San Pete Valley Railway
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This page was last updated on March 24, 2015.
(Note: Two spellings are used here: San Pete and Sanpete. San Pete is the name of the railroad and the valley. Sanpete is the name of the county and the general region. see below)
(This narrative does not cover the D&RGW Marysvale Branch, from Thistle, south to Marysvale, which was completed in stages between 1890 and 1900. The two lines paralleled each other between Ephraim and Manti, a distance of seven miles.)
The San Pete Valley Railway was a narrow-gauge railroad organized in 1874, but not put into operation until May 1882. The delays were mostly due to limited funds. It was built as three-foot narrow gauge, but was converted to standard gauge in 1896. The railroad was owned by a group of English investors, who also owned the nearby coal mines and stone quarries. In 1907, the road's owners sold their interests the Rio Grande Western Railway, and in 1908, San Pete Valley Railway was included in the consolidation of companies in Utah and Colorado that, along with RGW, created the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The line became D&RG's San Pete Valley Branch, and remained in operation until the portion in Salt Creek Canyon, between Nephi and Moroni, was abandoned and removed in 1947-1948. The portion in and near Moroni remained in place as part of D&RGW's Marysvale Branch, until the Marysvale Branch was abandoned due to the Thistle Flood in 1983.
The San Pete Valley Railway was organized in June 1874 by the owners of the San Pete Coal and Coke Company. The railroad was chartered specifically to furnish low cost transportation for the company's coal by building a rail line from the settlement of Manti to Nephi, where the railroad was to connect with the trains of the Utah Southern Railroad. The story of how the San Pete Valley Railway was built, who built it, and why begins with the discovery of coal in San Pete Valley.
During the pioneer era, from 1847 to 1869, most of the coal mining in Utah had been done on an individual basis for local use, with some coal being freighted in small quantities to Salt Lake City by wagon. Until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, wood was the only readily available fuel. Coal was only available on a very limited basis. According to the 1883 and 1884 report on the nation's mineral resources, the United States Geological Survey stated that the earliest coal development in Utah was at the Acme Coal Company at Coalville in 1864. About a hundred men were employed working a twelve foot vein, with most of the coal being consumed chiefly at the Park City silver mines. (USGS: 1883-84 Mineral Report, p.89) After the coming of the Union Pacific to Utah in 1869 coal from Wyoming was shipped into the territory, but the cost was still high, in part because Union Pacific controlled both the mines and the means of transportation.
The coal mine at Wales in the San Pete Valley in central Utah was the first commercial venture involving coal mining in Utah. The location of coal at what was called Coalbed, and later Wales, was first discovered in 1854 by John Rees and John Price. Rees and others developed the coal mine to furnish coal that was used mostly within the local surrounding areas. Some of the coal was purchased at the mine for $4.00 per ton and hauled by wagon to Salt Lake City where it was sold for $30.00 to $35.00 per ton. The coal from Wales soon gained a reputation as being good for the making of coke, which is coal after it has been "distilled" with heat in the absence of air, producing a high quality source of fuel. In the west, coke was used mostly for blacksmithing. In fact, Wales' coal was previously known as the best blacksmithing coal in Utah.
During the 1860's the demand for coke grew rapidly along with the mining industry throughout the western states and territories. In Utah's growing mining industry, which didn't begin serious development until 1869 with the coming of the railroad, the major use of coke was in the smelting process. The Superintendent of the Germania Works smelter in Salt Lake City stated in December 1874 that the "coking properties of San Pete coal is equal to the St. Louis product", which had previously been used there. During 1873, Utah imported over 7,000 tons of coke for use in its new smelting industry. This new coke product came from the San Pete coal field, located four miles from the town of Moroni, which had coal seams of from three to five feet thick. (Engineering and Mining Journal, December 5, 1874, p.353) Prior to the availability of coke from the Winter Quarter's Mine in 1878, the Wales mine was the best source for coking coal in the region and many attempts were made to develop the resource.
