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Little Cottonwood Transportation Company (1910-1924)
Alta Scenic Railway (1925)

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This page was last updated on August 5, 2016.

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The Little Cottonwood Transportation Company, and the later Alta Scenic Railway, operated a variety of vehicles capable of carrying a significant number of passengers, built out of automobile or truck frames, motors and such, i.e., track autos, rail buses, or whatever you want to call them. These vehicles seem to be all that is used on the line after the end of the last known steam operations in 1921, until all operations ended, apparently in 1924 or 1925. The date of change from Little Cottonwood Transportation to Alta Scenic Railway appears to be shortly after the end of steam operations, or about 1921-1922. (George Pitchard)

The gauge was 3-foot narrow gauge.


October 24, 1910
An earlier company called Alta & Jordan Valley Railroad was incorporated on October 24, 1910 to build 16 miles of railway between Sandy and Alta. No further activity is known to have taken place. (Utah Corporation Index 8633)

September 15, 1915
"Railroad To Alta", article about proposed railroad to Alta. Walter K. Yorston, general contractor, issued a prospectus for "Cottonwood Transportation Company". To build a 24-inch gauge railroad between Wasatch and Alta for the purpose of hauling ore. The company had secured a lease and a bond to the right of way of the former horse tramway. The average grade to Alta was 7-1/2 percent. Estimated cost of the new line was $55,00.00. (Salt Lake Mining Review, September 15, 1915)

September 24, 1915
A company was organized on September 24, 1915 to build from Wasatch to Alta. Called the Alta-Cottonwood Transportation Company, the company's stated purpose was to construct a railroad from Wasatch, Utah, on the Salt Lake & Alta Railroad in Little Cottonwood Canyon, to a station called Alta Junction, a distance of about nine miles. This company was organized by Walter Yorston, who would later be the construction engineer for the Little Cottonwood company organized less than a year later. (Utah Corporation Index 11388)

September 30, 1915
News item about the "Alta-Cottonwood Railroad" being incorporated. (Salt Lake Mining Review, September 30, 1915, page 25)

Construction appears to have begun in 1915, but the majority was done in 1916 and 1917.

October 30, 1915
News item about Alta-Cottonwood Transportation stockholders making an inspection of the proposed route. (Salt Lake Mining Review, October 30, 1915, page 18, "In The Alta-Cottonwoods")

May 30, 1916
News item about Walter K. Yorston having a force of twenty men working on the grade for the new railroad between Alta and Wasatch in Little Cottonwood Canyon, with "steel to be laid within 10 days." (Salt Lake Mining Review, May 30, 1916, page 39, "Dips, Spurs and Angles")

July 15, 1916
News item about Walter K. Yorston stating that twenty-seven men were working on the grade of the proposed railroad into the Alta camp. Shipping contracts have been signed with many of the mining companies. (Salt Lake Mining Review, July 15, 1916, page 23, "In The Alta-Cottonwoods")

August 8, 1916
Little Cottonwood Transportation Company was incorporated in Maine on August 8, 1916; and in Utah on November 3, 1916. (Utah Corporation Index 12256)

September 27, 1916
"All the steel rails and ties will reach Wasatch at an early date for the Alta Cottonwood R.R. and engine and ore cars have already been ordered." (Roosevelt Standard, September 27, 1916, "Utah Weekly Industrial Review")

September 27, 1916
Little Cottonwood Transportation is heavily involved in the construction of its yards at Wasatch, as well as building an engine house at that location. Rail is being delivered every day for the construction of the line to Alta. The Shay locomotive was delivered to the Rio Grande yards in Salt Lake City "yesterday" and would be taken immediately to Wasatch. Walter Yorston stated that he expected the line to be completed to Alta by the time of the first snow fall. (Salt Lake Telegram, September 27, 1916)

WASATCH IS A LIVELY PLACE WITH ROAD CONSTRUCTION -- There is a business air about Wasatch in the Little Cottonwood canyon, the terminus of the wide gauge branch road to Alta and the point where deliveries are to be made from the Alta mines by the narrow gauge line, that brings the mine operators to a halt when they reach that station in their pilgrimages to the producers in the high mountains. The yards are filled with rails for the line that is being built to the mines, and a roundhouse is in course of construction. The canyon rings with the sound of more steel that is being delivered and there is a larger force of men seen there than ever before in the history of the old diggings.

