Rio Grande in Utah, Sunnyside Branch

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This page was last updated on March 6, 2013.

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Mounds (MP 0.00) (yard)

Banning (MP 5.9) (85 car side track) (crossing of U. S. 6)

Columbia Junction (MP 13.2) (two 120 car side tracks)

Connection with Carbon County Railway

Wye track

Sunnyside (MP 17.5, end) (yard)

Two wye tracks

The following comes from Jim Harrawood's defunct UtahRails web site:

Sunnyside, mile post 17.5 on the Sunnyside Sub, is located in the eastern part of the Book Cliff mountains at the mouth of Whitmore Canyon, twenty-eight miles southeast of Price. The elevation is 9,716 feet.

The first settlers in Sunnyside were three brothers - John, Jeff, and William Tidwell, cattlemen from Wellington, who discovered coal in this vicinity about the year 1896. A short time later Robert Forrester came as a representative of the Utah Fuel Company, and purchased, for the sum of $250.00. Mr. Forrester took a sample of the coal to Castle Gate, where coke ovens were in operation and found it proved highly satisfactory for coking purposes. In 1898 work in Sunnyside Mine No. 1, began which brought more settlers from Castle Valley and Wellington. Among them were Samuel Naylor and Samuel Dugmore. Mr. Mr. Naylor had charge of the laying of the railroad from Mounds to Sunnyside, which was completed November 19, 1899.

The early settlers lived in tents until the company had houses built. The first dwellings were one and one-half stories high, made of lumber and compo-board. Later four room houses were built, and the last houses erected by the company were of rock construction.

The first settlers encountered many thrilling experiences with bears and lions, but their greatest problem seemed to be the water situation. Whitmore Creek, or Grassy Trail Creek, runs through Sunnyside, but owing to a disagreement it was necessary for the Utah Fuel Company to install a pump and pipeline to secure water for culinary purposes from Range Creek, a distance of approximately seven miles. This pump was installed in 1906 after the water right had been purchased from Preston Nutter. At that time a steam boiler was used to supply power for the pumps. The electric power line was later extended over to Range Creek and in 1920 the two large electric pumps were installed.

Sunnyside received its name from Verdi, Utah. In 1898 Verdi was called Sunnyside, but when this new camp opened up they transferred the name of Sunnyside to the new place and renamed old Sunnyside, Verdi.

For several years Sunnyside remained related very closely to Castle Gate. When Sunnyside mine was first opened, all coal was sent to Castle Gate coke ovens to be coked, until the year 1902 - 03 when 480 coke ovens were built at Sunnyside. The first shipment of coke from the Sunnyside ovens was made on April 1, 1902. In the year 1912 an additional 170 coke ovens were built; two years later saw the addition of 74 more ovens and in 1917, 80 more were completed. In 1905 all coke ovens at Castle Gate were abandoned and coke was made exclusively at Sunnyside until 1929.

During the first years of operation the demand for the high grade Sunnyside coke was so great that shortly after the opening of the first mine a second mine was opened. During the peak of business the two mines were producing from 5,000 to 5,550 tons per day. During February, 1924, the demand for coke decreased, due to products other than coke being used of smelting purposes. As a result No. 2 mine was finally abandoned.

Sunnyside was incorporated in 1916.


RGW completed a 17 mile branch from Mounds, on the mainline east of Price, to Sunnyside. The new line was owned by the newly organized RGW subsidiary, Carbon County Railway. (LeMassena, p. 107)

November 20, 1899
Carbon County Railway (first) incorporated by RGW interests to operate a railway from Mounds on the RGW to the Sunnyside coal mines, and from Scofield on the RGW to the Pleasant Valley coal mines. (Utah corporation index 2749)

December 15, 1900
Rio Grande Western operated its largest coal train to date, thirty-six cars with 1,000 tons of coal was shipped east from the Sunnyside No. 3 mine. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 17, 1900)

June 5, 1931
D&RGW received Utah Public Utilities Commission approval to close agency station at Sunnyside. Carbon County Railway had no equipment, all train service was provided under contract by D&RGW. (Utah Public Service Commission case 1213)

November 1942
D&RGW constructed a spur for the construction companies that are building housing at Sunnyside for the workers at Columbia Steel and the Defense Plant Corporation's Horse Canyon coal mine. (Utah Public Service Commission case 2626)

January 5, 1956
The following comes from a D&RGW Authority for Expenditure, AFE No. 4160, approved on January 5, 1956 (courtesy of Jerry Day):

Columbia Junction, Utah -- Construct one additional 120 car siding, extend present siding 2,099 feet, and replace hand throw with spring switch at west end of Yard.