The smelter industry in Utah began with the earliest silver smelters of the early 1860s, and the new industry needed coal and coke as fuel for their steam boilers, the source for their mechanical power. Smelting of gold, silver, lead and copper requires coke, a fuel made by burning the combustibles and impurities out of the coal and leaving a very high carbon-content fuel that makes for the very hot fires needed by the industry's smelting fires. There was great pressure to locate a source of coal that could be made into coke. During 1875, coke was being imported to Utah's, and Nevada's, silver smelters from Pennsylvania. The 2,000-mile transportation of the much needed commodity forced the price per ton of coke up to a dizzying figure of $35 to $40. (Engineering and Mining Journal, September 18, 1875, p.288)
Because of this coal resource waiting to be developed, the region of the San Pete Valley was one of the destinations for the five railroads organized in September 1872 as part of an anti-Mormon land grab, designed in part to wrest control of Utah's economy from Brigham Young and the Mormons. The particular railroad that was proposed for the Sanpete region was the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad. The organizers were able to gain the support of Congressman Negley of Pennsylvania, a supporter of strong anti-Mormon legislation, and one of the members of Congress who encouraged then-President Ulysses S. Grant to launch a crusade against the Mormons. Negley introduced legislation in December 1872 to allow a right-of-way and a land grant to the Little Cottonwood Railroad, one of the five railroads organized in September. Utah's non-voting Territorial delegate William H. Hooper was able to gain enough support in Congress to defeat the measure and kill the proposed law before it reached the House floor for consideration. The entire scheme came to light in February 1873 and the various pieces of legislation allowing each of the proposed railroads huge, unusual land grants were all defeated in congressional committee. The potential fraud, encompassing five companies and over five hundred miles of railroad lines, all in Utah Territory, would have surely had the desired effect of non-Mormon control of the local economies.
During late 1872 and early 1873, in response to the sudden interest in Utah railroading by "outsiders", the Mormon church organized several railroads with similar routes and destinations as the five "land fraud" railroads. These new railroads were likely proposed more to occupy the territory, for political reasons, than for either the benefit of the community (as was the case for the other Mormon Roads) or the actual potential railroad traffic.
These railroads included the Juab, San Pete and Sevier Railroad Company which was organized on October 3, 1872, with Brigham Young as the principle shareholder. The newly chartered company was to build a narrow gauge railroad from Nephi, through Salt Creek Canyon into San Pete Valley. It would then proceed south to Marysvale for a total distance of about 120 miles, with a twelve mile branch to the coal beds near Fairview, a six mile branch to the coal beds near Wales, and a seven mile branch to Bullion, further south in Piute County. With the three branches the projected length of the railroad totaled about 140 miles.
President Young's plan was to begin grading the road and have it ready for rails by the time the Utah Southern Railroad had pushed its way south to Nephi, which was expected to be in 1873. His son, Joseph A. Young, joined him in the enterprise along with another son, LeGrand Young. Also in the enterprise was James Jack, Hiram B. Clawson, W. W. Riter, George A. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, George Q. Cannon, all of Salt Lake City, along with prominent church leaders in Sanpete county, Orson Hyde of Spring City, and George Peacock and A. J. Moffat, both of Manti.
A second Mormon railroad for Sanpete, the Southeastern Railroad Company of Utah, was chartered on December 3, 1872. This road was to be built from a connection with Utah Southern at or near Springville, proceed up Spanish Fork Canyon, cross into San Pete Valley and follow the San Pitch River to the Sevier Valley, ending at on a point on the Sevier River about 100 miles from Springville. Prominent Mormons from Salt Lake City, Provo, Springville, and Payson organized this enterprise. They included William Jennings, Horace S. Eldredge, William H. Hooper, James T. Little, all of Salt Lake City, along with Hiram B. Clawson, also of Salt Lake City, who had also been involved in the earlier Juab, San Pete, and Sevier Railroad. Also involved, among others, was A. O. Smoot from Provo and William Bringhurst from Springville. After the "Negley Land Grab" came to light, the interest in the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad faded, as did the interest in the two Mormon railroads proposed to counteract the venture.
The first commercial venture involving coal mining in Utah was at this same Sanpete County mine. Previously most of the mining had been done from small accessible-by-wagon outcroppings and local mines on an individual basis for local use. Larger quantities were freighted to Salt Lake City by wagon for sale. The coal from the Wales mine was known for its main use in making coke, used mostly in blacksmithing.
