Heber Valley Historic Railroad
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This page was last updated on Novembber 15, 2017.
(This is a work in progress; research continues.)
This line was listed in the 1889 incorporation of the Rio Grande Western as one of many planned branches to be built. The first rail was laid in 1897 for a distance of one mile. The remaining 25 miles was constructed during the spring and summer of 1899. The line from mile post 11 to Heber was owned, on paper, by the Utah Eastern Railway, a wholly owned subsidiary of the RGW. There was no junction point, siding, or anything else that would mark this point as anything other than a mile post on a continuous, winding, single track line. (Steven Seguine, email to D&RGW group at Yahoo Groups, May 1, 2007)
After the D&RGW Railroad abandoned the line, rumors had it that the rails were due to be taken up and the right-of-way used for relocating US Highway 189. But, local residents were determined to preserve this slice of Utah history. In 1970, the train and rail line were rescued from certain dissolution by a group of Heber Valley businessmen and some rail enthusiasts.
From 1971, when the new organization got under way, until 1990, the railroad operated under several different managements and names such as, the Wasatch Mountain Railway, Deer Creek Scenic Railway and always as the "Heber Creeper" Railroad. Today, the train is called the Heber Valley Railroad. In the late 1980's the two miles between Vivian Park and Bridal Veil Falls were not used because of safety concerns, although the rails were not actually taken up until 1996.
Among the rail enthusiasts were three guys whose work really got the project off the ground in those early days of 1970-1971. They were Charles "Chick" Neilsen, J. Rodney "Rod" Edwards, and Gordon Wheeler. Also involved very early was Doug Brown. One of the first projects was to get UP 618 moved from the Utah State Fairgrounds in Salt Lake City, back to serviceable rails and up to Heber before D&RGW cut the access to the branch at Provo.
Chick Neilsen's father Hollis "Holly" Neilsen, an engineer on Kennecott's copper railroad between Bingham and Magna, was the first fireman when UP 618 was first put into operation.
Other names associated with Heber Creeper history include:
- Doug Brown, engineer
- Craig Drury
- Craig Lacey, executive director, Heber Valley Railroad since 1997
- Ken McConnell, marketing director; also shown in 1992 as chairman of the Heber Valley Historical Railroad.
- John Rimmasch, chief mechanical officer
- Bill Schultz , engineer
- Bill Sherwood, came to Heber in August 1994
(Jay Rodney Edwards, one of the founders of Wasatch Railway and Museum Foundation, died on June 14, 2005. He was 71 years old.)
(Hollis W. Nielsen, the first fireman on the famous Heber Creeper tourist railroad in 1970, died on March 15, 2001. He was 82 years old.)
The initial organization was the Wasatch Railway Museum and Foundation, and the railroad itself was operated as the Wasatch Mountain Railway. In the obituary following his death in 2005 at age 70, Rod Edwards was shown as having been the founder of the foundation, and its president for 30 years.
The following was posted by Jeff Terry on March 22, 2010 on Trainorders.com:
Rayonier 110 was the reason the Heber line was saved in the first place! Here's a condensed history. Two Utah railfans, Charles "Chick" Nielson and Rodney Edwards bought the 110 back in the late 1960s. They needed a place to run it, and the D&RGW had just abandoned the Provo Canyon Branch. Chick told me that the Heber line was perfect for a recreational railroad, and soon they got the Promontory Chapter NRHS involved (they were both members) and several businessmen from Heber, including Lowe Ashton, who owned a lumberyard adjacent to the Heber depot and wye.
There was a battle to save the right-of-way (it had been purchased by the state to relocate US 189), but the train buffs prevailed in 1970. UP 618, which was on display at the state fair grounds in Salt Lake was transferred to the custody of the Promontory Chapter NRHS, and was refurbished with minimal effort in November 1970. Unfortunately, the 110 never ran there, after 618 and Pacific Lumber 35 were acquired. The "old heads" at Heber (many employees of the Bingham & Garfield) said it was in terrible shape - too bad to ever restore - but they were fortunately proved wrong, and after restoration it's now living the good life on the Black Hills Central.
The first equipment arrived in Heber City in December 1970, and first operation for the public was on July 11, 1971. By the end of that first season, 26,000 people were said to have ridden the new train. Utah Department of Transportation wanted the abandoned right of way of the old D&RGW Provo Canyon Branch for a new four-lane highway. Environmentalists, railfans, and businessmen worked together to get the railroad running; environmentalists opposed the highway; railfans wanted to re-start the trains; and local Heber City businessmen saw a chance to make some money. Heber Creeper, Inc., was formed with the help of the Wasatch Chamber of Commerce, and grew to include 24 shareholders. UP 618 was owned by the state and was leased to Heber Creeper, Inc.. Other original equipment included a 2-6-6-2 logging Mallet and a drover caboose. (undated supplement to the Wasatch Wave)
The Heber Creeper operated as part of Lowell Ashton's New London Railroad and Village, Inc. Ashton had purchased the D&RGW rail yard at Heber in 1969, which was adjacent to his family's lumber yard. The lumber yard had been D&RGW's largest customer on the railroad's Heber City Branch until its closure in 1967.The purchase was for a total of 10 acres and included the rail yard and the land on which the lumber yard was located, which had previously been leased from the railroad. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 23, 1989)
Lowell Ashton and other interested Heber businessmen organized the Save The Heber Creeper Committee in 1968-1969. He operated the Heber Creeper train until about 1980, with a ridership of about 45,000 per year. About 1980 the Timpanogos Preservation Society (TPS) received a federal grant to move the railroad collection of Sons Of Utah Pioneers from Corinne. At the same time, Ashton sold all of the railroad assets of Heber Creeper to TPS, which then ran the Heber Creeper until 1983, when it was dissolved by the bankruptcy court. The assets of TPS were sold to Ashton and his family in 1986, and he and his family operated the business as the New London Railroad and Village, Inc. While under TPS management, the ridership of the train fell to 30,000 per year, but within two years, under New London management, ridership increased to 50,000 per year. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 23, 1989)
A lien was served against Heber Creeper Railroad to not move, dispose, or use any of the rolling stock or three locomotives. At the same time, the state withdrew its bid of $1,130,150 to purchase the railroad from Ashton and his partners. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 26, 1990)
August 30, 1897
Rio Grande Western began laying rail in Provo for its line in Provo Canyon, with heber as the destination. (Salt Lake Tribune, August 31, 1897, "yesterday")
December 29, 1897
Utah Eastern Railway incorporated by RGW interests to build from Heber east to the Colorado State line. Also to take over the interests of the former Utah Central Railway in Wasatch and Summit Counties, east and south of Park City. (Utah corporation index 2145)
RGW completed an 11 Mile branch from Provo to Upper Falls. From Upper Falls to Heber City, 15 miles, the continuation of the line to Heber was completed by the Utah Eastern Railway, incorporated in December 1897. (LeMassena, p. 107)
September 21, 1899
RGW completed to Heber. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, September 22, 1899) Work began in February. (Wilson, p. 97)
Union Pacific donated its 2-8-0 steam locomotive to the State of Utah, and was set up as a display on the grounds of the Utah State Fair.