Yesterday the Shay engine reached the local yards of the Rio Grande and this will be taken immediately to Wasatch. The ties, which have been long delayed, because the company could not obtain care for handling, are expected within a few days; then the actual construction of the road will be inaugurated. The first four miles to Tanner's Flat will be completed in short order, and a number of the producers will take advantage of this situation to have the wagon haul modified in order that some of the worst part of the haul may be eliminated by delivering ore to the new railroad station at the Flat.

Constructing Engineer Walter K. Yorston is of the opinion that he can have the entire line completed and ready for ore handling before the camp is shut in by the first snowfall. There will be some snowshed construction work to follow, though the old retaining stone walls in the path of the heaviest slides are still in place, and this will lessen the shed construction costs materially. With the Shay engine operating snow plows it is believed that a large part of the road can be cleared of the first snows, and the management believes that the winter obstacles will eventually be overcome with less difficulty than has been anticipated.

The time is growing shorter when Alta mines will have to wrestle with the transportation. It is certain that more ore will be hauled this winter than ever before and that all the obstacles will eventually be surmounted. The Pearson Engineering corporation has raised the money for this line and will be in charge of operations when the line is completed. (Salt Lake Telegram, September 27, 1916)

September 30, 1916
Shay locomotives for the Little Cottonwood Transportation "are said to be en route." The grading was reported to be done. (Salt Lake Mining Review, September 30, 1916)

October 30, 1916
Construction of the first mile completed. The Shay is on hand and as soon as the track is properly ballasted, the Shay will be used to complete construction. To be completed to Tanners Flat "within a few weeks". At Tanners Flat, a large tonnage of ore will be delivered via the aerial tramway of Michigan-Utah Mining Company. (Salt Lake Mining Review, October 30, 1916, page 31)

PROGRESS OF ALTA RAILROAD -- Walter K. Yorston, engineer in charge of the construction of the new railroad to the Alta district of Utah, reported last week that the first mile of construction work was completed, and that sufficient headway in securing materials has been made to guarantee the completion of the line before winter sets in. A heavy rail is being laid, and as soon as ballasting is completed a Shay engine will be used for delivering materials to the end of the line. This will mean better headway, and it is practically assured that the road will be finished and operating as far as Tanner's Flat within a few weeks. Here a big tonnage of ore will be secured, which is delivered to that point by the Michigan-Utah aerial tramway. (Salt Lake Mining Review, October 30, 1916, page 31)

November 3, 1916
Little Cottonwood Transportation Company was incorporated in Utah. (Read the corporate information for Little Cottonwood Transportation Co.)

November 15, 1916
A motor car was being used in the construction of the Little Cottonwood Transportation Company. (Salt Lake Mining Review, November 15, 1916, page 24)

MOTOR ON ALTA RAILROAD -- Construction work on the new narrow-gauge railroad to the Alta district of Utah has been greatly facilitated by the recent acquisition of a small motor mounted on wheels, which is now delivering material in record time. It is now possible to deliver ties and rails to the end of the line as needed, and unless the present storms interfere too much with construction work it should be finished to Tanner's Flat by the middle of the month. This will relieve the present ore congestion at Alta, as freight from there can be delivered at Tanners by the Michigan-Utah aerial tram. The motor negotiates the grade without difficulty, and Walter K. Yorston, under whose supervision the line is being constructed, states that when the Shay engine is put to work after reaching Tanners, there is no doubt that it will handle the outgoing and incoming freight with all the speed required by the mine operators.