In 1872 the rights to the coal mine at Wales were purchased by John T. Lynnch and C. C. Perkins, who were also officials of the Land Office in the federal territorial government in Salt Lake City. However, they were unable to develop the property by themselves and the venture failed. Two years later, in 1874, Lynnch and Perkins, along with others in Salt Lake City, and G. W. Clark and James A. Williamson of Des Moines, Iowa, reorganized the property as the San Pete Coal and Coke Company. The mine's new owners asked if the Utah Southern planned to continue its road south. They received assurances that the Utah Southern would be completed at least as far as Nephi by 1875. In response to this information the coal company also organized the San Pete Valley Railway Company on June 29, 1874 to transport their coal from the Wales mine to the Utah Southern Railroad at Nephi.
Work began immediately on expanding the operations of the coal mine, along with beginning the grading of the railroad's line between the new mine and the projected Utah Southern terminal at Nephi, by way of Salt Creek canyon. The coal from the Wales mine was quite "dirty", with thin layers of dirt and shale contained in the coal seams, and required the construction of a crushing and washing works at the mine to remove foreign material in the coal that would prevent it from becoming quality coke. The expansion work at the mine also included the needed beehive coking ovens to produce coke. Construction on the railroad grade was begun in early February 1875, but was halted later in the same year after it became known that the Utah Southern would not be extending its line south from its terminus of York. York was at the low ridge that separated Utah County from Juab County, and was only sixteen miles north of Nephi. The Utah Southern had been completed to that point on February 16, 1875 and the terminus remained there for another four years. Work had stopped at York because that was where the supply of rails had run out and finances were not available for the Utah Southern to purchase sufficient rails to allow completion of the line into Nephi. The southern terminal of the Utah Southern remained at York until January 1879 when Union Pacific interests assumed control of the road and organized the Utah Southern Railroad Extension to build south to the Horn Silver Mine at Frisco.
The low cost transportation of the mine's products over the San Pete Valley Railway included the assumed completion of the Utah Southern Railroad at Nephi, providing the San Pete company with the rail connection to the outside world. Utah Southern reached the southern end of Utah County in 1875, but was delayed until 1879 from completing its line further south, finally reaching Nephi in May 1879. The costs of the San Pete Coal and Coke Company running the Wales mine soon exceeded the revenues that the company was able to obtain by freighting the coal to local markets and the hundred mile distance to Salt Lake City.
The failure of the Utah Southern to reach Nephi in 1875 brought about the bankruptcy of the San Pete Coal and Coke Company, along with the San Pete Valley Railway that it had sponsored. The bankruptcy for both companies ended when they were purchased by C. W. Bennett, a successful Salt Lake City lawyer. Bennett hired Simon Bamberger, who forty years later would be elected as the Governor of the State of Utah, to manage the operations of both the railroad and the coal mine. Bamberger let the railroad lie dormant but was able keep the coal mine as a successful operation. A supply of clay was discovered on the mining company's property and Bamberger added the manufacture of fire brick to the company's thriving wagon-hauled coal and coke business. (Reeder, pp.356-358)
In 1878, with the renewed prospects of the completion of the Utah Southern to Nephi, the original San Pete Coal and Coke Company, which owned and controlled the San Pete Valley Railway, was reorganized as the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company, Ltd., a British corporation organized and promoted in London. Charles Bennett had many contacts in London, from being an attorney for some of the silver mines in Utah that were owned by London citizens, and had journeyed to Britain in search of capital to expand the operations of the old San Pete Coal and Coke Company. The President of the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company was Sir Henry Tyler, a prominent railroad and business man in London who was also President of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada.