In the summer of 1966 D&RGW operated one of the very last 'Heber Local' runs up from Provo to Heber on the Provo Canyon Branch. Rail traffic at Wasatch County's largest city had declined with improvements to parallel Highway 189. The depot had been boarded up by then, with weeds lining the right of way. Back in the 1930's, Heber City was the largest shipper of sheep by rail in the United States. There was a weigh scale adjacent to the depot, for documenting the transfer of gilsonite, trucked from Vernal, Utah to the railhead at Heber City. In November of 1968, the mothballed line was reopened by the D&RGW to haul the National Christmas Tree (harvested in nearby Daniel's Canyon) from Heber via a specially equipped trailer flat toward Washington, DC. It was a somewhat glorious ending to service the branch. Of course the line's history took a positive turn when the upper 18 miles were preserved in 1970 for a tourist operation that continues to this day. Unfortunately, the former D&RGW Heber yard area has been stripped of it's trackage. The now 'trackless' D&RGW depot survives to this day, utilized by a private business on 6th West at Center Street. (James Belmont, January 30, 2011)
Operation of D&RGW's Heber Branch came to an end in 1967.
In November of 1968, D&RGW's inactive Provo Canyon Branch was reopened to haul the National Christmas Tree (harvested in nearby Daniel's Canyon) from Heber via a specially equipped trailer flat toward Washington, DC. (James Belmont, January 30, 2011)
City of Tooele was approached by members of the Wasatch Railway Museum to remove TVRY. 2-8-0 11 from Liberty Park in Tooele and move it to Heber for restoration and operation. The city council found that Tooele residents preferred that the locomotive stay in Tooele. J. R. Edwards made the presentation to the city council, including letters of support from the Utah Travel Council and the Utah Department of Natural Resources, and stated that rather than Tooele having to maintain the locomotive, and potentially see it deteriorate more than it already had, the Heber group would see to its restoration and perpetual care. (Tooele Transcript, November 11, 1969)
Utah Department of Transportation (then known as the State Road Commission) bought the right of way of the Provo Canyon Branch from D&RGW for $264,000, with the intention of improving U. S. 189 through Provo Canyon. (Deseret News, January 6, 1971)
Beginning on September 26, 1970, members of the newly formed Wasatch Railroad Museum and Foundation, members of NRHS Promontory Chapter, along with other volunteers, began moving UP 2-8-0 618 from its display site at the Utah State Fairgrounds. Inspected by UP for movement over its tracks on October 12, 1970. Throughout October and November, by moving the locomotive on pieces of temporary track, the locomotive was moved across the fairgrounds, and on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, the locomotive was moved across Salt Lake City's busy four-lane North Temple street. The following weekend, the movement continued across an empty field and onto the tracks of Salt Lake Garfield & Western Railway, who had furnished much of the rail and track hardware for the move. The following Monday, November 30, UP 618 was moved to UP's North Yard to be turned on the turntable. During the following week, it was then moved by UP as part of their Provo Local, south to Provo and turned over to D&RGW for further movement up the abandoned Provo Canyon Branch. On December 5, 1970 (a Saturday), UP 618 was steamed up for the first time since 1958. On December 7, after clearing the paved-over crossing at Nunns (nine miles up the canyon, adjacent to Bridal Veil Falls), UP 618 together with UP CA-1 caboose (UP 3505, from Brigham Young University) was moved to Heber City, 27 miles from Provo. Three retired ex Army hospital cars were also moved to the Provo Canyon Branch, but remained on the tracks below the dam while the locomotive and caboose were moved to Heber. (part from The Streamliner, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2004, page 8)
UP 618 was donated to NRHS Promontory Chapter, then leased to Wasatch Railway Museum. It was moved to the tracks of Salt Lake Garfield & Western. Wasatch Railway Museum also owned a 2-8-2 from Pacific Lumber Co., at Scotia, California, and a Mallet from Rayonier Lumber Co. Chick Neilson was vice president of the Promontory Chapter. Together, the men involved in the first move of UP 618 spent $5,000 of their own money to get the project started. (Deseret News, November 30, 1970)
The action that essentially got the Heber Creeper started was Utah Department of Transportation's rejection on September 22, 1969 of bids to dismantle the tracks of D&RGW's abandoned Provo Canyon Branch, which had shut down in 1967. UDOT gave the historical group until April 1, 1972 to move its equipment. (Deseret News, November 30, 1970)
Dr. R. R. Green was vice president of Wasatch Mountain Railway Corporation, a for-profit company organized by several Heber City businessmen. Wasatch Railway Museum was a non-profit organization. (Deseret News, November 30, 1970)
November 30, 1970
UP 618 made its first run from Provo, up Provo Canyon to a road crossing that had been paved over. (Deseret News, December 7, 1970)
December 5, 1970
UP 618 was fired up for the first time since being retired by UP and being donated to the State of Utah in 1958. (Park Record, July 2, 1992)
December 7, 1970
UP 618 made its first run into Heber City, starting at a road crossing in Provo Canyon that had been paved over. Seven thousand people were reported as being on hand to see the 106-ton locomotive make its run. The trip was planned to use 10 tons of coal (at $15.50 per ton, and all hand shoveled) and 5,000 gallons of water. According to the engineer, Charles Nielsen, the locomotive's tender held a total of 14,000 gallons of water, and 18 tons of coal. The first trip included four retired U.S. Army hospital cars and a drover caboose. The four hospital cars were owned by Golden Spike Empire, a promotional organization representing four counties in Utah (Box Elder, Weber, Davis and Morgan). UP 618 was shown as being owned by the Promontory Chapter of NRHS (actually still owned by State of Utah and leased to Promontory Chapter). Kennecott Copper had donated 1,500 ties to the Promontory Chapter for its use in the rehabilitation of the tracks into Heber City. Operation was planned for the coming summer season, between Wildwood (near Bridal Veil Falls) and Heber City, by way of Provo Canyon. (Deseret News, December 7, 1970)
Pacific Lumber 2-8-2 no. 35 was acquired in 1971 from a private individual. Stored at the mill of Pacific Lumber Co. since the early 1960s. (Pacific News, March 1976, page 17)
The Promontory Chapter of NRHS acquired Yosemite Lumber number 4, a 70-ton, 3-truck Shay locomotive built by Lima in 1920. The chapter moved it to Heber from its previous location at Davidson's scrap yard in Stockton, California. (Source?)