D&RG leased its line between Wasatch and Alta to Little Cottonwood Transportation Company. By this time, the still narrow gauge (three-feet) line had been long unused and was mostly disintegrated. Little Cottonwood Transportation agreed to reconstruct the line. (LeMassena, p. 131)

January 1917
It was completed to a point one mile from Tanner Flat during early January 1917. (Salt Lake Mining Review, January 15, 1917, page 14)

April 21, 1917
The line was put into operation between Wasatch and Tanners on April 21, 1917. The line was being operated with a five ton gasoline engine, with the Shays to be used upon their arrival at Alta. The road connected with Salt Lake & Alta at Wasatch. Construction began in the spring of 1916. The line used 10.8 percent grades. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 19, Number 2, April 30, 1917, page 42)

May 16, 1917
Little Cottonwood Transportation beginning to haul ore from Tanners on May 16, 1917, from the aerial tramway of the Michigan-Utah mine. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 19, number 4, May 30, 1917, page 43)

June 1917
Built by Pearson Engineering Company to get the mined ore to the smelters. (Salt Lake Mining Review, June 30, 1917, page 41) (Ward E. Pearson was also the line's president, and Walter Yorston was Pearson's engineer.)

After a winter season shut down, Little Cottonwood Transportation Company restarted its operations in mid May 1918. (Salt Lake Mining Review, May 30, 1918, page 38)

The railroad was building a 300 foot spur from Alta to the ore loading bins of the Columbus-Rexall mine. Shay locomotives (note plural) were being used on the line. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 20, Number 10, August 30, 1918, page 48)

Operations shut down for winter during December 1918. Repairs on the engines and cars was to be done during the winter months. (Salt Lake Mining Review, Volume 20, Number 18, December 30, 1918, page 23)

During 1919 the line operated an eight mile railway between Wasatch and Alta, with an average grade of 7 percent and the greatest grade being 11 percent. Its principle shippers were: South Hecla Mining Company; Columbus Rexall Consolidated Mines Company; Sells Mining Company; Michigan Utah Consolidated Mines Company; and Alta Consolidated Mining Company. During 1919 a total of 7,298 tons were shipped in 1919: South Hecla shipped 6,537 tons; Columbus Rexall shipped 583 tons; Sells Mining shipped 133 tons; Louise Mining Company shipped 28 tons; and Wasatch Mines Company shipped 17 tons. (Utah PSC Case 213)

Winter season shut down on December 12, 1919. (Utah PSC Case 240)

September 1920
The company settled with federal government for the deficit incurred during the period of federal control during WW I.

September 18, 1920
Little Cottonwood Transportation Co. was approved to receive $39,073.23 from U. S. government as settlement for the period of time that the railroad was under the control of USRA, from April 1, 1918 to February 29, 1920. ICC Finance Docket 166. (65 ICC 189) (Research done on August 22, 1988)

Began operations for the 1921 season on June 20. Stations on the line were shown as: Wasatch; Tanners; Drain Tunnel; Sells Mine; and Alta. (Utah PSC Case 463)

July 1922
The Wasatch Mines at Alta was shipping four or five cars of ore weekly to the loading station at Wasatch. (Engineering and Mining Journal-Press, Volume 114, Number 2, July 8, 1922, page 77)

The Michigan-Utah mine at Alta was shipping 28 tons per day. (Salt Lake Mining Review, December 15, 1923, Utah Digital Newspaper Project)

Operations taken over by Alta Scenic Railway in about 1925, which was organized in 1925.

(Corporate information for Alta Scenic Ry.)

Little Cottonwood Transportation Company ceased its lease and operation of the Wasatch to Alta portion of the Wasatch Branch. Portion of line later operated by private parties. (LeMassena, p. 145)

(Read more about the decline of the mining traffic from the Alta mines)

During the years of its operation, the Little Cottonwood Transportation company moved 2000 tourists each season over its railroad between Wasatch and Alta, which it operated with gasoline trucks on steel wheels on narrow gauge tracks. (Salt Lake Telegram, December 28, 1935)


No documents or online newspaper items have yet been fond concerning the abandonment of of the narrow-gauge portion between Wasatch and Alta.

(Read more about the abandonment of the standard gauge portion, the former Salt Lake & Alta)

The former narrow gauge right-of-way (9.6 miles) was sold to Salt Lake County in 1935, and was used for a new highway that was completed in November 1936.


