Utah Northern

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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)

With the 1870 completion of the Utah Central between Ogden and Salt Lake City, church and community leaders soon set their sights on expanding the territory's railroad network. In May 1871, work began on the Utah Southern south from Salt Lake City. As a locally-owned company, the road by February 1875 reached south of Salt Lake City 60 miles to Santaquin Summit (also known as York), six miles south of Payson. Later, as a Union Pacific-controlled enterprise in June 1880, Utah Southern, and its associated company, Utah Southern Railroad Extension, expanded south another 150 miles to the Horn Silver Mine, near Milford, in which several Union Pacific directors held a financial interest.

Brigham Young had also wanted a railroad to run north from Ogden as a companion to the Utah Southern's route south from Salt Lake City, seeing the need for a way to build the economies and provide transportation for the northern communities. In addition, there was a growing trade with Montana mining camps. The Montana miners were becoming regular customers both for Utah's farm products and for shipments of salt (which, of course, was in great abundance around Great Salt Lake) which they needed to refine silver ore. Also, there was the prospect of becoming a transfer point for Montana-bound freight, similar to what was being off-loaded from Central Pacific cars at Corinne. This freight was shipped to Corinne by railroad and transferred by the freight companies to their own heavy wagons for the 400-mile journey to the mining camps. Corinne was two days closer to Montana by wagon than was Ogden, and was at the southern end of a route up the Malad Valley into Idaho.

The Utah Northern Railway was organized on August 23, 1871, to build a three-foot, narrow-gauge route north from a terminal with Central Pacific, Union Pacific, and Utah Central at Ogden, to Soda Springs, Idaho Territory. (Reeder, The History of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883, p. 218; Athearn, Union Pacific Country, p. 238)

Construction began just three days later when a ground-breaking ceremony was held adjacent to the CP line just west of the settlement of Three Mile Creek (today known as Perry) on August 26; present were Brigham Young and James Camell, president of the Utah Division of the Central Pacific. (Box Elder, pp. 30, 31; OSL corporate history says that construction began at Brigham City on September 26th.)

The same location, three miles south of Brigham City, was called "Utah Northern RR Junction" by Central Pacific, and "Brigham City Junction" by Utah Northern. (Reeder, The History of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883, p. 222; Box Elder, p. 30)

Work on the new line was only intermittent during the following winter and resumed in March of 1872. The first spike was driven on the 27th of that month and a connection was made with CP on the 29th. (Deseret Evening News, March 25, 1872; March 30, 1872; Box Elder, p. 31)

By mid-June 1872, rails had reached 23 miles to Hamptons, a new station in the foothills east of Hamptons Crossing, a toll bridge and stage station on the Bear River. (Deseret Evening News, June 18, 1872; Reeder, The History of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883, p. 227) (The station at Hamptons was later renamed to Collinston, not to be confused with the present day station of the same name, located on the relocated 1890 standard gauge line.)

Passenger service north from Brigham City, began on June 8, 1872. (Corporate History of the Oregon Short Line Railroad, 1916)

The narrow-gauge line was completed to Logan on February 3, 1873. Work of extending Utah Northern north from Logan began on September 17, 1873. Tracks reached Hyde Park on October 9th and Smithfield on November 17th, where work was halted for the winter. Work resumed at Smithfield in late March 1874. (Reeder, The History of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883, p. 234)

After reaching Logan, the company continued north, along with focusing its efforts to connect Brigham City with Ogden. The line was completed to Ogden in February 1874. By early May 1874, Utah Northern was finished north to Franklin, just over the line into Idaho Territory. Regular passenger and freight service between Ogden and Franklin began on May 4, 1874, over a route of 75 miles of new construction.