(One source shows that the date of donation could have been as early as April 1969, and would have included the Yosemite Lumber Shay, along with State Belt 0-6-0 No. 4, and Sacramento Valley & Eastern 2-6-2T No. 2. More research is needed.)
After its owner Yosemite Sugar Pine Lumber Company had gone bankrupt in 1943, the Shay had been sold for scrap. It sat in a California scrap yard slowly being covered by discarded tires until 1970 when the tires were moved and the locomotive discovered under the pile of tires. After its movement to Utah and later restoration and return to service in about 1973, the Shay was used from Deer Creek dam, down the steep grade and sharp curves to the base of the dam, then on to Bridal Veil Falls, a distance of about five miles. The road locomotive, usually UP 2-8-0 number 618 or Pacific Lumber 2-8-2 number 35 at that time, remained at the top of the grade at the dam, and took the train back to Heber. The Shay's low speed was a benefit to safe operation of the steep grade, but soon became a problem with overall train operations due to the extra time needed to complete a roundtrip between Heber and Bridal Veil Falls. Operating at its maximum speed soon resulted in needed repairs to the number 2 cylinder.
The repairs to number 2 cylinder were completed and the Shay was reassigned to night dinner train service. But again its slow speed limited in ability to keep to the needed schedules. With the arrival of the two 2-8-2 locomotives from White Mountain Scenic Railway (Sierra 36 and Santa Maria Valley 100) in about 1975, the Shay was sidelined for use as a standby locomotive. Sometime before the end of the 1975 season, a yard switching accident resulted in boiler damage to the Shay. The accident was the result of a "hard joint" when three passenger cars were "dropped" onto the track where the Shay was stored, damaging the Shay's boiler flue sheet, along with damaging one of the drawbars and shearing the keys on the Shay's drive shafts. (information from Al Le Fevre, and Stan Jennings)
January 3, 1971
The first operation of the Heber Creeper was intended as part of "Statehood Week" on Saturday January 3, 1971. (Deseret News, January 6, 1971)
The excursion failed after the train derailed en route from Heber City to Bridal Veil Falls to pick up 300 passengers. The 300 guests on the failed inaugural run included Governor Rampton and 50 state legislators, following a reception at Sundance Resort, all as part of the state's 75th Anniversary and a special Recreation and Tourism Day. The guests traveled to Heber via buses instead of the train, and attended a special meeting and another reception at Wasatch State Park. Free rides for the public were offered on Sunday January 11th, between Heber City and Wallsburg. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 10, 1971)
April 22, 1971
Pacific Lumber 2-8-2 no. 35 was moved from the end of the portion of the D&RGW branch still in operation at the mouth of Provo Canyon, up-canyon to Heber. The move included several freight cars and Rayonier 2-6-6-2 no. 110. Photo caption: "The last train to make a run on the now-closed Provo Canyon tracks puffed slowly up this scenic grade April 22, 1971. Provo River runs close to old rail line at this point as steam engine heads for Heber to join other cars of revived Heber Creeper." (Provo Daily Herald, clipping courtesy Parker Wilson, via Facebook)
This special train included Pacific Lumber no. 35 as road power, and Rayonier no. 110, along with several steel box cars. The box cars were cut down into open-air cars. The unused remnants were used as storage sheds, remaining near the old shop for many years. (Craig Lacey, message to Rails Through The Wasatch group on Facebook, October 18, 2017)
July 10, 1971
UP 618 was used on its first public excursion on July 10, 1971. (The Streamliner, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2004, page 11)
In a newspaper business portrait, Lowell "Lowe" Ashton was quoted as saying "We backed into this because we got fighting with the Road Commission on what to do with Provo Canyon. It started out as a civic effort to preserve what to our community was a natural asset, the railroad from Heber to Provo," keeping the road builders out of the canyon. "If Wasatch County or Heber Valley has any contribution to make, it is as a recreational area. It isn't served by using all of Provo Canyon or Deer Creek as a superhighway." Through the last weekend of August 1971, almost 13,000 people had ridden the Heber Creeper, with $36,419 in revenue. Having the steam locomotives burn oil rather than coal was seen as a plus, so UP 618 was being converted to burn oil. The 2-8-2 Mikado then in use was already an oil burner. Mr. Ashton's major vision was to provide a year-around, daily (twice on weekends) diner train, offering a "dinner cruise", along with rail service to all of the potential recreation sites along the route. Ashton was noted as being 41 years old at the time, and as owning the Continental Oil jobber franchise, a truck stop, and a motel. (Salt Lake Tribune, August 29, 1971)
November 17, 1971
The State Road Commission granted a 25-year lease of the tracks of the former D&RGW Provo Canyon Branch to Heber Creeper. The lease was subject to the state legislature providing funds for a highway grade separation. Lowe Ashton said that the long-term lease was needed so that the Wasatch Mountain Railway & Development Co. could sell bonds to pay for its improvements. Blaine Kay, state highway engineer, said that $350,000 would be needed to build a new overpass to get the highway across the railroad tracks. Without the grade separation, the long term lease could not be justified for the portion of the tracks between Wildwood and Wallsburg. (Deseret News, November 18, 1971)
January 7, 1972
Wasatch Mountain Railway & Development Company was authorized by Utah Public Service Commission to operate as a common carrier. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 8, 1972)
May 24, 1972
Heber Creeper received four commuter cars from Arcata & Mad River Railroad in northern California. The cars were decorated in the "Gay 90's" style, and could carry 74 passengers each. They were in excellent condition, and were to put into immediate service the following Saturday on the line's opening run for the 1972 season. The cars were shipped from Roseville to Ogden via SP, then by UP from Ogden to Park City, then trucked from Park City to Heber City. In addition, a former GM&O diner previously stored at Milford, Utah, was on its way, and was to arrive within a couple days. (Deseret News, May 25, 1972)
In 1974, Vivian Park was designated as a Utah County Park, to be maintained as part of Utah County's park and recreation system.
