Street Railroads

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This page was last updated on August 25, 2015.

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(Updated from text originally published in 2005 as part of the book, Ogden Rails)

Ogden Rails, A History of Railroading At The Crossroads Of The West
(Union Pacific Historical Society, 2005)

In addition to its extensive system of electric interurban railroads, at one time Utah also had an extensive system of electric street railways, popularly known as "trolleys." Streetcar lines were built in Ogden, Brigham City, Logan, Salt Lake City, and, for six short years, in Provo. Six streetcar routes operated in Ogden, with a total length of about 24 miles. Between 1900 and 1914, streetcars were operated by the Ogden Rapid Transit Co. and streetcars in Logan was operated by the Logan Rapid Transit Co. These two companies combined in 1914 to form the Ogden, Logan & Idaho Railway, which became the Utah Idaho Central Railroad in 1918, as will be noted later. Ogden, Logan & Idaho (and the later UIC) continued to operate streetcar service in both cities until the cities began paving their streets. At that time, many of the lines were removed because the railroad couldn't pay its share of the paving costs. In Logan there were three lines, totaling just over eight miles, and by 1926, the Logan streetcars were replaced by buses.

Street railroads started in Ogden in 1883 with the formation of the Ogden City Railway on August 23 of that year. Its purpose was to build a mule-powered rail line in Fourth and Fifth streets (today's 24th and 25th streets) from Wall Street east to the city limits. Another line was to intersect the first two at Main Street (later Washington Avenue, then Washington Boulevard) Street and extend from the south limits to the north limits of the city, which were then at the Ogden River - for a total of five miles of street railway. (Ogden City Railway incorporation records, State of Utah, index 176 and 4332)

By late 1888, this company had completed only two miles of track and owned only a few cars and mules. In late 1888 it was purchased by investors, led by Will R. Swan, who also owned the Swan Land & Livestock Co. The new owners within a year expanded the system to 10 miles, operating it with steam-powered "motors" (also known as "dummies"), and "a great number of cars, horses, and mules." The line also included operations to the Hot Springs health resort, northwest of Ogden, over the line of the newly organized Ogden & Hot Springs Railroad and Health Resort Co., both the resort and the railroad being owned by the same Swan interests. This line ran along Washington Avenue to North Ogden, then west to Hot Springs.

In addition to the steam dummies, Ogden City Railway, in July 1890, purchased a small Shay locomotive, an unusual design of steam locomotive with a geared drive train that allowed it to travel over uneven streets and turn the sharp corners found on typical street railways. The Shay was sold in January 1891 to the Oregon Lumber Co. (owned by David Eccles), and may have spent a brief time as plant switcher at Eccles' sawmill in Baker City, Oregon. The locomotive was later sold to the Salt Lake & Mercur Railroad in October 1894. The SL&M used it as its number 1, operating a mountain mining railroad that crossed the backbone of the Oquirrh Mountains in western Utah County. After SL&M shut down in 1918, the little locomotive was sold, and ended its career working for the Mowry Lumber Co. in Glenwood, Oregon. (Koch, The Shay Locomotive - Titan of the Timber, World Press, Chicago, 1971)

Ogden City Railway went bankrupt in late 1890 and was purchased by the Ogden Electric Railway Co., controlled by the Jarvis-Conklin Co., an investment firm in Kansas City. This company comprised investors from Kansas City, Omaha, and Sioux City, Iowa, who were looking to start an electrical generating enterprise, and needed a street railway to invest in and electrify. (Arrington, Eccles, pp. 232, 233)

They found the small Ogden City Railway in trouble, and available. Ogden Electric Railway was organized on November 28, 1890, for the purpose of operating a street railway "along, upon and through the streets and public thoroughfares of Ogden City, and along, over, and upon the public highways of Weber County." The company soon made preparations to electrify its newly acquired system.

The new company succeeded in building only a single electric line, and accumulated a heavy debt doing it. Ogden residents David Eccles and Thomas Dee became concerned about the condition of their city's deteriorating street railway and offered to purchase the company from its Midwestern owners. In May 1900, Eccles and Dee organized Ogden Rapid Transit Co. to acquire and operate the properties of the Ogden Electric Railway Co. At the time, Ogden Electric Railway was operating only two cars - one on Washington Avenue and the other on 25th Street. The company's other cars were not fit for service. At midnight on Saturday, May 19, 1900, the Ogden Rapid Transit Co. took over the operation of the former Ogden Electric Railway.

