'Creeper' Now A Mere Memory

This page was last updated on April 28, 2019.

(Return to Rio Grande In Utah Index page)

The Richfield Reaper newspaper, January 21, 1987

By Hal Edwards, Reaper Editor

It was affectionately known as "The Sevier Valley Creeper."

Unless you lived in Sanpete County. There it was the "Sanpete Creeper."

The "It" was the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad which linked the outside world to Sanpete and Sevier counties when the Marysvale Branch line was completed into Gunnison and Salina in 1890, later into Richfield in 1896.

The passenger train operated daily to Richfield, making a round trip back to Salt Lake City via Sanpete County and joined the Rio Grande's main east-west line from Salt Lake City to Denver in Thistle.

But in 1949, after two years of substantial revenue loss, the passenger train was discontinued, bringing an end to an era which was one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of southern Utah.

D&RGW announced that the last passenger train would make its run to Marysvale and back on Aug. 28, 1949. A railroad spokesman said losses amounting to $48,808 in 1948 and estimated losses of $71,428 in 1949 were reasons for the closure.

However, freight trains continued to operate into the area regularly until April, 1983, when giant mudslide near the town of rhistle, covered the tracks.

For three years, Sanpete and Sevier County leaders, along with help from the State of Utah battled the railroad to get the rails cleared and rebuilt so ervice could be restored.

The tracks are still under mud and apparently the last train has teen seen in southern Utah over the Marysvale Branch.

The finality of the railroad's existence came last fall when Rio Grande, after winning permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the line, sold the Marysvale Branch properties to A and K Railroad Salvage for $1.1 million.

That firm is now in the process of removing all evidence of anything that was at one time a railroad, tearing up tracks and railroad ties, all of which will go on the block for sale to other railroads.

But for nearly 90 years, the small, but important branch line which provided this area's only railroad service, was a major part of southern Utah's economic development.

The railroad actually brought service into Gunnison before 1890, bringing service to Sanpete County communities of Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim, Manti and Gunnison.

Tracks were laid on into Salina where the southern terminal was located for some six years.

But on June 1, 1896, the same year Utah became a state, the first train rolled into Richfield, the locomotive decorated with flags.

Aboard the train were officials of the railroad and prominent church and business leaders from Salt Lake City.

A huge crowd of southern Utah citizens were on hand to greet this novelty, which was later to become the most important link to the outside world.

The story is told of the engineer, James M. Bolitho, who later became a prominent citizen of Sevier County, who, when pulling into the depot, shouted to the crowd, "Git out of the way, I'm going to turn her around."

While most didn't realize that was impossible, they scurried out of the way, expecting to see some kind of miracle.

The same story is told of Mr. Bolitho when he took the first train into Marysvale Sept. 9, 1900. A historical account of that situation stated a panic occurred in which two women were knocked down by the crowd, another fainted and a wagon driver who had contracted to haul mail to the south, got so excited he drove his shiny new rig into a ditch and broke a wheel.

On hand for the Marysvale celebration were residents and visitors from Piute and Kane counties as well as those from state offices and other cities and counties.

A mail contract kept the passenger train running into the area until 1949 when the Postal Service inagurated a "Hypo" system, two specially built commercial buses which were designed the same as a railroad mail car.

Postal workers would sort the mail as the buses went from Richfield to Salt Lake City, picking up and delivering mail at each post office.

Because passenger service on the train had dwindled with the increase of the use of buses and especially the private automobile, it was mostly the mail contract which kept the passenger train operating in the south after World War II.

However, there were generally two passenger cars, along with the baggage and mail car, pulled by a small steam engine with a coal tender.

The Marysvale Branch passenger train never had a diesel locomotive pull it.

The demise of passenger service in 1949 wasn't the first attempt Rio Grande made to end that service. On Jan. 2, 1930, the company discontinued passenger service and mail was brought to the area from Manti by large buses owned by the company. However city, county and civic officials banded together and after much pressure on railroad officials, the passenger and mail service trains were back in service five months later on June 1, 1930.