September 23, 1976
A 90-ton steam locomotive from White Water Railway in Arizona was received at Heber City. The Arizona company had sold two locomotives to Wasatch Mountain Scenic Railway. Both locomotives were moved to Heber City from St. Johns, Ariz., with a 70-ton locomotive having already arrived in Heber City. (Salt Lake Tribune, September 24, 1976)
Heber Creeper was allowed by the State of Utah to remove the 90-pound rail from the abandoned tracks between Olmstead at the mouth of Provo Canyon, and Nunn's Crossing (about three miles), and use it to replace 75-pound rail used on some of the other portions of the line. The lease of the line from the state was costing Heber Creeper $7,600 per year. (Deseret News, January 15, 1977)
UP 1011 was donated to State of Utah by Union Pacific, for operation on Heber Creeper.
The first winter season trains were operated on weekends only during Christmas 1978. (Deseret News, January 9, 1979)
The Corinne Railroad Museum would be transferred in spring 1979 to the Heber Creeper, including SP 1744 and UP 6264. (Pacific News, November 1978, page 26)
First pieces were moved in February 1979, with the locomotives and rolling stock to be moved in the coming summer. (Pacific News, February 1979, page 25)
During 1979, Heber Creeper was being operated by Timpanogos Preservation Society. During the 1979 season "some 75,000" people rode the train. TPS was planning on adding a pioneer village with Chinese laundry and blacksmith shop, along with a museum in the old "Corinne" depot, and a projected completion of fall 1980. The project was a joint effort between TPS and Sons of Utah Pioneers. The track that the Heber Creeper operated on was being deeded to TPS by the State of Utah, and the Heber Creeper train itself was being operated under a lease agreement with the private Wasatch Mountain Railway. A total of nine steam locomotives were on the property, with four being in operational condition. (source not recorded)
May 2, 1979
A disagreement developed between the Heber Creeper and Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, over an unpaid lease fee of $54,000 that the parks department said was owed to it by the railroad. There had been a "state resolution" passed in 1970 "to preserve the railroad right of way in the canyon." The railroad right of way was transferred from Utah Department of Transportation ownership to state parks ownership as part of Wasatch Mountain State Park in Midway. The "Heber Creeper Corporation" then leased the right of way, portions of which were owned by both the parks department and the transportation department. According to an agreement, Heber Creeper was to pay the Department of Transportation an annual fee of $4,850 for the use of its portion, and the parks department an annual fee of $2,700 for its portion. A parks department audit had found that the railroad had not made any payments since 1972, and that it owed the parks department a total of $21,000 in back lease fees. According to a parks department official, Wasatch County had taken over the obligation of the lease from the railroad in 1977, and had accumulated its own total of $30,000 in unpaid lease fees. Railroad management officials stated that the county took over the lease obligation as a "pass-through agency" to help the railroad qualify for a federal grant meant solely for railroad restoration. The lease between the railroad and the parks department expired in January 1979, and parks department officials said that the railroad could not operate over the state-owned right of way without the lease being renegotiated. Railroad officials had been unhappy with both the cost of the lease, and the details of the lease, and stopped making lease payments in order to force public discussion of the matter. The operation of the coming season was in jeopardy until the payment of the lease was resolved. (Deseret News, May 2, 1979)
Details of the lease included a total of $21,319 owed by the railroad to the state parks department, being five percent of gross annual sales gained by the operation of the railroad's passenger trains from 1971 to 1976. An additional amount of $32,950 was owed to the state by Wasatch County for its portion of the lease from 1977 through 1979. Railroad officials stated that at the time the railroad started operations in 1971, the state had a choice of either five percent of gross sales, or of six percent of actual salvage value of the railroad itself. State officials said that they knew nothing of the six percent figure, and railroad officials said that they had not put a single dollar into the improvement of the tracks owned by the state. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 3, 1979)
August 7, 1979
Timpanogos Preservation Society received a federal grant in the amount of $805,250 for the construction of a railroad-themed park and museum in Heber City. Previously, TPS had purchased (likely from the Ashton family) the land adjacent to the depot of the Heber Creeper but had been unable to develop the land due to a lack of funding needed to renovate the railroad artifacts it owned, and to build additional facilities. The Sons of Utah Pioneers had pledged to donate its collection of railroad artifacts and equipment already situated at Corinne in Utah's Box Elder County, and valued at $3 million. The grant was to come from the Economic Development Administration, which authorizes special funding for areas that are economically depressed due to high levels of unemployment, and would be used for piece-by-piece restoration of railroad artifacts and rolling stock, and construction of additional tracks. At the time of announcing the grant, U. S. Representative Gunn McKay stated that the railroad was non-profit. (Deseret News, August 7, 1979)
The grant was to be used as part of the first phase to bring the tracks up to present safety standards. The same article also mentioned that part of the railroad's expansion in recent months was to move the Sons of Utah Pioneers collection of railroad equipment from Corinne to Heber. (Deseret News, January 10, 1980)
December 10, 1979
By December 1979, about half of the Sons of Utah Pioneers collection had been moved from Corinne to Heber. The two steam locomotives had not yet been moved, pending negotiations with Union Pacific to move them by rail. The collection was donated in April 1979, and was to be completely moved within one year. (Deseret News, December 10, 1979)