The Utah Southern was finally completed to Nephi on May 9, 1879. The following November construction was resumed on the San Pete Valley Railway. Work on the line was shut down for the winter and began again the following spring of 1880, with the grading work being completed to Nephi in July 1880. (Salt Lake Herald, November 4, 1879; July 2, 1880)
The grading and roadbed preparation for the San Pete Valley Railway was completed by May 1881 and the first rails were laid in August. That same August company officials stated that the difficulty in procuring locomotives in the east was the chief obstacle to the completion of the line, which they expected by October 15, 1881. At the same time they said that the company was having twenty narrow gauge freight cars made in the Utah Central shops in Salt Lake City. The line was completed and the rails laid to the Wales mine in April 1882, just in time for the Latter Day Saints in San Pete Valley to use their new railroad as the first leg of their journey to the church's General Conference in Salt Lake City. The San Pete Valley Railway received its first locomotive, No. 1, a Baldwin 2-6-0, in December 1881. The second locomotive, the No. 2, also a Baldwin 2-6-0, purchased second-hand from a road in Illinois, came in January 1882. It is also interesting to note that because of the British connection, the rails that were laid had come from the other Wales, in England, by ship to San Francisco and then by railroad flatcar to Utah. At the time they may have been some of the last iron rails in the west, all the others having been replaced by steel rails.
Almost immediately it became apparent that the coal production from the Wales mine would not be able to support the demand produced by the low cost transportation provided by the railroad. By 1884, the coal in the Wales mine played out and the mine was closed. During the years that it was in production, beginning in 1878, the mine produced only about 4,000 tons per year. With the prospects of the coal traffic for the little San Pete Valley railroad coming to an end, Bamberger soon began making plans to build another railroad line to serve the agricultural region south of the Wales mine and to the surrounding towns of Moroni, Ephraim, and Manti.
In June 1882 the California Short Line Railway was organized to construct a rail line from Springville to Salina, by way of Nephi, Salt Creek Canyon, and Manti. The company was organized by several Salt Lake City business men, including Simon Bamberger, Jacob Bamberger, and William McCornick. Halbert S. Kerr, later Construction Engineer, Agent and Superintendent of the San Pete Valley, was hired by Bamberger as Construction Engineer of the California Short Line to survey and locate the extension south to Moroni and Manti. Kerr had previously been employed by the Denver and Rio Grande Western in the location and construction of its line across eastern Utah and into Salt Lake City. Due to its limited financing, in the three years after its organization, by 1885, the new California Short Line was only able to construct about three miles of line, between a connection with the San Pete Valley Railway at Draper Junction (now called Freedom) and Moroni. With its new timetable dated December 8, 1884, the San Pete began operating passenger trains between Nephi and Moroni. The train left Moroni at 9 am and arrived at Nephi at 11 am. The return trip left Nephi at 12:09 pm and arrived back at Moroni at 2:00 pm. No service was offered on Sunday. (The Home Sentinel, May 15, 1885)
With the failure of the California Short Line, Bamberger set about extending the San Pete Valley. The methods used by Bamberger to extend the road are unclear. While the California Short Line is not mentioned, Kerr later wrote that Bamberger instructed him to pull up the track to the Wales mine and relay it as far along the route of the extension as possible. Kerr wrote that the extension of the line began in 1884. In 1885, the San Pete began accumulating rails for the extension. By May the company had sufficient rails to build four to five miles of line towards Ephraim. ( The Home Sentinel, May 8, 1885) The San Pete Valley's rails between Draper Junction and the Wales mine were being taken up during June and used for the extension of the road beyond Moroni. (The Home Sentinel, June 15, 1885) By mid June 1885 the San Pete Valley's line had been extended one and a half miles south of the California Short Line's terminal at Moroni and was completed to Chester in August 1885. A new timetable was issued, being in effect by August 17, 1885, adding thirty-five minutes to the schedule to allow for the extra distance between Moroni and Chester. Potential shippers were also cautioned that only car load lots would be accepted for Chester, pending completion of the station house. (The Home Sentinel, August 21, 1885) In September 1885 Bamberger said that the road was "scarcely paying expenses", and that it would be extended to Manti if the people in the county would grade the route. At this time the trains of the San Pete Valley Railway would have been operating over their own tracks from Nephi to Draper Junction, then over the California Short Line between Draper Junction and Moroni, and again over their own tracks from Moroni to Chester. Bamberger must have set up an agreement between the two roads permitting such an operation, possibly the San Pete Valley was leasing the other road for operation, a common practice on some lines even today.