October 18, 1933
George H. Watson was complaining to Salt Lake County about the condition of the road in Little Cottonwood canyon. He was unable to haul ore from his Alta mine due to the poor condition of the road, and was urging the county to obtain a federal loan from the state to pay to have the road upgraded and improved. Watson was a member of a special committee established study county roads. (Salt Lake Telegram, October 18, 1933)

June 25, 1935
Salt Lake County had prepared a draft study for a new road in Little Cottonwood canyon to be built on the abandoned roadbed of the Denver & Rio Grande line to Alta. A letter had been sent to the local D&RGW superintendent asking for his assistance in the matter. (Salt Lake Telegram, June 25, 1935)

November 1, 1935
"Board Buys Road Route -- Clearing the way for construction of a modern highway in Little Cottonwood canyon, county commissioners Friday purchased from the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad 11 miles of right-of-way." "The federal government, it was reported by County Surveyor George M. Haley, has already approved a grant of $158,535 for the work. Salt lake county's share of the construction cost will be $20,638." "The 200-foot right-of-way, extending from a point near the settlement of Granite to the mining town of Alta, near the canyon head, will form the basis for the new highway. The road will be 24 feet wide." (Salt Lake Telegram, November 1, 1935, "Friday" was November 1st)

August 4, 1936
"Old D.&R.G. Strip Purchase Approved -- Purchase of the old Denver & Rio Grande railroad right-of-way in Little Cottonwood canyon for $1000 had been affirmed Tuesday by county commissioners." "The strip of land is 9.37 miles long and is the basis for a new roadway through the canyon which is nearing completion under supervision of the county road department as a Works Progress Administration project." (Salt Lake Telegram, August 4, 1946, "Tuesday" was August 4th; Murray Eagle, August 6, 1936)

October 8, 1936
The upper and lower portions of the new Little Cottonwood canyon road were complete, with the middle portion of "several miles" still yet to be graded and graveled. The appropriated funds were being requested to allow the road to be completed before the winter season. (Salt Lake Telegram, October 8, 1936) (The final funding was released on November 11, 1936.)


Little Cottonwood Locomotives -- A roster listing of Little Cottonwood's four Shay locomotives.

More Information

Railroads of Little Cottonwood Canyon -- Information about the railroads that served the quarries, smelters, and mines of Little Cottonwood Canyon.


Trains Magazine, January 1952

The following comes from four letters to the editor in the January 1952 issue of Trains magazine, in response to an astronomical bit of fluff written by Lucius Beebe.

H. S. Johnston, Quincy, California, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

I was greatly amazed by the article entitled "Narrow Gauge Through Little Cottonwood Canyon" in November 1951 Trains & Travel. I spent many happy hours hiking up and down this line during the 1930's when the rail was still in place, and I have spent much time delving into the history of this railroad. Mr. Beebe was certainly sadly misinformed.

The railroad was built as part of the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad, which was completed to Granite (Wasatch) in 1873, to Fairfield (Tanners) in 1874, and to Alta in 1876. The total line, as completed, extended from Camp Floyd (now Bingham) to Alta. However, the portion from Wasatch to Alta operated irregularly after the late 1880's. In 1891 the line from Midvale on the Rio Grande Western to Wasatch was made standard gauge. This work was done by the Rio Grande Western, which had absorbed the line in 1889. The distance from Midvale to Wasatch was nine miles plus a spur to the granite quarry.

The road from Midvale to Alta is shown as the Alta branch of the RGW in Poor's Manual of Railroads for 1889 and in the Official Guide for 1897. It is also shown in Poor's for 1912 as a branch of the D&RGW, but it was not operated. Poor's for 1916 lists it as owned by the D&RGW but leased by the Salt Lake & Alta Railway from Midvale to Wasatch.