A settlement was reached for the payment of a total of $24,824 in back-lease fees, bringing the railroad current on its lease fees through 1978. The amount did not include six percent interest for the past five years. The amount for 1979 was still being calculated. (Deseret News, January 15, 1980)
A report by the Utah State Division of Parks and Recreation in early January 1980 showed an estimate of $2.3 million over the following five years to bring the tracks of the Heber Creeper up to proper U. S. Department of Transportation standards for the operations of passenger railroads. The report was completed for the parks department by an independent consulting engineer, and had been done in response to a letter from the transportation department, which itself had been done as a report of an detailed inspection of track conditions following a complaint from a riding passenger. An inspector for the state's own Department of Transportation disputed the report, saying that the tracks were in excellent condition and only had a few loose tie joints. Ownership of the tracks was split between the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation for the portion between Heber City and Deer Creek dam, and Utah Department of Transportation for the portion between Deer Creek dam and Bridal Veil Falls. The UDOT portion is leased to the parks department, and the entire railroad was then leased to Heber Creeper, Inc., by the parks department. Railroad officials stated that between 1977 and 1979, over $600,000 had been spent of track renovation, and said that the consulting engineer had apparently never walked the tracks, and that he had based his report on an earlier, old report of the condition of the railroad's tracks. All three groups (parks, transportation, and the railroad itself) agree that there are apparently no standards governing the condition of the tracks of scenic or tourist railroads. (Deseret News, January 9, 1980)
Timpanogos Preservation Society, a non-profit organization, denied reports that it wanted to take over the lease and operation of the Heber Creeper Railroad from Heber Creeper, Inc., also a non-profit organization. The preservation society built and operated the historical railroad village and museum at Heber City adjacent the depot of the Heber Creeper. Heber Creeper, Inc., operated the Heber Creeper train under lease from the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. The railroad had paid its back-lease fees to the parks department. Upon settlement of the lease fees, the parks department had released a report about the costly repairs that were needed on the tracks it owned to bring them up to what it felt to be safe conditions. (Deseret News, March 19, 1980)
May 3, 1980
Timpanogos Preservation Society was authorized by Utah State Board of Parks and Recreation, to control and operate its railroad property. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 3, 1980)
A new lease agreement was signed between the Utah Transportation Commission and Timpanogos Preservation Society for the operation of the Heber Creeper railroad. At the same time, the original lease between the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation and Utah Department of Transportation, originally good through 1992, was transferred fully to the Utah Transportation Commission. There was no change in the terms of the lease to the railroad. No mention was made of Heber Creeper, Inc., as being party to the lease. (Deseret News, September 20, 1980)
May 21, 1981
"Monte Bona,a part-time instructor at Brigham Young University and director of the Timpanogos Preservation Society, said it was organized to preserve railroad history for the enjoyment of the public. "Since the society was formed, we have worked closely with the Division of Parks and Recreation, and in 1977, we raised some money - through various means -to make necessary track repairs on the right of way. This, according to the director of the non-profit organization, was its first goal. In 1978, the society secured a grant for $500,000 for major improvements on the right of way. As a result, Mr.Bona said, the governor and State Parks Division deeded the track (from Heber City to Deer Creek Dam) to the society." (Pleasant Grove Review, May 21, 1981)
Tracks between Vivian Park and Bridal Veil Falls were washed out by a flood in 1983. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 23, 1989)
Deer Creek Scenic Railroad started operations July 1983, previous owners bankrupt, track condemned by state in May 1983. (The Mixed Train, January 1984, page 3)
July 14, 1983
"Creeper set to go?" "Merle Rawlins has been appointed to operate the historic Heber Creeper train which fell into receivership this spring. According to the Heber City office, Rawlins submitted an application for a business license under the name Deer Creek Scenic Railroad. If the license is approved this week, Rawlins hopes to have the train creeping along by Saturday. Because of extensive weather damage to the track, the train will have to start with short runs to Charleston and back, instead of traveling all the way to Bridal Veil Falls." (Park Record, July 14, 1983)
"The Deer Creek Scenic Railroad Company is a non-profit, historical and educational organization. The group operates the trains, a Visitor Center and the museum. Profits and donations go toward projects like collecting and restoring antique railroad equipment and artifacts for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations." (Davis County Clipper, May 20, 1986)
July 21, 1983
The following comes from the Park Record newspaper, July 21, 1983:
Rail buffs rejoice - the Creeper is back on track -- "The court lifted their injunction at 5:30 Friday night and we had the train running by 11 a.m. Saturday morning." Those were the enthusiastic words of Murl Rawlins, Jr., who has taken over the operation of the historic Heber Creeper. Rawlins, his father Murl Rawlins Sr., George Swallow and Charles Tubman have gathered enough resources to lease the train for one year. The operation has been renamed the Deer Creek Scenic Railroad and is currently offering round trips to Charleston seven days a week.
The historic railroad went into receivership this spring, and according to Rawlins, the suits among the original owners are still pending. Technically, he said, the historic village surrounding the Heber Depot is still in receivership, but several of the village merchants have reopened their shops since the train started running again.