The railroad's, and the parent coal company's, Board of Directors in London became dissatisfied with Bamberger's methods of operations and replaced him as Manager of the coal mine and Superintendent of the San Pete Valley Railway in April 1888, two and a half years after the line had been extended to Chester. The English owners named Theodore Bruback as the new Manager of the coal mine and H. S. Kerr, formerly the Construction Engineer, was named as the Superintendent of the railroad. Bruback had formerly been the road's secretary. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, April 4, 1888)
In September 1888 Bamberger began a $70,000 litigation suit against the owners of the San Pete Valley Railway. This litigation may have been over unpaid lease fees that the San Pete Valley might have owed Bamberger's California Short Line for the operation of the line. After being named as the new Manager, Bruback had set about on a reorganization of the San Pete Valley but was delayed by the litigation with Bamberger. The legal problems were settled and the California Short Line was purchased by the San Pete Valley Railway in August 1889.
By the time that the litigation was settled the road was in receivership and Bruback, while on a trip to London, learned that Charles Morrison was one of the principle bondholders. Bruback was successful in persuading Morrison to undertake a reorganization and buy out the others that were interested in both the coal company and the railroad. After the reorganization was completed Morrison became the sole owner of the San Pete Valley Railway, with the exception of a small minority being owned by Bruback, who remained as the President of the road.
There was still the need for railroad service further south in the San Pete Valley. To secure financial backing for the extension of the San Pete Valley Railway from Chester to Manti, on January 24, 1889 Bruback and Kerr organized the Utah and Arizona Railway. The stated purpose of the new railroad was to complete seventeen miles of railroad between Manti and the San Pete Valley Railway at Chester. This road came to nothing because Bruback was able to reorganize the San Pete Valley line with the help of Charles Morrison in Great Britain. In Kerr's later brief history of the railroad he stated that the intention of the Utah and Arizona Railway was to extend the line to a connection with the Santa Fe in Arizona. H. S. Kerr left the San Pete Valley Railway in 1904, after twenty years of service. Six years later, in 1910 while on a business trip to London, he learned that Charles Morrison was then over ninety years of age and was one of the wealthiest men in Great Britain. Coincidentally, Morrison died while Kerr was still in London and Kerr regretted that Morrison could not have been persuaded to give the constantly struggling San Pete Valley Railway the support that it had needed to become a first class transportation system.
Union Pacific Interest in San Pete Valley Railway
During the early 1890's Union Pacific became interested in the San Pete Valley Railway, mostly to block the efforts of rival roads in their efforts to expand to California, and to block Rio Grande Western's expansion into the region. The Rio Grande Western line south from Thistle was completed to Ephraim in December 1890; to Manti in May 1891; and to Salina in July 1891. Union Pacific's interest was based on their efforts to protect their interests in and around Salt Lake City, and to block the expansion of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe by connecting with the Rio Grande Western, through western Colorado and central Utah toward California.
San Pete Valley Ry. was completed between Nephi (and a connection with Utah Southern) and the coal mines at Wales, via Salt Creek canyon, having started construction the previous November. (Salt Lake Herald, November 4, 1879; July 2, 1880)
Union Pacific bought the San Pete Valley Railway to give it a line that could be built into California. (Klein, pp. 594, 595)
Union Pacific "took over the San Pete Valley Railroad" in April 1890. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 1, 1891; 1890 Year In Review)
April 8, 1890
Union Pacific obtained an option to purchase the San Pete Valley Railway for $5,000.00. The money was also to be used towards Bruback's asking price of $225,000.00. The option took effect on July 14. (Salt Lake Evening Times, July 15, 1890)
April 14, 1890
"Sanpete Valley Sale -- The purchase of Sanpete Valley Railway by Union Pacific is understood to mean an early extension of the railroad to Manti, and possible further. The price paid is stated to be $120,000." (Deseret News, April 14, 1890)
April 18, 1890
"S.P.V.R.R. SOLD -- The Union Pacific Co. being the Purchasers -- It will be Extended" -- "...the bargain was completed last week, when the first installment was paid over,..." "The price is stated to be $120,000.00." (The Home Sentinel, Manti, April 18, 1890)
May 30, 1890
H. S. Kerr tells paper that the Union Pacific will take possession of San Pete Valley on June 1, 1890. (The Home Sentinel, Manti, May 30, 1890)
June 20, 1890
The San Pete Valley to go into UP hands. (The Home Sentinel, Manti, June 20, 1890)
July 14, 1890
Union Pacific took possession of San Pete Valley Railway. (Salt Lake Evening Times, July 15, 1890, "ownership transferred yesterday")
A year later, on July 16, 1891, an agreement was signed by both Sidney Dillion, president of the Union Pacific, and Bruback, for the San Pete Valley, stating that Bruback would turn over to the UP all stock in the San Pete Valley as soon as he was able to make his company free from all debt. Apparently Bruback was never able to gain full control of the San Pete Valley and the deal fell through.