With the Utah Northern line completed into Cache Valley, freight companies began moving their warehouses from Corinne, first to Logan, and later to Franklin, which was 50 miles, and at least two days, closer to Montana than Corinne. The new route also allowed wagons to avoid the heavy grade over Malad Hill to Downey, Idaho. The Gilmer & Salisbury Stage Line moved its passenger terminal to Franklin in May 1875, taking with it the U. S. Mail contract and the Wells Fargo & Co. express business that the stage line carried. The terminal at Franklin was indeed closer, but the road north turned out to be less usable to the freighters, and some moved back to Corinne. Within two years, Corinne was shipping more freight to Montana than it did in 1874. (Madsen, Corinne, p. 303)

The greatest difficulty was Utah Northern's unprotected crossing of Collinston Divide between the Bear River Valley and Cache Valley. The original surveyors of Utah Northern had wanted to take the line through the protected Bear River Gorge, five miles further north. But the higher cost of heavy construction through the rocky passage forced the little road to choose the easier, less expensive route. During the following winters the road's owners came to regret the choice because of several snow blockades that closed it for weeks at a time. (Madsen, Corinne, pp. 181, 182)

As the freighters became disillusioned with the road north of Franklin and began returning to Corinne, the financial fortunes of the Utah Northern fell flat. Without Montana-bound freight, the railroad was left to "transporting carrots for the faithful." (Madsen, Corinne, p. 298)

The declining business, coming solely from the frugal Mormon agricultural communities in Cache Valley, was so low that it recalled an axiom of agents of Wells Fargo & Co., "One Gentile makes as much business as a hundred Mormons." (Madsen, Corinne, p. 262)

Franklin remained as Utah Northern's northern terminal from May 1874 until the little railroad's bankruptcy and foreclosure sale on April 3, 1878. On that date the bankrupt Utah Northern Railroad was sold to the newly organized Utah & Northern Railway, a Union Pacific-controlled company. (Ogden Junction, February 6, 1878; March 21, 1878.) (The foreclosure sale resulted from a Third District Court order of January 31 in the case of Union Trust Company vs. Utah Northern.)

The bankrupt Utah Northern Railway was sold to S. H. H. Clark for $100,000. Clark was the General Superintendent of the Union Pacific, and took possession on April 22, then deeded the old Utah Northern to the new Utah & Northern on May 3rd. (Ogden Junction, April 4, 1878; Corporate History of the Oregon Short Line Railroad, 1916)

In an earlier attempt to reorganize the financially troubled Utah Northern, Jay Gould and other Union Pacific directors, along with the little road's stockholders and bondholders, organized the Utah & Northern Railroad on October 4, 1877. The corporation was filed with Utah Territory on December 31, 1877. This Utah Northern corporation was "not acted on" because other Union Pacific interests bought out Gould's interests and organized the later Utah & Northern Railway on April 30, 1878, with the same directors as the Union Pacific. (Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, pp. 288, 289; also Athearn, Union Pacific Country, pp. 253, 254)

The old Utah Northern had completed 14.5 miles of grading northeast from Franklin toward Soda Springs, but when UP resumed construction on November 8, 1877, it abandoned the grade to Soda Springs, and instead, built northwest through Downey, Virginia, and McCammon, Idaho. In late June 1878, construction reached Watson's Station (later renamed Onieda), intersecting the Montana Trail freight wagon route north from Corinne. Again, the freight companies saw the opportunity to avoid Malad Hill, and moved their terminals to the railroad's new end of track, completely cutting off Corinne from the Montana business. Three and a half years later, on December 15, 1881, the UP-controlled Utah & Northern narrow-gauge railroad was completed to Butte, Montana, 397 miles north of Ogden. (Salt Lake Herald, November 9, 1877; Madsen, Corinne, p. 309; Reeder, The History of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883, pp. 243-252; Corporate History of the Oregon Short Line Railroad, 1916)

Work on extending the Utah Northern south from Three Mile Creek (Perry) to Ogden was begun in November 1872, but the effort was stopped to allow completion of the line into Logan in Cache Valley. The work of grading the line south to Ogden resumed in September 1873, and the track-laying was started at Three Mile Creek on January 15, 1874. Track-laying north from Ogden was started at about the same time, and two weeks later, on February 4, Utah Northern's tracks were completed between Brigham City and Ogden when the two crews met somewhere near Willard. Regular scheduled service began the next day, February 5, 1874. (Salt Lake Herald, February 3, 1874; Athearn, Union Pacific Country, p. 240; Deseret Evening News, January 15, 1874; Ogden Junction, February 6, 1874) (OSL corporate history says that operation began between Brigham City and Ogden on February 4th.)