"Right now we are putting all our efforts into repairing the track and our steam locomotives," said Rawlins. Because of extensive track damage the train is only able to run the five miles to Charleston, but as soon as possible, Rawlins hopes to open the track as far as Deer Creek Dam. By fall, he hopes the train will be able to run to Vivian Park, which is two miles short of Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon.
"Between us we have quite a bit of railroad expertise," said Rawlins who has been a member of the National Historic Railway Association since 1971. George Swallow has 40 years of experience as a chief clerk with Union Pacific. "We think the train has real potential and it is important to preserve it for future generations," said Rawlins of the group's motivation for investing in the Heber Creeper. The Heber Creeper leaves Heber City at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily, and at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Round trip fare to Charleston is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children. The train is being pulled by a diesel locomotive until the steam engine is fixed which Rawlins said could be as soon as this weekend. (Park Record, July 21, 1983)
SN NW2 607 sold to Wasatch Mountain Railroad (Heber Creeper). (Pacific RailNews, December 1984, page 25)
SN NW2 607 was donated to Deer Creek Scenic Railroad, Heber, Utah October 1984. (Pacific RailNews, February 1985, page 33)
Heber Creeper owner Lowe Ashton signed a 20 year lease "recently" for use of the state-owned railroad right-of-way. He said that he had no plans to shut down the railroad. (Deseret News, December 16, 1988)
Work began on Heber Creeper rails at mileposts 9 and 10 to address some geological problems. Heber Creeper operations were set to begin the following weekend. (Deseret News, May 16, 1989)
Late June 1989
Operations began over the entire 32-mile length of Heber Creeper, from Heber to Vivian Park. For the past five weeks, operations had been limited to Heber to Deer Creek reservoir while repairs were completed. The repairs were funded by a $125,000 state legislative appropriation, matched by funds from both Wasatch County and New London Railroad which operates the Heber Creeper. (Deseret News, June 28, 1989; June 30, 1989)
Early December 1989
SP 1744 was sold to Fort Worth & Western Railroad "last week", along with one kitchen car and three hospital cars. (Wasatch Wave, December 13, 1989)
Early January 1990
A public hearing was held during on January 3, 1990 to determine continued public support for state funding of the Heber Creeper, especially state maintenance of the railroad tracks. Lowe Ashton said that the railroad was bankrupt when he bought in it 1986, and that taxes and costly repairs would likely cause 1990 to be the railroad's last year. During the previous winter, Ashton had been forced to sell SP 1744 and five cars to a Texas company. Ashton also said that the Fort Worth and Western Railroad was willing to buy the remainder of his equipment if the State of Utah did not want to buy it for its continued operation. He had started the railroad in 1969, and sold it to a non-profit group in 1980. That group later went bankrupt, forcing Ashton to foreclose and reclaim all of the property and the equipment. (Wasatch Wave, December 20, 1989; Deseret News, January 2, 1990)
Lowe Ashton placed the value of the railroad at $1.9 million. An independent appraiser was working on a value for the purposes of the state buying the railroad. A bill had been drafted, but not yet introduced, to have the state department of transportation buy the property and equipment, then contract for continued operation. Ashton had "rescued" the railroad from bankruptcy in 1985. (Deseret News, February 4, 1990)
The state legislature appropriated $1.6 million to purchase the equipment and upgrade the right-of-way. Ridership for 1989 was reported as 75,000 people. (Deseret News, February 22, 1990)
February 21, 1990
The Utah State legislature passed House Bill (HB) 418, known as the Heber Creeper Procurement Appropriations bill. (Davis County Clipper, March 21, 1990, citing the Park Record)
After nine months of negotiations, Utah Department of Transportation offered to buy the Heber Creeper for $1,130,150. The current owner was reported as New London Railroad and Village, Inc., which operated the train and recreation attraction. The offer was set to expire on October 15. The balance remaining from the $1.6 million appropriated by the state legislature was slated to be used for maintenance, start-up, and operating costs for the 1991 season. (Deseret News, October 8, 1990)
October 20, 1990
The sale of the old Heber Creeper assets fell through. The land had been appraised at $561,000, and the railroad rolling stock had been appraised at $708,000, $42,000 less than Ashton's asking price. (Provo Daily Herald, October 20, 1990)
A news item reported that of the $1.6 million appropriation, $1,270,150 was for the railroad terminal grounds, equipment and artifacts, and at least $329,850 was for improvements and maintenance by UDOT. The state had appraised the terminal grounds at $561,000, and the railroad equipment at $750,000. The final negotiations before the passage of the appropriations bill had reduced the equipment price to $708,000. The reduction of $42,000 was agreed to by Ashton if the state's lease fee for the 1990 season was reduced to $10. There was a disagreement as to what would be included in the final sale (supposedly an increase in inventory worth an additional $300,000 to $400,000), and the sale price was reduced from $1,270,150 to $1,130,150, a reduction of $140,000.
October 25, 1990
On Thursday October 25, 1990, a press conference was held at Bridal Veil Falls to announce the formation of the Heber Valley Railroad, and the Utah Railway Historical Society. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 26, 1990) (Another source [unrecorded] shows that HVR and URHS were both incorporated in July 1990.)
October 27, 1990
Heber Creeper made its last run as a private railroad, operated by New London Railroad and Village. The train left the Heber station at Noon on Saturday October 27, 1990 with 200 passengers. (Deseret News, October 28, 1990) The motive power was NW2 1011.