By March 1898 when Union Pacific was itself coming out of bankruptcy, and as the accountants finished going over all of the company's financial records, they came across the $5,000.00 that had been paid to Bruback. They made comment about the money in their report saying, "Amount paid April 8, 1890 for option and toward the purchase of the San Pete Valley Railway property, which option seems not to have been exercised."
Rio Grande Western In San Pete Valley
The Rio Grande Western completed their line into San Pete Valley by building south from Thistle to Ephraim in December 1890, and to Manti the following May. The Rio Grande Western line between Thistle and Manti was built as three-foot narrow gauge. During July 1891 the entire line between Thistle and Manti was converted to standard gauge. The Rio Grande Western had converted its mainline between Colorado and Ogden the previous November, matching the Denver and Rio Grande's standard gauge route to Denver.
The Rio Grande Western saw a need to extend its line further south into the Sanpete region. The railroad had exhausted its financial resources to convert from narrow gauge to standard gauge, so in May 1891 the Sevier Railway was organized by Rio Grande interests to extend the Rio Grande Western line south from Manti to Parowan, with a branch east up Salina Canyon from Salina, over the divide and across the San Rafael region to a connection with Rio Grande Western's line at Green River. Construction was to be completed using standard gauge. By June 1891 the line had been completed as far as Salina, with service starting on July 1, 1891. Also during July 1891 Rio Grande Western's narrow gauge route from Thistle to Manti was converted to standard gauge, making the route south from Thistle to Salina fully standard gauged. In 1896 the Sevier Railway was completed to Sevier and in 1900 it reached what would become the southern terminal at Marysvale.
San Pete Valley Railway, After 1893
The San Pete Valley Railway shut down its line each year for the winter season, in about December of every year. Each April the road would be reopened for service.
In early April 1893 the San Pete Valley started an expansion program, after "opening up" the road on April 1; shut down for the winter since December 1892. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, April 12, 1893)
In June and August 1893 Union Pacific sent narrow-gauge locomotives down to the SPV at Nephi. Both had been in storage at Salt Lake City. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, June 23, 1893, "yesterday" and Salt Lake Daily Tribune, August 13, 1893, "yesterday")
September 5, 1893
The expansion was a success, with the tracks being completed to Ephraim on September 5th. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, September 6, 1893)
September 9, 1893
The local press reported that officers of the two roads, Clinton and Kerr of the San Pete Valley and Eccles of the UP, were "huddled" in Manti. (The Home Sentinel, September 9, 1893) Presumably over the San Pete Valley's expansion into Rio Grande Western's territory of Manti.
November 29, 1893
Construction continued after reaching Ephraim and on November 29th the road was completed to Manti. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, December 2, 1893)
(About a half-mile north of Manti, the San Pete Valley narrow gauge line crossed the Rio Grande Western standard gauge line. The two lines were close, but not parallel, between Ephriam and Manti.)
In January 1894 the expansion of the San Pete Valley continued when the road issued $75,000 in bonds (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 9, 1894) and bought a new (narrow gauge) locomotive, which was received at Nephi on January 18th. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 19, 1894)
Also in January 1894, the little road was feeling the pinch of being left out in the cold, financially. With the bankruptcy and receivership of the Union Pacific in October 1893, the UP lost its interest in the little narrow gauge line, having never exercised the purchase option from 1890. The local press reported in mid January 1894 that the Union Pacific and the Rio Grande Western "are in league with each other to freeze out the SPV".