The line from Wasatch to Alta was completely rebuilt in 1913 under the name Little Cottonwood Transportation Company. At this time the narrow-gauge trackage totaled 20 miles. Moody's Manual of 1924 shows that the road had three locomotives and 46 cars. Engine No. 1 was either a 2-6-0 or a 2-8-0. Engine No. 2, which is shown in the accompanying picture, was a Shay, purchased from a two-foot-gauge line in New Mexico. She was rebuilt to three-foot gauge at Salt Lake City. This engine lay in the brush between Wasatch and Tanners up until 1938. The builder's plate was gone at that time. Engine No. 3 was also a Shay, and No. 4 was a gasoline-powered Plymouth industrial engine or some such rig, purchased about 1924. This engine was totally destroyed when it ran away and jumped the track near Tanners.

My first contact with this little line was in 1932. Starting from the small yard at Wasatch, the tracks held close to the bottom of the canyon on an easy grade. The canyon is so narrow at this point that tracks and road occupied the same grade. A mile or two from Wasatch the road left the railway. Shortly beyond this point there was an incline tram to the granite quarry. This tram, cable operated, joined a spur of the railway. From this point the railway started its real climb. Steep grade and sharp curves took the line high on the hillside to the first timber trestle (about 70 or 80 feet long and 30 feet high). The grade leveled off a bit at this point, and a mile farther on it was again at the bottom of the canyon. Near here lay engine No. 2. She was upright but quite some distance from the track. Cab, stack, headlight and sand dome were torn off and lying near-by. The trucks were between the engine and the track. The boiler was jacked up on timbers as though an attempt had been made to rerail her. What happened? The curve here is mighty sharp. . . .

Service on the line was irregular, depending on the operations at the mines. Several of the residents had homemade gasoline scooters during the 1930's which they used on the tracks up until the time the bridge was washed out. None of the old-time residents with whom I talked ever mentioned mule power.

The rails were finally removed in 1939 or 1940 when the Rio Grande built a ski resort at Alta Basin.

Lyle C. Johnson, Salt Lake City, Utah, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

...Near a sharp curve north of Taggart's Flat [sic: Tanner's Flat] I found the remains of an old Shay.... It was certainly a steam engine.

Alta, Utah, is an old mining town located at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. For many years it was almost deserted.

For a long time the only way to Alta was up a very steep, rocky, rugged road in the bottom of the canyon. In later years Alta has become one of the famous winter sports areas, topped by the recently built Peruvian Lodge. Along with improvement of facilities at Alta, a new road was built which greatly improved the accessibility of the town. When the new road was built from Salt Lake City to Alta this old railroad grade was utilized almost all the way from the bottom of the canyon to Alta. Today it is a good paved road.

David Lloyd Stearns, Seattle, Washington, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

...Construction of the Wasatch & Jordan Valley was commenced in 1870 and by 1872 operation was begun from Sandy to Wasatch. Steam locomotives were used on this section, and there must have been considerable traffic over it, since the stone for the Mormon Temple at Salt Lake City was quarried there and carried out over the W&JV. Wasatch was always the end of steam operation.

The extension to Alta was first operated in 1876. This portion of the line, according to the 1880 issue of Crofutt's Guide, was run by mule-driven cars "about the size of ordinary handcars, fitted up with seats that will comfortably accommodate about nine persons besides the knight of the whip." Local wags used to say that the motive power of the W&JV consisted of "narrow-gauge locomotives and broad-gauge mules."

F. D. Fellow, Farmington, Utah, letter to the editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

... The first move of the RGW in building to a juncture with the existing D&RGW line from Denver to Gunnison was to purchase the Bingham Canon & Camp Floyd narrow-gauge on September 1, 1881, and the W&JV on December 31. 1881. This constituted a line of 34.5 miles. The RGW let contracts immediately to connect with a narrow-gauge coal road built in 1875 from Springville, Utah, over Soldier Summit to mines in the top of the mountains. RGW history states that contracts covered the line from Salt Lake, indicating that the BC&CF and the W&JV connected with a standard-gauge predecessor of Union Pacific's Provo line.

The Bucket of Blood saloon had 110 killings behind its hospitable doors. The population of Alta in 1872 was 5000. One hundred forty lives were lost in landslides and snowslides.