January 31, 1991
Operation of the "Heber Creeper" came to an end, with New London's lease of the state-owned Heber Creeper tracks and right-of-way ending on January 31, 1991. (Wasatch Wave, May 8, 1991)
Senate Bill 167 (Myrin) called out the terms and conditions of the appropriation of $1.6 million from the general fund to the Department of Transportation to purchase the Heber Creeper. (Deseret News, February 21, 1991)
The bill passed both House and Senate, and was sent to the governor for his signature, to reduce state funding for Heber Creeper from the projected $1.6 million (to purchase the railroad) to $300,000 to maintain the railroad. (Deseret News, February 28, 1991)
Committee To Save Heber Creeper was organized by a vote of Wasatch County Council of Governments in late April 1991. (Wasatch Wave, May 8, 1991)
Ken McConnell came back to Heber City, and together with Craig Drury, persuaded the Utah state legislature in 1992 to fund the startup of a new organization to operate the state-owned railroad. Three organizational names were mentioned: Heber Creeper, Inc.; Heber Valley Railroad; and Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority. (Provo Daily Herald, July 24, 1995)
Utah State legislature voted to fund a new Heber railroad organization, for $1 million. (Source?)
In February 1992 the state legislature voted $1 million to purchase the Heber Creeper railroad, purchase new cars for the train, and to build a new station. An additional $400,000 was voted to upgrade the tracks. The Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority was created, and was to begin operations on July 1, 1992. Cars were to be donated by Tooele Army Depot, and some were to be purchased from "back East". (BYU Daily Universe, May 21, 1992)
May 18, 1992
UP caboose 25069 was moved from Salt Lake City to Heber on Monday May 18, 1992. Due to clearance problems in Parleys Canyon, the caboose was moved on board a truck that traveled from Salt Lake City north to Weber Canyon, through Echo to Heber City. Although Union Pacific records show that the caboose was donated to the State of Utah in August 1982, the Heber Valley Historic Railroad purchased it from the Promontory Chapter of National Railway Historical Society for $500. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 1992)
May 28, 1992
Property and assets of the defunct and bankrupt New London Railroad and Village, Inc. were sold to pay back taxes. (Provo Daily Herald, May 25, 1992)
Heber Valley Railroad Authority created by Governor Bangerter, with seven members from Utah County, Wasatch County, Heber City, Midway, UDOT, and Ken McConnell from the railroad itself. The railroad was to begin operations on July 1, 1992, using a $1 million appropriation from the state legislature. A $400,000 rehabilitation of track and equipment was to begin during June 1992. (Provo Daily Herald, June 8, 1992)
July 1, 1992
Heber Valley Historic Railroad operations began, after funding was received from State of Utah on July 1, 1992. Previously, a committee to save the railroad had been formed by Heber City mayor Scott Wright. (Wasatch Wave, October 13, 1993)
Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority was blocked from legally using the "Heber Creeper" name, which was still owned by New London. Heber City spent $40,000 to purchase 3.9 acres located three blocks south of the old location for the construction of a new station. The Authority has 28 employees, but the seven directors who control the Authority are unpaid. The State of Utah since 1970 had invested $3.2 million for the continued operation of the railroad. Initial operation in 1992 was to use three cars purchased from Great Smoky Mountain Railway in North Carolina, along with three flatcars from Tooele Army Depot, and a Union Pacific caboose. There were three locomotives; one steam (UP 618) and two diesel (UP 1011 and USA 1218). (Deseret News, August 14, 1994)
In September 1992 Craig Drury was shown as being Heber Valley's mechanical officer. Mr. Drury stated that UP 618 had been stored for two years, and had been donated to the State of Utah in 1958 for display at the state fairgrounds in Salt Lake City. In 1970, the locomotive was transferred to National Railway Historical Society's Promontory Chapter and moved to Heber City. Its inaugural run was in 1971. (Salt Lake Tribune, September 25, 1992)
The Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority purchased three cars from Great Smoky Mountains Railway in Dillsboro, North Carolina. The three cars included two former Lackawana trailers and a single former Clinchfield heavyweight car. All three cars arrived via truck before Thanksgiving 1992. (Craig Lacey, via email on September 15, 2009)
The three cars from North Carolina joined the equipment that remained at Heber, including several open-air cars and two truckless Kennecott coaches, along with former Union Pacific combination car 2700 and Kennecott coach 800. (Craig Lacey, via email on September 15, 2009)
In 1992, Nevada State Railroad Museum purchased the following pieces of equipment from . The pieces were moved to Boulder City beginning in February 1993, and later during the summer:
From Wasatch Railroad and Museum Foundation:
- Yosemite Lumber Shay number 4
- Pacific Lumber 2-8-2 number 35
- Rayonier Lumber 2-6-6-2T number 110
- Sacramento Valley & Eastern 2-6-2T number 2
From New London Railroad and Village:
- UP 2-8-0 number 264
- Four former Arcata & Mad River arch-roof passenger cars, along with other cars
From Deer Creek Scenic Railroad:
- UP NW2 number 1000 (SN NW2 number 607)
- Along with some cars stored outside Salt Lake City
Most of the equipment was moved by summer of 1993 (some as early as Fall 1992). All were trucked out of Heber, but Pacific Lumber number 35 and UP NW2 number 1000 were loaded on flatcars in Salt Lake City for the trip to Boulder City, Nevada. The rest went all the way by highway. (Kyle Wyatt, via email on July 8, 2008; Mr. Wyatt negotiated the purchase for the State of Nevada)
May 8, 1993
Heber Valley Railroad had its first run. (Wasatch Wave, May 5, 1993; Deseret News, May 9, 1993)
For the 1993 season, three rail cars from Silva, North Carolina were moved to Salt Lake City by rail, then by truck to Heber City. Total ridership for the 1993 season (mid May through mid September) was shown as 30,000. (Wasatch Wave, October 13, 1993)
Number 1218, an ex-U. S. Army Davenport 44-ton diesel switcher arrived as a donation from Hill Air Force Base. The little locomotive was one of a total of 20 built for the Army in 1953. (Locomotive Notes II, Issue 174, page 16)
Deer Creek Scenic Railway 2-8-2 number 36, and number 100 were seen loaded on a flat car in Eugene, Oregon, on 23 June 1999, headed for Merrill, Oregon, 15 miles south of Klamath Falls. The Merrill location is on the former SP route, at a former Holly Sugar site. Owned by Fred Kepner, both locomotives were seen again at Merrill, still loaded on flat cars on 20 July 1999. (Locomotive Notes II, Number 210, April-May-June 2000, in TRP, page 59, reported by Ryan Ballard and Keith Ardinger)
In 1999, the Heber railroad purchased the 10-car "Movie Train," including the No. 75 steam engine, from the estate of the late producer Everett Rohrer in Hudson, Colorado.