After completion of the extension to Manti in 1893, and after having not being able to sell the road to the UP, Bruback and Kerr still were looking to extend the line further in search of more business. In May 1894 the San Pete Valley reorganized with new owners, with Thomas Bruback still General Manager and Superintendent, and amended its articles of incorporation to show Salt Lake City as its northern terminus and a point on the Utah-Nevada line in Washington County as its southern terminus, with a three mile branchline from Sterling, Utah, up Six Mile Creek Canyon to the coal lands of the Sterling Coal and Coke Company.
The settlement that grew up at the coal mine in Six Mile Canyon was named Morrison, for Charles Morrison, the majority shareholder in both the railroad and the coal mining company, who was living in Great Britain. The construction of the branch to Morrison was the only extension that the San Pete Valley would be able to complete. Construction was begun in August 1894.
San Pete Valley completed their line to the Sterling coal mines at Morrison on November 2, 1894. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, November 3, 1894, "yesterday")
The first official train was operated into Morrison on November 7, 1894. The plan of building the line from Salt Lake City south to the Arizona border never came to anything.
On July 9, 1896 the San Pete Valley completed its conversion to standard-gauge. Work was begun on July 7. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 10, 1896, "yesterday") The extension of the line to Ephraim, Manti, and Morrison had been constructed using standard-gauge length ties. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 1, 1895) The road had received their two new standard-gauge locomotives on July 1. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 2, 1896, "yesterday") This left only the RGW's Utah Central, between Salt Lake City and Park City, and the former Utah & Nevada line of the OSL&UN, between Salt Lake City and Tooele, as the only narrow-gauge roads in the state. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 1, 1897)
In 1896, Bruback and Kerr had been able to convince the English owners that they should improve the competitiveness of the railroad by converting it from three feet narrow gauge to four feet eight and a half inches standard gauge, which was completed in two days, between July 7th and 9th of that year. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 10, 1896, "yesterday") Planning apparently began as early as mid February 1896, since in its summary of 1896, the January 1, 1897 Salt Lake Tribune showed February 17, 1896 as the day that "The San Pete Valley road commences to broaden its gauge." (Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1897, "1896 Chronology")
The extension of the line to Ephraim, Manti, and Morrison had been constructed using standard gauge length ties, with the intention of converting the line to standard gauge as soon as possible. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 1, 1895)
As part of the gauge conversion, the road ordered two new standard gauge locomotives, receiving them on July 1, 1896. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 2, 1896, "yesterday") With the completion of changing the San Pete Valley Railway from narrow gauge to standard gauge in July 1896, this left the Utah Central, between Salt Lake City and Park City, controlled by the Rio Grade Western, and the Oregon Short Line and Utah Northern's former Utah and Nevada line, between Salt Lake City and Tooele, as the only remaining narrow gauge roads in the state. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 1, 1897)
In 1899 the San Pete Valley road built a spur connecting with the northern portion of its line in Salt Creek Canyon, east of Nephi. The spur was completed to the Mount Nebo stone quarry in Salt Creek Canyon. The cash for the construction of the Mount Nebo Spur most likely came from the sale of the some of the railroad's old narrow gauge equipment to the Sumpter Valley Railway. The sale of equipment to Oregon included the two narrow gauge locomotives and the remaining narrow gauge cars, none of which had seen service since the conversion of gauges in 1896.
The completion of the Rio Grande controlled Sevier Railway as far south as Marysvale in 1900 took away most of what little traffic there was for the San Pete Valley. By this time the little San Pete Valley had done just about all that it could, and its fortunes were pretty much sealed.
Newspaper accounts from 1906 announced that Senator W. A. Clark, majority owner of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad had purchased the San Pete Valley Railroad in October 1906. He also had valuable coal holdings in the area. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, October 11, 1906, p.6, "Clark After Emery Road") Later the same newspaper carried the story that the Salt Lake Garfield and Western, whose line ran due west from Salt Lake City, to the Saltair resort on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, had taken an option on the San Pete Valley to allow the Garfield to enter the coal fields beyond Sterling. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, November 1, 1906, p.1, "May Penetrate Emery County")
In June 1907 the San Pete Valley was sold to a syndicate of eastern and Utah capitalists. The purchase included the San Pete Valley railroad, Sterling Coal and Coke Company, and Mt. Nebo Stone Company, with the purchase price being $1 million. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, June 6, 1907, p. 1, "Buys Out Railroad")
In October 1907 the San Pete Valley was sold to the RGW, along with Sterling Coal and Coke, and Mt. Nebo quarries. (Coal Index: Eastern Utah Advocate, October 3, 1907, p.1, "Western Takes San Pete Valley")
As already mentioned, with the completion of the Rio Grande's line south to Marysvale in 1900, the San Pate Valley Railway began a losing battle with its much bigger neighbor. The road's owner, Charles Morrison in London, was in his eighties and in ill health. In 1907 when an offer to buy the road came from Rio Grande, Morrison took it.
