The History Of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883

By Clarence A. Reeder, Jr.

(Return to Reeder Manuscript Index Page)

Chapter 10

Rails To Sanpete Valley And Out West To Tintic

The frustrated hopes of several railroad promoters were fulfilled in the early 1880's by the completion of two railroads into areas where attempts at construction had been made as early as 1872 but had been plagued with repeated failure. These roads were the Sanpete Valley Railroad, and the Salt Lake and Western Railroad. The first was never planned to be more than a shortline, and the second achieved only that status despite the grandiose designs of its incorporators.

The Sanpete Valley Railroad

The story might well begin with the discovery of coal at Wales in Sanpete County about 130 miles southeast of Salt Lake City in 1859 by John E. Reese.[1] The discovered coal beds were extensive, and Reese and others began to develop them and supply coal for the surrounding areas. Some coal was purchased at the mines for $4.00 a ton and hauled by wagon to Salt Lake City where it was sold for $30.00 to $35.00 a ton; but the distance prohibited the carrying of any large quantities to the capital city, and the development of the Sanpete mines waited for iron rails.[2]

Several railroads were chartered to reach the Sanpete Valley with its coal fields and rich agricultural lands as early as 1872. Brigham Young was the principal stockholder in the Juab, Sanpete and Sevier Railroad Company which was organized on October 3, 1872, to build a narrow gauge railroad from Nephi, through Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley. It would then proceed south to Marysvale for a total distance of about 115 miles. President Young's plan was to begin grading of this road and have it ready for rails by the time the Utah Southern Railroad had pushed its way south to Nephi--which was expected to be in 1873. His son, Joseph A. Young, joined him in this enterprise along with Hiram B. Clawson, W. W. Riter, George A. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, George Q. Cannon and several of the most prominent church leaders in Sanpete county, such as Orson Hyde of Spring City, George Peacock and A. J. Moffatt of Manti. This venture came, unfortunately, at the time of the panic of 1872 and was abandoned because of lack of finances. The church favored using what resources it had on the more promising Utah Southern, Utah Northern, and Summit County railroads.[3]

A second railroad to Sanpete--the Southeastern Railroad Company of Utah--was chartered on December 3, 1872. This road was to form a junction with the Utah Southern at or near Springville, pass through Spanish Fork Canyon into Sanpete Valley and then sweep down that broad and fertile valley and the equally rich Sevier Valley to some point on the Sevier River--a distance of about one hundred miles. Prominent Mormons including William Jennings, Horace S. Eldredge, William H. Hooper, Hiram B. Clawson, A. O . Smoot and James T. Little organized this enterprise. All these men played important roles in Utah's railroad history. Again, plans for this railroad failed in the path of the. sweeping financial crisis of 1872.[4]

A third probe of the "iron horse" into Sanpete County in 1872 was made by a group of Salt Lake City and Eastern Gentile speculators and promoters. The group was headed by I. Wentz Wilson, W. C. Hendrie, George Field, Wells Spicer and Theo Haswell of Salt Lake City; J. A. Williamson of Des Moines, Iowa; and M. B. Valentine and and M. B. Dodge of New York City. These men and their associates chose September 10, 1872, to incorporate five separate railroad companies , with a total stock issue of $14,500, 000, to run a distance of about five hundred miles, all within Utah Territory. The main line of this ambitious scheme was the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad Company which was to parallel the Utah Southern Railroad from Salt Lake City to Nephi where it was to swing up Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley and then south to Manti.[5] The Bingham Canyon Railroad Company was to be an independent branch of this road, forming a junction at Sandy and then pushing west to the mines of Bingham Canyon.[6] Another independent branch was to be the Little Cottonwood Railroad which was to extend deep into Little Cottonwood Canyon also from a junction at Sandy.[7] The fourth line was the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad with a route south from Salt Lake City through Camp Floyd, Ophir and then into Tintic where it was to proceed east to Nephi. It was to continue through Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley, to Manti and southeast through Castle Valley with a final plunge down Salina Canyon into Salina.[8] The fifth road, the Branch of the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad, was projected from a function with the Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad at Springville, through Spanish Fork Canyon to Thistle and Sanpete valleys and to a junction with the main line Salt Lake and Salina somewhere beyond its emergence from Salt Creek Canyon.[9] A stipulation was placed in each company charter that it had the right to consolidate with other railroads.

