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D&RGW Provo Canyon Branch

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This page was last updated on June 8, 2022.

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Provo Canyon Branch Summary

Overview

James Belmont wrote this summary in April 2001:

From Provo, Utah, 28 miles to Heber City called the "Provo Canyon Branch," was primarily agrarian in nature. D&RGW shipped out hundreds of stock cars of sheep in the 1940s and 50's. At Heber City were an oil/gasoline bulk plant, a grain feed lot, a coal and lumber yard, and several team tracks around the wye that served local customers. In the 50's and 60's, outbound carloads of Gilsonite from northeastern Colorado, pulpwood in gondolas for onion skin paper, and the National Christmas tree on an 85 foot trailer flat in 1968. The line was abandoned in 1968, but a portion survives today as a tourist line.

Timeline

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)

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 Park City eastward 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)

(The corporate structure was used by RGW in 1899 to build the Provo Canyon Branch.)

(Read more about the Utah Eastern Railway, incorporated in 1897, including its original intended route eastward from Park City to the Duchesene River, then to the Colorado line.)

1899
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)

September 22, 1899
"Track Reaches Heber" on the Provo Canyon Branch, and Supplement No. 1 to Timetable No.39 will be issued this week; the last rail was laid last evening, and Circular No. 70, signed by Gen. Supt. Welby, gives notice that the Branch will be officially opened October 1, 1899. The stations and mileposts, given in the paper, are as shown below. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, September 22, 1899)

1941
D&RGW relocated a 10-mile portion of the Heber City Branch, between Vivian Park and Charleston due to the construction of Deer Creek Reservoir. (LeMassena, p. 155)

In December 1943, D&RGW sold the alignment along Provo River to the U. S. government to allow construction of Deer Creek dam and reservoir. The sale was dated December 23, 1943, and started at engineering station 782+55 (about MP 14.8). A new valuation drawing was completed, dated July 2, 1945.

December 20, 1957
D&RGW agreed to make improvements to its Provo Canyon Branch, which ran north and south along the alignment of Provo's Second West street. Provo planned on, within a year, extending Second West from its current end at 800 North, along the D&RGW tracks to 1200 North, to connect the new street with the existing street from 1200 North to 1600 North. The D&RGW board of directors approved a change to take place during 1958, extending from First North to Fifth North, by relocating 1100 feet of track, and dropping the grade of 1350 feet of track. At the same time, the railroad would replace 2170 feet of track with heavier rail. The extra material gained by lowering the track would be used to raise the grade of the recently covered parallel millrace to bring it up to the same level as the lowered track, making it possible to pave the entire width of Second West, as either one-lane on each side of the tracks, or as two lanes on one side or the other side of the tracks. (Provo Daily Herald, December 20, 1957)

June 22, 1958
The D&RGW tracks along Second West were lowered "earlier this summer" and Provo City was preparing to pave the street "from curb to curb" along with installing sewers and water mains. An eight-foot strip was to remain in the center for the railroad tracks. (Provo Daily Herald, June 22, 1958)

Summer 1966
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)

November 1968
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)

1970
D&RGW sold the 19.3 mile eastern portion of the Provo Canyon Branch, from Olmstead to Heber, to the Wasatch Mountain Railway. (LeMassena, p. 202)

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.

June 8, 1971
At Midnight, D&RGW disconnected the tracks to the Provo Canyon Branch, and the route to Heber. The tracks were located along Second West, connecting with the D&RGW Provo yard at Sixth South. On May 4, 1971, D&RGW and Provo City had requested from the federal Interstate Commerce Commission that the service be discontinued. The ICC approved the request, with June 8th being the effective date. The trains were only operating between Provo and Olmstead, with a team track located at 12th North. The last train operated on Monday June 7th. (Provo Daily Herald, June 8, 1971, courtesy of Parker Wilson via Facebook)

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.

(Read more about the Provo Canyon Branch after it became a tourist railroad)

Maps

D&RGW Provo Canyon Branch -- A Google Map of D&RGW's branch from Provo to Heber City, by way of Provo Canyon, built in 1897 and abandoned in 1968; northern portion became Heber Creeper tourist railroad in 1971, and today is the Heber Valley Railroad.

(View Parker Wilson's map of the Provo Canyon Branch)

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