The Ogden Rapid Transit Co. was an Eccles company. David Eccles, head of the Eccles family and one of the wealthiest men in Utah, was the founder and heaviest investor. Throughout the history of Ogden Rapid Transit, and the later Ogden, Logan & Idaho Railway (after 1918, the Utah Idaho Central Railway), the name Eccles was never missing from the board of directors. Ogden Rapid Transit rapidly put the streetcar lines into first-class condition. The main line was along Washington Avenue, which in July 1900 was double-tracked between 19th and 23rd streets. A branch was built to Glenwood Park, and later extended up into Ogden Canyon.

On March 30, 1909, Ogden Rapid Transit Company was granted franchises from Ogden City for operation along Wall Avenue south of 21st Street. On January 26, 1907, February 21, 1907, and June 16, 1925, Ogden City granted other franchises to Ogden Rapid Transit Company. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 2419)

By March 1909, the routes of Ogden Rapid Transit included six distinct lines: the Washington Line, along Washington Avenue from the north city limits south to 36th Street (4.8 miles); the 25th Street Line, from Union Station east to its eastern end at Polk Avenue (1.7 miles); the 23rd Street Line, from a connection with the Washington Line at 23rd Street, to its eastern end at Harrison Avenue (one mile); the Mouth of Canyon Line, from a connection with the Washington Line at Canyon Road, east to the Canyon Mouth (2.4 miles); the Hot Springs Line, from the north city limits to Hot Springs (6.9 miles); and the Fair Grounds Line, from a connection with the Washington Line at 17th Street, west to the Fairgrounds (0.4 mile); plus another 6.8 miles of second track along Washington Avenue and 25th Street, making a total of 24 miles. (Swett, Interurbans of Utah, p. 70)

Within a year after David Eccles and his associates organized the Ogden Rapid Transit Co. in 1900, they soon owned another railroad in the area, this one running north from Ogden. In September 1889, Will Swan and his associates had organized the Ogden & Hot Springs Railroad to build from the Ogden north city limits, and a connection with their newly acquired (in August 1889) Ogden Electric Railway, north along Washington Avenue to North Ogden, then west to the Hot Springs health resort, which they had organized on the same day, as the Ogden & Hot Springs Health Resort Co. They must have had other plans for their railroad before its actual organization, as its original name was to have been the Ogden Belt Railroad, but a handwritten name change to the Ogden & Hot Springs Railroad was added to the typed incorporation papers at the time of its filing.

To make financing easier, the two companies were combined two months later as the Ogden & Hot Springs Railroad and Health Resort Co. In 1901, Eccles bought the Swan properties, both the railroad and the health resort. (Hyman, Marriner S. Eccles, p. 34)

The railroad and health resort were separated in October 1903, and Eccles and his associates organized the Ogden & Northwestern Railroad to operate the Hot Springs line and extend it to Brigham City. The line was completed to Brigham City in 1907, and electrified at the same time.

The Ogden & Northwestern also built a branch to Plain City. This 8.5-mile branch line was completed in 1909 with new construction that left the Ogden Rapid Transit Washington line at Five Points (Second Street). The new route headed northwest to Harrisville, then meandered in a general westerly direction to Plain City, all at an initial cost of $48,000. For the first seven years, the motive power on the Plain City Branch was by steam dummies (a roundhouse was built at 19th Street). The line was used mainly for freight traffic to serve the agricultural area north and west of Ogden. In 1916 the Plain City line was electrified, and in 1918, it was extended to Warren. In June 1911, the entire Ogden & Northwestern Railroad line from the Ogden north city limits to Brigham, and the line from Five Points to Plain City, was sold to Ogden Rapid Transit, both companies being controlled by Eccles.

Ogden Rapid Transit completed its line from Ogden to Huntsville in the Ogden Valley in 1915, after first extending its Canyon Mouth (Sanitarium) Line up-canyon to The Hermitage resort in 1909. The Electric Railway Journal of November 12, 1910, wrote of the line's first (1910) season:

The most interesting portion of the system [Ogden Rapid Transit] is the line that was put in service a year ago last summer in the canyon of the Ogden River. This canyon has long been famed among tourists as well as among the residents of Utah for its exceptional scenic features. The lower end of the canyon is particularly rugged and picturesque and the few spots where it widens out have been utilized for resorts, camping sites and summer homes. About two years ago, officials of ORT, realizing the possibilities of the canyon as a revenue producer, began the construction of a line to The Hermitage, a popular hotel and resort in the canyon.