This gigantic enterprise was revealed to be a land grabbing scheme that the incorporators had entered into with Congressman Negley of Pennsylvania and Representative Clagett of Montana. These men introduced bills in the United States Congress to grant rights-of-way to the above named railroads; and the bills also provided for huge, unusual land grants which were to be awarded before construction even commenced. The fraud came to light in February of 1873; and Utah's delegate to Congress, William H. Hooper, was able to enlist the support of enough members of the House of Representatives to kill the bills in committee.[10] The defeat of the land grab attempt also snuffed out any prospects that might have existed for the completion of this huge network of railroads, thus delaying for a time plans to drive a railroad into Sanpete Valley.

In 1874 the Sanpete Coal and Coke Company purchased the extensive coal fields around Wales and began development work. The mines were extended, roadways graded and otherwise improved, a large mill for crushing coal was built, and extensive coke works were erected. This company was headed by General G. W. Clark and J. A. Williamson of Des Moines, Iowa, and John H. Moore, John T. Lynch, C. C. Perkins and C. C. Clements of Salt Lake City. Realizing that extensive development of the mines depended on rail transportation to the Salt Lake City markets, they sought affirmation from the Utah Southern Railroad Company that it planned to continue its road south. They received assurances that the road would be extended, at least to Nephi, by 1875;[11] and with this assurance they incorporated the Sanpete Valley Railroad Company on June 29. 1874, to build a narrow gauge railroad from Nephi into Sanpete Valley and then to Manti.[12]

Work on this narrow gauge began early in 1875 in Salt Creek Canyon shortly after the Utah Southern started grading south from Provo. The Sanpeters were jubilant to see actual railroad grading underway; and the Nephites, looking forward to serving as the junction between the Utah Southern and Sanpete Valley railroads, bragged about the prospects of outgrowing Provo when the roads were joined. The lines were not finished, however, as the Utah Southern brought construction to a halt at York--fourteen miles north of Nephi--and all that the Sanpete Valley road was able to accomplish, under the direction of General Clark, was about twenty-five miles of grading.[13]

This failure brought bankruptcy to the Sanpete Coal and Coke Company and to the railroad it had sponsored; both were purchased by C. W. Bennett of Salt Lake City who engaged Simon Bamberger to operate the coal mines. He allowed the railroad to lie dormant; but Bamberger managed the mining concern successfully, and on discovering large beds of suitable clay on the company's property, added the manufacturing of fire brick to the thriving coal business.[14] When it seemed certain that the Utah Southern Railroad would be completed as far as Nephi by 1878, Mr. Bamberger began negotiations with several English gentlemen representing the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company; and they agreed to provide finances to resurrect the Sanpete Valley Railroad.[15] This company also purchased the Wales mines from Mr. Bennett and retained Simon Bamberger as manager of both the coal company and the renewed railroad.[16]

Grading of the roadbed began in the spring of 1880 but was still incomplete at the end of the year. The economy of Sanpete County was aided, however, by the regular pay received by the local grading crews.[17]

The roadbed was readied in 1881, however, and the first few miles of track was laid. The company ordered twenty freight cars from the Utah Central Railway Company in Salt Lake City, and a locomotive purchased from an eastern concern would soon "puff defiance at old Nebo."[18]

The Sanpete Valley Railroad was finally completed to Wales in early April of 1882, just in time for the Saints of Sanpete Valley to ride all the way to the L.D.S. General Conference in Salt Lake City on Gentile rails. Simon Bamberger continued to manage the road that became a feeder line for the Union Pacific controlled Utah Central Railway Company. A considerable quantity of coal was carried during the next two years until the mines played out and were abandoned in 1884. The road was extended to Moroni in 1884 and to Manti in 1893, and it served the economy of the Sanpete and Sevier valleys by carrying grain and other farm products to market. It continued as an independent line until 1890 when the Denver and Rio Grande Western pushed into the Sanpete Valley. The Sanpete Valley Railroad was operated under the control of the Rio Grande from then until in was abandoned in 1946.[19]

The Salt Lake and Western Railway

Some of the richest silver discoveries made in Utah in the 1860's occurred in the Tintic Mining District about seventy miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The towns of Eureka, Silver City, Mammoth, and Tintic were born to serve the needs of the miners who wrested the wealth from the mines in the area. Railroad promoters saw the opportunity to reap rich profits by laying shimmering iron out west to Tintic.