Purpose and Necessity -- Additional trackage at Columbia Junction is required to adequately serve in the most economical manner the coal production from the Sunnyside Mine of the Kaiser Company in conjunction with coal production received from Carbon County RR at Columbia Junction; and to achieve better utilization and availability of diesel-electric motive power in this operation. Present trackage at Columbia Junction consists of two 85-car tracks; one on each side of the main track and wye. Present method of operation serving Sunnyside Branch, with trackage now available, requires two Helper-Sunnyside Turns, six days per week. In addition there is an assigned switch engine at Sunnyside that works six days per week. Sunnyside Turns, on eastward trips, handle an average of 45 empties for Carbon County RR and 55 empties for Sunnyside each trip. Carbon County RR empties are set out at Columbia Junction and train proceeds to Sunnyside with balance of empties. On return movement this train handles an average of 55 loads out of Sunnyside and picks up an average of 45 loads at Columbia Junction. In making up train at Sunnyside it is necessary to double two tracks together on 3.50% grade. Arriving at Columbia Junction, this tonnage is trained ahead of Carbon County RR delivery by backing tonnage to coupling with cars to be picked up on a 1.74% grade. Helper-Sunnyside Turns average 12 hours, 5 minutes on duty. Assigned Sunnyside switcher averages 13 hours, 20 minutes per day or 5 hours, 20 minutes overtime per day. Prior to 1943 coal production on Sunnyside Branch averaged about 27 cars per day thru Columbia Junction. In 1944 Defense Plant Corp. began operations in this district. DPC was followed by Geneva Steel on the Carbon County RR and Kaiser at Sunnyside. In 1944 it was anticipated that the district would reach a production of 200 cars of coal per day as the steel mills at Geneva and Fontana reached peak production. This goal was attained in 1950 and has been maintained since. Changed working schedules and introduction of heavy coking operations at Sunnyside in 1953 has since reduced the daily car output but tonnage production remains the same. The present daily average, six days per week, moving thru Columbia Junction is 192 loads. This includes 92 cars of coal and 13 cars of coke per work day from Sunnyside. The coke consists of part overrun and part classified from the new coke-processing installation at Sunnyside. Under our present system, with available plant, the two Helper-Sunnyside Turns, six days per week, operate all the way into Sunnyside. The assigned Sunnyside Switcher operates only in the Sunnyside yard. With proposed new trackage at Columbia Junction will operate Sunnyside Branch Turns from Helper to Columbia Junction only. Sunnyside Switcher will shuttle loads from Sunnyside to Columbia Junction and empties from Columbia Junction to Sunnyside. Method of operation with new trackage would be for Helper-Columbia Junction Turns to put Carbon Country RR empties away on one assigned empty track at Columbia Junction and Sunnyside empties on another. Carbon County RR to deliver their loads on one assigned load track and Sunnyside Switcher to put Sunnyside loads on another; to facilitate this switch engine putting away at Columbia Junction, a cross over is proposed. On movement Columbia Junction to Helper, Turn will only have to shove loads thru crossover from one load track to the other at Columbia Junction to make tonnage or car limit, rating for train. With the proposed additional trackage at Columbia Junction, a net savings of $20,000 can be made as follows:

At present Helper-Sunnyside Turns average 12 hours per day six days per week, or deducting Sundays and 14-day Miner's Holiday, 299 days per year. With proposed change in method of operating two trains per day, 299 days per year, Helper-Columbia Junction, and return averaging 9 hours per day, would save 6 hours per day $5.60 per hour, or $93.60 per day. Average time Columbia Junction Turns is now 8 hours, but it is anticipated that if Columbia Junction turns become the regular method of operations there will be an increase of 1 hour per trip for eating and other movements incidental to changed pattern of operating.

Present Sunnyside switch engine works an average of 13 hours, 20 minutes per day, 313 days per year. Under proposed method of operations would require two switch engines working 8 hours, 30 minutes each or an increase of 1 hour per day, 313 days per year, at $15.60 per day increase.

At present deadheading averages $750 per month on this district with two assigned road crews and one Sunnyside switch engine working. When increase this to two Sunnyside switch engines we anticipate an increase of about $250 per month in deadheading due to increased numbers of vacations, sick leaves, layoffs, and seniority moves.

Since there are no eating facilities at Columbia Junction, we will probably have to run Helper-Columbia Junction Turns to Dragerton, which is one mile east of Columbia Junction. There is a restaurant at his point which is now open 16 hours each day. In order to obtain 24-hour service may be necessary to grant a $50 per month subsidy to operator.

At present we have a 4-unit diesel electric locomotive in the Sunnyside Branch service 24 hours per day. By operating trains between Helper and Columbia Junction only we can gain six hours per day more utilization from this power.

In 1968 D&RGW and UP began operation of a unit coal train between Sunnyside, Utah, and the Kaiser steel mill in Fontana, California. The train used dedicated full trains of high-sided gondola cars that were loaded at Sunnyside and unloaded at Fontana. The trains also used dedicated sets of SD45 locomotives from both Union Pacific (12 locomotives) and D&RGW (six locomotives).

May 24, 1976
D&RGW leased approximately 15 acres on its Sunnyside Branch to Soldier Creek Coal Co. on May 24, 1976. The site was used for the cola company's Banning coal loadout completed in 1979 and idled in 1999 when the Soldier Creek mine was closed.

(Read more about the Banning coal loadout)

The last train operated between Columbia Junction and the Kaiser loadout at Sunnyside in 1991. (email from James Belmont, May 27, 2003)

In November 2006, Union Pacific stopped operating the former D&RGW SD40T-2 number 5371, which had been informally assigned to what railfans came to know as the "Dirt Train," which operated between Helper and the land fill operation at East Carbon City. This was a local train (LDP45) that moved cars loaded with contaminated earth and other materials to the approved hazardous materials land fill operated by East Carbon Development Corporation. The LDP45 train usually operated two or three times per week, depending on the number of cars bound for the land fill.

As of 2010, the track east of the road crossing at Dragerton is out of service and condemned. (email from Duane Cook, dated May 22, 2010)

As of 2011, there is still a regular operation of the "Dirt Train," about two or three times each week.

More Information

Utah Coal, Sunnyside Mines -- Information about the Sunnyside coal mines.

Kaiser Coal Trains -- Information about the Kaiser unit coal trans that operated between Sunnyside and Southern California.