The company was already operating a branch to a sanitarium near the mouth of the canyon. This line was extended along the bank of the river and for the most part on the side opposite the wagon road. For the greater portion of the distance the roadbed had to be blasted out of solid rock, and concrete banks and walls had to be built to hold the grade. Nearly all the post holes for the trolley line also had to be prepared by blasting. A fair idea of the heavy construction necessary may be gained from the fact that the three miles of line in the canyon cost $100,000.

The total length of the line from the Union Depot in Ogden is seven miles and in that distance the road rises 700 feet to a 5000-foot elevation at the upper end [at The Hermitage]. The maximum grade is 4 percent, and this extends for a distance of about 2000 feet. The prevailing grade is 2-3/4 percent, and the maximum curvature is 30 degrees. There are not many cuts in the line, but such as have been made have also required fills of rock, the deepest of them being about 16 feet. The line crosses the river three different times in the canyon, at one point by means of an 80-foot, steel plate girder bridge. Rails weighing 48 pounds [per yard] are used, and five sidings are provided so that a 10-minute headway can be maintained if desired.

Simon Bamberger, who owned The Hermitage, also wanted to build a rail line to his resort hotel; as did the Ogden Rapid Transit Co., backed by the Eccles family. Bamberger acted by surveying and grading an extension from his Lincoln Avenue line in Ogden eastward toward the canyon's mouth. Ogden Rapid Transit started its extension from its line already in service to a sanitarium near the mouth of the canyon. Eccles got started first, and was closer, so Bamberger reluctantly withdrew, abandoning his virtually completed grade, which later became part of the public highway into the canyon.

With the completion of the Ogden Canyon Line, Ogden Rapid Transit took delivery of four new "suburban" cars from St. Louis Car Co. to operate the new route. These cars were much larger and heavier than anything the company had previously operated. They were equipped with smoking compartments and toilets, and seated 46 passengers. Three years later, in 1913, the company rebuilt two of its older cars, numbers 16 and 17, as unique open-roof observation cars for use in the canyon.

The Independence Day holiday of 1910 saw 7,000 passengers carried over the new Ogden Canyon line, making one think that a trip to The Hermitage and its adjacent picnic grounds must have been "the" thing to do that weekend. The average Sunday and holiday travel numbers were about 1,800 passengers, with half that number on weekdays. These figures were for the months of June, July, and August, during which a car was operated every 20 minutes. During winter, the schedule was cut back to a car every one hour and 20 minutes. (Electric Railway Journal, November 12, 1910, quoted in Swett, Interurbans of Utah, p. 72)

The streetcar lines of Ogden were included in Ogden Rapid Transit's merger with Logan Rapid Transit that formed the Ogden, Logan & Idaho Railway in May 1914. By that date, the streetcars were also operating over Wall Avenue from 33rd Street, north to 24th Street and east to Washington, a distance of 1.5 miles. There were also other lines: along Jefferson Avenue from 25th Street to 27th Street, then along 27th Street to Van Buren Avenue (one mile); the 22nd Street Line had been shifted at Adams, north to 21st Street, then east along 21st to Van Buren (the tracks were removed along 22nd Street east of Adams); and the 23rd Street Line had been added from Washington to Harrison Avenue and along Harrison to 24th Street (1.2 miles). (Swett, Interurbans of Utah, p. 76; article, with photos, of Ogden composite car, photo of number 45, by J. G. Brill Company, six cars in Street Railway Journal, Volume 43, no. 24 June 13, 1914, p. 1326)

Also included in the Ogden, Logan & Idaho merger was Ogden Rapid Transit's suburban line along Washington to North Ogden, through Pleasant View and west to Hot Springs and Brigham City. This was the former Ogden & Northwestern line between Ogden and Brigham City, built by the Ogden & Hot Springs company in 1889, sold to Ogden & Northwestern in 1903; and re-sold to Ogden Rapid Transit in June 1911. The Ogden, Logan & Idaho company immediately built a new line from the Fairgrounds, at 17th Street and Wall Avenue, northwest to Harrisville, then north to Hot Springs, and a connection with Ogden Rapid Transit's original O&NW line to Brigham City via North Ogden. Ogden, Logan & Idaho Railway changed its name and became the Utah Idaho Central Railway in January 1918.