The first to attempt the project was a group of Mormon and Gentile businessmen who chartered the Lehi and Tintic Railroad Company on October 28, 1872. It was to be routed west a distance of about fifty miles into Tintic Valley in Juab County from a junction with the Utah Southern at Lehi. The large eleven-man board of directors of the road was composed of William Jennings, A. O. Smoot, William H. Hooper, H. S. Eldredge, Hiram B. Clawson, Frank Fuller, William Binghurst, James F. Clark, Addison L. Page, Elias L. Beard, and E. F. Palmer. This venture, like so many others of the financially disastrous years of 1872 and 1873, failed to materialize.[20]

Nine years elapsed before the next railroad was chartered specifically to serve the Tintic area. This was in part due to the plans of the Utah Western to extend its rails into the area and the often announced possibility that the Utah Southern would build a branch to Tintic. Neither road took advantage of the opportunity; and on May 30, 1881, the Union Pacific created and incorporated the Salt Lake and Western Railway Company to achieve several desired goals, among which was a railroad to the Tintic Valley.

The Union Pacific officials had long hoped to build a railroad to San Francisco in competition with the Central Pacific, and the Salt Lake and Western became its tool in achieving this. The Utah portion of the road was to begin at a junction with the Utah Southern Railroad at Lehi and follow the most practical route westward to the Utah border.[21] The route as it was planned followed the old Pony Express and stage trail through Fairfield and old Camp Floyd, south through Vernon to Ironton, about eight miles west of Eureka, and on to Tintic before it turned west to Cherry Creek and then northwest to Fish Springs and Deep Creek on the Utah-Nevada border at the 40th parallel. The route through Nevada, which was laid out during the summer of 1881 by Joseph A. West, also followed the old Pony Express and stage trail and paralleled, to some degree, the present-day Highway 50. It was surveyed to run through the mining communities of Cherry Creek, Newark, Eureka, and Austin and to Carson City and enter California in the vicinity of the 38th parallel. The road was then to proceed by the most direct route to San Francisco.[22] The Salt Lake and Western was chartered in both Nevada and California by James T. Little and Bolivar Roberts in June of 1881, and the Union Pacific had the vehicle they needed to reach the Golden Gate.[23]

As the exact location of the Utah portion of the road was surveyed, it was found that the most practical route for the Salt Lake and Western Railway in the Tintic Valley was about eight miles to the west of Eureka and Silver City, the principal mining communities of the Tintic area. Accordingly, an amendment to the incorporation papers was filed which allowed a branch line to be built from Ironton to these active camps.[24]

The Union Pacific Railroad provided all financial assistance necessary for rapid construction of the road, and the summer of 1881 found over three hundred men and teams engaged on working on the grade between Lehi and Tintic. A contract had also been let for a supply of 200,000 ties. W. W. Riter was employed as general manager and vice president of the Salt Lake and Western, and A. F. Doremus became superintendent of construction. The president of the company, S. H. H. Clark, who had his offices in Omaha, also had multiple duties with the Union Pacific Railroad Company and left the operation of the Utah narrow gauge to the discretion of Mr. Riter. Contracts for grading the road were let to three separate parties --Boliver Roberts, 25 miles; Brinton Brothers, 15 miles; and Condie and Burt, 20 miles--[25] and they had the grade nearly finished before winter halted operations. Track laying resumed early in the spring of 1882; rails were in place and the road began operations from Lehi to Boulder, a distance of about forty miles, on June 1, 1882. The main line was rapidly completed to Tintic, and the branch line from Ironton to Silver City was finished and in operation before the end of July.[26]

The sixty miles of track to Tintic proved to be the total length of this visionary enterprise that was projected to extend all the way to San Francisco. In March of 1882 word had come from Union Pacific headquarters that construction beyond Tintic would not be attempted until the "money outlook" was much improved. By the time improvement came, the Union Pacific had moved on to other enterprises.[27]

