass through a 3/8 inch screen. During 1912, the Sunnyside coke ovens produced 347,356 tons (about 6,900 carloads) of coke, an almost forty percent increase over 1911's production. Watts: Carbon County, p. 404)
(PHOTOGRAPHS: Photos of the Sunnyside tipple and the village of Sunnyside were in Coal Age, Volume 2, number 22, November 30, 1912, p. 747.
Photo of the Sunnyside coke plant was in Coal Age, Volume 3, number 10, March 8, 1913, p. 363.
Photo of the Sunnyside mine was in Coal Age, Volume 3, number 4, April 5, 1913, p. 514.
Photos of Sunnyside's tipple, powerhouse, and old coke installation were in Coal Age, Volume 3, number 22, May, 31, 1913, p. 836.
Photo of the Sunnyside mine, townsite, and coke ovens was in Coal Age, Volume 3, number 24, June 14, 1913, p. 914)
Coal mining towns in Carbon County in 1912 included: Castle Gate; Clear Creek; Winter Quarters; Sunnyside; Kenilworth; Black Hawk; and Hiawatha. The principle commercial towns in the county were Price, Helper, Scofield, and Wellington. Coal production in Carbon County for 1912 was 2,750,265 tons (about 55,000 carloads), compared to 2,246,055 for 1911 (about 44,900 carloads), a twenty-two percent increase. Two-thirds of the coal production for the state of Utah is consumed within the state. The coal was of a good bituminous variety, with some coking qualities, although only the coal from the Sunnyside mine made good coke. Carbon County coal was known to be hard and clean, and was able to stand up well to storage and shipment without breaking down. (Watts: Carbon County, pp. 400,401)
Four new mines were opened during 1912: Neslen, Willow Creek, Panther, and Storrs, where a new method of conveying was being tried (Spring Canyon Coal Company's aerial tramway?). (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, January 2, 1913, p. 2)
During May 1913, the loading tipple of the Sunnyside mine was destroyed by fire. Operations were not be be affected because other loading stations were available. (Salt Lake Mining Review, May 30, 1913)
D&RG announced that they would double track the Sunnyside Branch to allow movement of coal to the Pacific Coast, with the opening of the Panama Canal. (Coal Index: Carbon County News, January 22, 1914, p. 1)
Due to a reduction in railroad rates for Wyoming coal, Independent was working three to four days per week and Consolidated was working just two days per week. Sunnyside was working six days per week, with all coal production going to coke. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, April 9, 1914, p. 1)
Most of the 314,694 tons of coke made at the Sunnyside mine and coke plant in 1914 was shipped to the smelter at Anaconda, Montana. (Lewis, p. 18)
Sunnyside No. 2 was closed due to a fire on August 17, 1920. The mine was reopened in late August 1921. (Coal Index: The Sun, September 2, 1921, p. 6)
In June 1931, the Denver & Rio Grande petitioned the Public Service Commission of Utah for permission to close its agency station at Sunnyside. The testimony of a D&RG official gave some interesting details of the decline of Sunnyside's coke business. By the early 1930s the coke business at Sunnyside had "disappeared", and only forty to fifty cars of coke were being shipped per year. From the beginning, the coke from Sunnyside was generally shipped to the Salt Lake smelters and to the Anaconda smelter in Butte, Montana. At times, Sunnyside coke was also shipped to the Leadville, Colorado smelters if the Colorado coke fields couldn't produce enough. Up until about 1915 the Sunnyside mine was shipping fifteen to eighteen cars of coke to the Anaconda smelter. The drop in business in about 1928 was attributed the Columbia Steel Corporation beginning to sell its excess coke to the Salt Lake valley smelters, and Sunnyside lost a great deal of its business at that time. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1213)
Almost all of the output of the Sunnyside mine during mid 1942 was to go to supply coking fuel for a new pig iron plant in California, to produce steel plate for the U. S. Navy. (Coal Index: Sun Advocate, June 11, 1942, p. 14)
Many improvements were made at Sunnyside during the war years, including a new machine shop. (Coal Index: Sun Advocate, March 11, 1943, p. 14)
D&RGW announced that they had purchased twelve new locomotives and 1,500 new gondola cars to support a 200 percent increase in coal traffic from Sunnyside to two Kaiser plants, one at Geneva and the other near San Bernardino, California. (Coal Index: Sun-Advocate, July 2, 1942, p. 12)
In 1943 Henry J. Kaiser leased Sunnyside No. 2 mine from Utah Fuel Company, to furnish coking coal for new steel mill at Fontana, California. The mine had been closed since 1921 because of a fire. After extinguishing the fire, the mine was closed due to low market demand for coal. (Gibson: Kaiser, p. 261)
Mark Hemphill wrote on October 3, 2018:
The coke from Sunnyside coke ovens wasn't very good. Its market, almost entirely smelters (including Butte, Montana) disappeared pretty quickly. Then re-emerged in WWII because there was huge shortage of coke for Ironton and later Geneva. Then disappeared again. The coking coal produced by Sunnyside went mostly to Kaiser-Fontana and into its byproduct coking ovens. That wasn't very good coke either. Sunnyside did ship some coking coal to Geneva and Ironton, but most of Columbia Steel's coal supply to Ironton, and later USS Steel's coal supply to Geneva and Ironton, came from the Columbia (initially) and later Columbia, Geneva (Horse Canyon), Somerset, and Coal Basin (MidContinent) mines, along with some high-quality coking coal blended from the eastern Oklahoma fields. In the Geneva Steel era, most of the coking coal came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The Kaiser Years (1943-1994)
Kaiser Coal Company at Sunnyside -- After Kaiser bought the Sunnyside mine in 1943, it became a dedicated coal mine that furnished coal solely to Kaiser Steel Company.
Utah Fuel Company -- Information about the history of Utah Fuel Company, originally a subsidiary of D&RGW railroad.