The routes of the standard-gauge Central Pacific and the narrow-gauge Utah Northern were parallel along the seven miles of line between Three Mile Creek (Perry) and Hot Springs (Bonneville on CP). The original Utah Northern, and the later Utah & Northern, became part of the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern in 1889, and the narrow-gauge route was converted to standard-gauge in 1890. The OSL&UN itself was reorganized as the Oregon Short Line Railroad in 1897 and later became part of the newly reorganized Union Pacific.

Utah Northern's Corinne Branch

In June 1873, during the summer following its completion to Logan, Utah Northern completed a branch from its line north of Brigham City, west to Corinne. The beginning of construction of the Utah Northern during late 1871 and early 1872 had made the Gentile (non-Mormon) residents and businessmen of Corinne sit up and take notice. After completion of the transcontinental line in 1869, they had hoped that Corinne would be designated as the junction point between Union Pacific and Central Pacific. They had UP's support, but CP wanted the junction nearer, or at, Ogden. Corinne had become the transfer point for freight bound for the Montana mines, earning its nickname of "Bullwagon Metropolis." Within a year after the completion of the Pacific railroad, Corinne had become a major trans-shipment point for freight bound for to Montana, and therefore a major source of revenue for Central Pacific. During May 1870 alone, the freight companies in Corinne unloaded 180 rail cars and sent 1,088 tons of goods to Montana. During 1873, more than 5,000 tons of freight was shipped to Montana, with the wagons returning loaded with 500 tons of rich ore for the smelters. (Madsen, Corinne, pp. 45-47)

To influence the decision in favor of Corinne as the final junction for the Pacific railroad, much the same way that the connection with Utah Central seemed to be helping Ogden, townspeople in April 1872 organized their own Utah, Idaho & Montana Railroad, but failed to raise enough cash to begin construction. Then, during the autumn of 1872, they approached Utah Northern management seeking construction of a branch line from Brigham City to Corinne. This was a year and a half before Utah Northern completed its line south to Ogden, so the railroad saw a chance to take the Montana-bound freight away from the wagon-freight companies, at least as far as Logan. The Corinne boosters were possibly hoping that Utah Northern, by building the branch to Corinne, would then not see the need to build to Ogden. Utah Northern agreed to construct a four-mile branch and operate trains connecting with Central Pacific trains at Corinne, at least until it could extend its line to Ogden. Construction began in April 1873 with the grading starting at Corinne Junction, about four miles north of Brigham City, along with construction of a new bridge, north of Corinne, over the Bear River. (Salt Lake Herald, April 13, 1873; Athearn, Union Pacific Country, p. 240.)

The bridge over the Bear River was the last obstacle in the 4.11 mile branch between Brigham City and Corinne, and was completed on June 9, 1873. Regular service began on June 11. (Corporate History of Oregon Short Line Railroad Company, 1916, p. 14; Our Pioneer Heritage, Volume 17, 1974, p. 5, "The Year Of 1873", completed on June 11, 1873) (The 1913 ICC Valuation map for Corinne shows the old U&N grade heading north out of Corinne, crossing the Bear River and heading northeast to Bakers, which is 4.5 miles north of Brigham City.)

The opening of the Corinne Branch did not, however, deter Utah Northern from continuing south to Ogden, which it reached in February 1874. The interchange point between Utah Northern and Central Pacific was then moved to Ogden, eliminating the need for the Corinne Branch. Service to Corinne formally ended on January 1, 1876. The branch was abandoned and the rails removed, with the remaining connection to Utah Northern's main line becoming Baker Siding. A portion of the grade was later renovated by a Utah Northern successor, Oregon Short Line, in 1909 when the Ogden Portland Cement Co. (Opco) paid for a spur to be built to its new cement plant, which was processing raw cement from the adjacent alkali flats. In May 1918, the 1.1-mile Opco Spur was extended north to become the 4.9-mile Urban Branch, serving a sugar-beet-growing region east of the Bear River. The branch line that started out as the narrow-gauge Utah Northern's Corinne Branch in 1873 ended its days as a standard-gauge line in May 1948 when the Urban Branch was abandoned. Its starting point, Baker Siding, just north of the small community of Calls Fort, was abandoned in 1964. The much-graffitied skeletal remains of the Ogden Portland Cement Co. plant still stand, adjacent to Interstate Highway 15.

More Information

Utah Northern Railroad (1871-1878) -- Timeline chronology with updates and new research.

Utah & Northern Railway (1878-1889) -- Timeline chronology with updates and new research.