The Salt Lake and Western Railroad aided greatly in the development of the economy of the Tintic area during its early existence, but its importance was minimized later when two other railroads were built into the area. Financially the road was successful, as the following tables indicate:

Operations for the Period June 10 to December 31, 1882

From Passengers . . . . . . . . $ 4,257.85
From Freight . . . . . . . . . . . 50,514.43
From Mail & Express . . . . . . . . 628.60

TOTAL Earnings . . . . . . $55,328.61 [a]

Expenses and Taxes . . . . . . 15,514.33

NET EARNINGS . . . . . . . . . $39,814.28

[a] Computation errors appear in the source material.

Source: Poor, Manual of Railroads, 1883 (1883), p. 897.

Operations for the Year Ending December 31, 1883

Passengers Carried . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,777

Tons, Freight Moved . . . . . . . . . . 43,130

From Passengers . . . . . . . . . $ 11,166.75
From Freight . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81,511.18
From Mail & Express, etc. . . . . . . 1,339.28

TOTAL Earnings . . . . . . . . . . $ 94,017.21

Maint. of Rt.-of-Way . . . . . . . $ 10,714.11
Rolling Stock . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20,594.13
Transportation . . . . . . . . . . . . 10,439.51
Taxes, etc. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,831.55

TOTAL Expenses . . . . . . . . . . . 44,579.30

NET EARNINGS . . . . . . . . . . . $ 49,437.91

Source: Poor, Manual of Railroads, 1884 (1884), p. 873.

The Salt Lake and Western was consolidated as part of the Oregon Short Line on July 27, 1889, and lost its individual identity at that time.[28]


[1] History of Sanpete and Emery Counties, Utah (Ogden: W. H. Lever, 1898), p. 35.

[2] Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1878.

[3] Juab, Sanpete and Sevier Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, October 3, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[4] Southeastern Railroad Company of Utah, Articles of Incorporation, December 3, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[5] Salt Lake City and Manti Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, September 10, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[6] Bingham Canyon Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, September 10, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[7] Little Cottonwood Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, September 10, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[8] Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, September 10, 1872, Amendment, Articles of Incorporation, December 23, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[9] Branch of the Salt Lake City and Salina Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, September 10, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[10] Salt Lake Tribune, February 1. 1873; Salt Lake Herald, February 22, 1873; Deseret Evening News (SLC), February 26, 1873.

[11] Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1878.

[12] Sanpete Valley Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, June 29, 1874, Utah State Archives.

[13] Salt Lake Herald, February 7, 14, August 26, 1875; Salt Lake Tribune, September 10, 1875.

[14] Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1878.

[15] Salt Lake Herald, November 25, 1877.

[16] Salt Lake Herald, May 29, June 15, 1880.

[17] Salt Lake Herald, May 17, June 15, July 2, September 2, 1880.

[18] Salt Lake Herald, May 21, August 23, 1881.

[19] Salt Lake Herald, April 6, May 26, 1882; History of Sanpete County, p. 35; David F. Johnson, "The History and Economics of Utah Railroads" (Unpublished Master Thesis, University of Utah, 1947), pp. 129-130.

[20] Lehi and Tintic Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, October 28, 1872, Utah State Archives.

[21] Salt Lake and Western Railroad Company, Articles of Incorporation, May 30, 1881, Utah State Archives. Any question of this being a Union Pacific enterprise may be quickly dispelled by noting that the principal stockholders and members of the board of directors were Sidney Dillon, S. H. H. Clark, Fred L. Ames, W. B. Doddridge, William W. Riter, and Abraham F. Doremus.

[22] Salt Lake Herald, September 11, 1881.

[23] Salt Lake Herald, June 23, 1881.

[24] Salt Lake and Western Railroad Company, Amendment, Articles of Incorporation, October 7, 1881, Utah State Archives.

[25] Salt Lake Herald, July 30, 1881.

[26] Salt Lake Herald, August 21, 1881, March 26, May 28, June 23, 1882; Poor, Manual of Railroads, 1883 (1883), p. 897; Oregon Short Line Railroad Company, Corporate History, pp. 27-28.

[27] Salt Lake Herald, March 26, 1882.

[28] Oregon Short Line Railroad Company, Corporate History, pp. 27-28.