D&RGW San Pete Valley Branch
After the San Pete Valley Railway, Nephi to Ephraim, became part of Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in July 1908, the former San Pete Valley Railway became D&RG's San Pete Valley Branch, which D&RGW abandoned in December 1947.
The portion at the western end, 1.9 miles in length, from Nephi to the plaster mill of U. S. Gypsum Company, was sold to Union Pacific's LA&SL subsidiary. UP operated the line as its Nephi Plaster Mill Spur until October 1953, when it was retired and removed. The spur ran down the middle of Nephi's main east-west thoroughfare, First North Street, which was also designated as Utah Highway 132. The state highway department wanted the tracks removed to allow improvements along the state highway.
Failed Attempts To Renovate Line
Following the abandonment of operations of the Marysvale Branch by Rio Grande in April 1983, the branch stood empty. The 20 shippers on the line were forced to use trucks, at a higher cost of transportation. In late 1985, several investors put together a plan for the State of Utah to purchase the line, then lease it to their organization for operation. They would build a new connection between the old Marysvale line and the Union Pacific at Nephi. The projected cost of the plan to establish a new railroad in the area was put at $30 to $33 million, but the group felt that the potential revenue would pay for the start up costs. (CTC Board, November 1985, p,11)
When approached by the State of Utah concerning a purchase price for its Marysvale Branch, D&RGW quoted a price that the state felt was too high. The matter was referred to an administrative judge for arbitration. The judge decided on a fair price of $621,660 for the entire branch. When the plan was presented to the ICC for approval, the ICC raised the price to $1,383,000. One of the organizations interested in operating the line under lease from the state was the Sanpete Sevier Railroad. (Pacific Rail News, Issue 267, February 1986, p.6, from a clipping from the Richfield Reaper, via Ken Ardinger)
San Pete Valley Railway Timeline -- A timeline of events, 1874-1908, on San Pete Valley Railway, drawn mostly from newspaper accounts.
San Pete Valley Railway Locomotives -- A roster listing of San Pete Valley Railway locomotives.
To be researched...
- Operation by Rio Grande
- Livestock Operations (cattle and sheep)
- Turkey and turkey feed industries
- The gypsum mines and plasterboard plants at Nephi and Sigurd
- D&RGW Nioche Branch up Salina Canyon in about 1922
- Purchase of Nephi portion by UP
- Sufco coal at Salina
- Abandonment by Rio Grande after Thistle flood
San Pete or Sanpete?
The two word version, San Pete, generally comes from older sources such as Post Office Guides, gazetteers and U. S. Geologic Survey books and maps. Newspapers of the pre-World War I era use the two-word version in their title. Most sources from the 1920s to modern times use the one word version. The articles of incorporation for the railroad specifically show the two-word version, and sources from the 1800s, too numerous to list, also use the two-word version.
It should be noted that the Deseret News newspaper, and the later Deseret Evening News, used the two-word version from the 1850s to about 1863, then the one-word version as early as 1865, and throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Whenever the newspaper referred to the railroad, it was always the two-word version.
San Pete Valley Railroads -- A Google Map of San Pete Valley Railroads; San Pete Valley Railway (in red); shown with D&RGW Marysvale Branch (in blue).
Reeder Manuscript -- Information about San Pete Valley Railway in Clarence Reeder's PhD dissertation.
Golden Spike on SPV -- Comments by Garrie Tufford, concerning the non-event driving of the golden spike for SPVRy.
San Pete Valley entry from George W. Hilton's American Narrow Gauge Railroads (Stanford University Press, 1990)
D&RGW Utah Branchlines, San Pete Valley Branch -- Station names and mile posts along the D&RGW San Pete Valley Branch