July 1, 2000
Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority received $260,000 from the State of Utah general fund, to be used to build a depot for the Heber Valley Historic Railroad. (Utah State Legislature House Bill 92)
May 12, 2001
Heber Valley Railroad started its first all-steam season, using UP 618, and Great Western 75. (Wasatch Wave, May 2, 2001)
June 1, 2001
The new depot was planned to be ready. Construction started in March as the centerpiece of a $770,000 facelift for the Heber Creeper meant to replace an old Missouri Pacific caboose, a sparse military style building and rented restrooms. The facelift was funded by $260,000 from the state, a matching $260,000 from Wasatch County, and $250,000 from the federal Department of Commerce. (Deseret News, March 4, 2001)
Heber Valley Railroad's new depot was completed. Total cost for the new 5,400 square feet building (2,700 square feet on two levels) was reported as $550,000. The building's contractor was HECCO, Inc. of Salt Lake City, with Euclid Timber Frames of Charleston, South Carolina, furnishing the post-and-beam open frame design and components. The two levels of the new depot were designed to house a gift shop, ticket office, administrative offices, food and supplies storage, restrooms, mini-museum and large lobby for patrons to wait on trains. A depot has been on the railroad's wish list due to it explosive growth, including a total of 30 Polar Express winter excursion trains during the 2000 season. Financing came from several public sources, including the State of Utah, Wasatch County, and Heber City. (Deseret News, March 4, 2001)
As part of Heber Valley's participation in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Nevada Northern 2-8-0 number 93 was trucked from Ely, Nevada, to Heber City. The locomotive was unloaded at Vivian Park, then moved using NW2 number 1011 from Vivian Park to Heber by rail. Two Nevada Northern passenger cars were also sent at the same time, but were trucked directly to Heber City. The additional locomotive and cars were used to haul passengers to the Olympics venue at Soldier Hollow, southwest of Heber City. In addition to NN 93, Heber Valley operated its own UP 618 and Great Western 75. (Trainorders.com, January 22-23, 2002)
Nevada Northern 93 was trucked to Utah as part of operations to support the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in February 2002. Six thousand people rode the trains during the 17-day Olympic event. NN 93 and the two cars also borrowed, were returned to Nevada in mid march 2002. (Deseret News, March 21, 2002)
Thomas The Tank Engine made his initial appearance at Heber City.
July 7, 2003
The former Geneva Steel 0-6-0 number 300 was removed from Geneva Retirement Association Park in Provo and loaded on a pair of low-boy trailers for movement to Heber Valley Railroad in Heber City. The locomotive was built in 1925 for Columbia Steel Corp., and was assigned to the company's Ironton iron plant. It was donated to the GRA park in 1956, where it had been a play fixture for children visiting the park. Heber Valley Railroad's Ken McConnell projected that it would cost $250,000 to return the 300 back to regular service, including replacing the missing bell and whistle, and rebuilding the locomotive's boiler. McConnell told of how 77,000 people had ridden the Heber Valley train the previous season. (Deseret News, July 8, 2003)
Geneva Retirement Association Park was sold in January 2003 and the locomotive was donated to the Heber Valley Historic Railroad at the same time. It was missing one of its main drive rods, which was to be fabricated as part of the locomotive's restoration. (emails posted to Utah Railroading discussion group on January 29, 2003)
Heber Valley Railroad (HVRX) received three additional passenger cars, numbered as HVRX 3593, 3568, and 3571. On December 14, 2005, the cars were seen en route at Denver, Colorado. (Trainorders.com, December 14, 2005)
September 13, 2007
Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co. NW2 locomotive was moved by very large, heavy-haul truck from PSCIP's plant in Provo, to its new home in Heber. The following is from the press release:
Heber Valley Historic Railroad will be transporting a 251,000 lb. diesel-electric locomotive from the Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company in Provo to the railroad's siding at Charleston. The transportation will be coordinated by Intermountain Rigging and Heavy Haul, and will involve a suspended trailer with 112 tires and a number of heavy-duty tractors equipped with 144 gears.
The projected routing (subject to change) includes Interstate 15 from Springville to Provo, University Avenue and Highway 189 through Provo Canyon (including the new bridge at Deer Creek Dam). The journey will begin at approximately 9:00 a.m. and will require 3 to 5 hours for completion.
The locomotive, Number 1043, is a 1000-horsepower NW2 switcher, built in July 1946 by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corporation for the Union Pacific.
Built as UP 1043 in July 1946, retired by UP in March 1985, sold to Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co., Provo, Utah, on March 10, 1985, used there until donated to Heber Valley Historic Railroad in (?), moved from Provo to Heber (Charleston) on September 13, 2007.
Former U. S. Army RS4TC 4028 was donated by the U. S. Army after having been stored at the Tooele Army Depot Rail Shop at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, since at least 1980.
Late December 2008
U. S. Army 4028 was repainted to a D&RGW "Flying Rio Grande" inspired paint scheme.
Locomotives and Equipment
Heber Valley Railroad -- The current operating company.
"Rio Grande Western's Provo Canyon Branch" by Steven Seguine and Richard Cowan, in The Prospector from Rio Grande Modeling & Historical Society, Volume 3, Number 4.
Heber Valley Historic Railroad article at Wikipedia.
The Long and Short of the Heber Creeper -- D. Robert Carter's article from The Daily Herald, December 24, 2006
Christopher Muller's photos of the special photo freight last winter.
Art Chase's photos of UP 618.
UP 618 photos as OSL 1068 by Chris Hawkins.