The streetcar lines within Ogden were separated from Utah Idaho Central in January 1920, under the new name of the Utah Rapid Transit Co. At that point, URT's property consisted of 39 miles of trackage: 31.25 miles of single track; 5.81 miles of second track; and 2.05 miles of spur tracks. There were also 44 motor cars, three trailers, and five work cars. In addition to the streetcar lines in Ogden, the new Utah Rapid Transit took over the line through Ogden Canyon to Huntsville. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 727)

During May 1928, Utah Rapid Transit discontinued streetcar service over the former Ogden & Northwestern's original Plain City line, built in 1914, along Harrisville Avenue, from Five Points to the crossing with the newer Utah Idaho Central line north to Harrisville. At the point of the former crossing, a connection was made that allowed UIC trains to operate directly over the Plain City Branch. The reason given for the discontinuance was that the public was adequately served by line to North Ogden along Washington Avenue. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1031)

During the summer of 1932, several floods in Ogden Canyon damaged the tracks of Utah Rapid Transit's line to Huntsville. In September, URT received regulatory approval to discontinue railroad service, to remove its tracks from the route between Ogden and Huntsville, and to substitute buses and light trucks over the well maintained public highway that paralleled the entire route through Ogden Canyon. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1281)

Just two months later, Utah Rapid Transit received additional regulatory approval to remove its agent and to close the station at Huntsville, but the regulators asked that the bus arrive 15 minutes earlier than before, at 7:45 a.m., to provide the 33 students in Huntsville with someplace warm to wait until the bus departed at 8 a.m. Other stations in the area functioned like this, with school trains that waited to provide shelter for the students, on Utah Idaho Central in Cache Valley, at Wellsville, Millville, Providence, and Hyde Park. The school trains of UIC and URT were an unusual operation in interurban passenger service, especially in the West. (Public Service Commission of Utah, cases 1269 and 1281)

The tracks in Ogden Canyon weren't actually removed until 1934, when Pine View Dam was under construction, and then only between Black Rock Point and Huntsville. The tracks from Ogden to Black Rock Point were used to supply materials to build the dam. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1671)

In early November 1940, Utah Rapid Transit's successor company, a new bus-only carrier named Ogden Transit Co., received approval to cancel the entire Ogden Canyon bus route. (Supplementary order to Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1281)

The removal of streetcar tracks in Ogden began in mid-June 1933, when Utah Rapid Transit received approval to discontinue service along 28th Street. The route ran east along 28th from Washington Avenue to Jefferson Avenue, then south along Jefferson Avenue to 33rd Street. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1307)

Two years later, on August 5, 1935, the state Public Service Commission approved URT's request to replace all of its streetcar service with gasoline bus service, and to abandon and remove all tracks from the city's streets. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1779)

Fifteen months later, on December 16, 1936, all rights of the Utah Rapid Transit Co. were transferred to the new Ogden Transit Co. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1281)

In May 1947, the company purchased the Ogden car barns of the bankrupt Utah Idaho Central Railroad, situated at 17th Street and Lincoln Avenue, for use as a garage for its buses. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 3121)

Ogden was the home of important defense-related installations during World War II, and Ogden Transit prospered because of it. During the war, Ogden Transit purchased 32 buses to support the increased ridership. But the boom lasted only for the duration. As cars, gasoline, and tires again became available after the war, more and more residents stopped riding buses. The end of private bus operation in Ogden came during mid-January 1952, when the Public Service Commission authorized the firm to discontinue its bus operations, effective May 19, 1952. Total annual ridership had declined from 8.5 million in 1945 (just over 23,000 per day) to 4.5 million in 1950, and to 3.4 million in 1951 (9,315 per day); the decline was, naturally, attributed to the increased use of private automobiles. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 2419 and case 3142)

The end of private bus operation also brought an end to the involvement of the Eccles family in public transit in Ogden, which had begun in 1900. The company was replaced by Ogden Bus Lines, a city franchise for operation of municipal bus service. Ogden Bus Lines continued to operate city service into the 1970s, under a variety of contract operators. In 1974, Weber County residents voted an increase in sales tax and Utah Transit Authority took over the operation of bus service in Ogden.

More Information

Ogden Street Railroads -- Timeline chronologies with updates and new research.