The celebration of revival of the passenger train was met by nearly as big a celebration as when the first one arrived 34 years earlier.

As the first train in the restored service came hissing and chugging into Richfield, its three passenger coaches were filled with shouting, singing "Boosters for 89". Residents of Gunnison, Salina, Richfield and Elsinore all provided large delegations who boarded the train at their respective communities and all went to Marysvale for a rousing welcome from a group of people who had assembled from that end of the state.

A program was held at the theatre, following a march, complete with bands, from the railroad station. A large dinner was given at which Richfield Mayor Frank G. Martins acted as master of ceremonies.

A. J. Cronin, assistant traffic manager for D&RGW was also on the train, and was treated with near royalty-status.

An interesting speech was made by Mr. Cronin, who said that the company would be laying rails south of Marysvale "right now" if it were not for the financial depression which the country went into the previous October.

Cronin said that he believed that "it is only a matter of a short time until this track will be extended down to Panguitch and eventually on the Pacific Coast as originally planned."

For the nearly 90 years D&RGW operated the Marysvale Branch, everything from gypsum board, coal, livestock, grain, machinery and nearly every other kind of freight was carried.

During World War II, when private vehicle traffic was restricted because of gasoline rationing, the Marysvale Branch railroad passenger train again enjoyed a brief spurt of renewed passenger usage.

But after the war, when the automobile really took over, passenger service died, and the mail contract soon afterward.

Freight trains, however, pulled with modern diesel-electric locomotives, continued to operate into the area. During the uranium boom in the 1950s, trains hauled the precious ore from a loading station in Marysvale.

When coal production began to dramatically increase in the Salina area, huge trains were sent for several years, carrying coal to the west coast via Union Pacific, some for use in electric generating plants and other for shipment overseas, mainly to Japan.

Many felt that shipping coal by rail was just getting off the ground when the Thistle slide in 1983 ended all rail service to the area.

Efforts to get Rio Grande to clear the tracks, make repairs and start rail service again got nowhere. And at the end of that year, the company began proceedings to get ICC approval to abandond the line.

The last freight train had pulled out of Marysvale in 1963 and the following year the old station was removed from the railyards to a spot near the center of town.

During the gold mining heyday in Kimberly and other Piute County areas, the train had served as the major method of taking ore to refineries. But when the uranimum boom was over in the mid 1950's freight usage came to a virtual standstill in Piute County and without freight, and the already abandoning of passenger service, that portion of the line was virtually abandoned, too.

A & K crews will soon have the last vestiges of what was one of the most important developments of southern Utah, out of sight. The colorful, stormy and sometimes fragile thread of railroad service which kept southern Utahns in touch with the world in its early years, and continued to provide a vital freight service in later years is already fading into history.

Someday, perhaps the only reminder of what was once this area's most important transportation mode will be remembered in Haywire Mack's legendary song, "The Big Rock Candy Mountain", a song of the Rio Grande Railroad in southern Utah.

[Photo Caption] The photograph was taken about 1904 on The Divide, the highest point between Nephi and Fountain Green on a spur of the Marysvale Branch. This was the work train which was used to change-over the narrow guage to standard track width. G.H. Bradley, conductor, worked on the railroad for 47 years. The train ran six days a week from Manti to Nephi and return, and pulled freight cars and one passenger car. Train such as this were common on the Marysvale Branch for many years.

[Photo caption] Work crews from A&K Railroad Salvage began the task of removing tracks from the Rio Grande Railroad right-of-way on the Marysvale Branch in November after railroad sold the line for scrap.

[Photo Caption] Before the Thistle mudslide hit the Marysvale Branch track in 1983, modern diesel-electric locomotives such as this one, were used to pull freight cars into the area. However only steam locomotives were used during the half-century of railroad passenger service on the branch line.