OSL Paris Branch

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By Thornton Waite

The Paris Branch of the Oregon Short Line was only 9.6 miles long, leaving the main line of the railroad at Montpelier, Idaho, and going south to Paris. It wasn’t built until 1911, after many years of urging by local residents who were upset that the Oregon Short Line had built their line through Montpelier instead of Paris. The purpose of the line was to transport agricultural products and livestock.

The Paris Branch only lasted 33 years, and in 1943 it was one of the first rail lines in Idaho to be abandoned due to the small amount of business. It had a unique passenger train for a short period of time, the “Ping-Pong”, which ran between Paris and McCammon to that the local residents could connect with the main line passenger trains.

The railroad, reluctant to build what it felt would be a money-losing line, reluctantly agreed to build a branch line through Ovid to Paris as long as it obtained the right-of-way and land for the stockyards in Paris and Ovid at no cost. Apparently, the railroad agreed to build the branch line to Paris as early as 1907, following a proposal by the local landowners to provide free land for the right-of-way and stockyards, but no work was done at this time.

In July 1910 the Oregon Short Line announced it was going to build a line from Montpelier 11 miles southwest to Paris. A recommendation for the route of the Paris Branch was submitted to the Board of Directors of the Oregon Short Line on September 2, 1910, and it was approved on September 8, 1910. The new line was to go 5 miles west to Ovid and then 4-1/2 miles south to Paris. The maximum grade was to be 0.3 percent and the maximum curvature 6 degrees. There were to be 6 or 7 trestles across the Bear River.

The railroad estimated the construction costs at $136,311 for the 9 miles of line, as detailed in Table 1. There was to be one through plate girder bridge, and several wood and frame trestles, although it appears a girder bridge was not built on the line. The line used untreated ties and second hand 70-pound rail, manufactured in 1898, a common practice at the time. Some of the yard track was 52-pound rail dating back to 1883. There were to be two passenger depots, two coal houses, one section house, a coal house, and one stock yard. A Jap house was provided by the railroad for the Japanese section workers, men who were hired by the railroad to maintain the right-of-way.

Construction was reported to be in progress in October by the Utah Construction Company of Ogden. At the end of the year 1911 the Railroad Age Gazette reported that the tracks had been laid over the entire length of the line, indicating construction was not being hurried. At the time the Railway Age Gazette referred to the line as the Bear Lake Branch.

When the first train arrived at Paris on July 24, 1911, it was greeted by a crowd of 1000, along with railroad officials, civic officials, and the Paris municipal band, who were supported by musicians from other parts of the valley. The train was operated by railroad workers from Montpelier, and had a private car, carrying A. B. Stevenson, Superintendent of the Idaho Division of the Oregon Short Line, Joel Gray of Salt Lake City, D.R. Priest, a railroad official from Wyoming, and other railroad officials. The engineer was Clarence Vance, the fireman was Bob Hack, the conductor was F.N. Sands, assisted by Bill Hughart.

The special train was greeted by Paris Mayor Amasa Rich and Judge Alfred Budge. There was a special ceremony at the Bear Lake Tabernacle, along with a baseball game between Paris and Montpelier, a picnic dinner, and a dance, followed by the last train returning to Montpelier. The train had run between the two cities three times that day. Free ice cream was provided for those waiting at the train station.

Passenger Service

When the railroad began operations, it ran a train between Paris and McCammon, but it was discontinued after only 52 days of operation due to the lack of business. Costing 85 cents a mile to operate, the railroad only earned 35 cents a mile in passenger revenue. The railroad did not run a passenger train for three years, but finally agreed to run a mixed train, and operations began on July 24, 1914, “Pioneer Day,” a holiday celebrated by most Mormon communities.

Initially the railroad ran one mixed train each day between Montpelier and Paris with a station stop at Ovid. The locomotive used in the first year was a 1000 series. The schedule was improved over the next few years so that at one point there were two trains a day in each direction. There were only three stations on the line, at Transfer (MP 3.0), Ovid (MP 5.3), and Paris, the end of the line at MP 9.6. The Transfer “station” was not a scheduled or flag stop. The principal commodity was agricultural products, although some mine products were shipped out over the line in later years. There was a turntable at Montpelier used to turn the locomotive, and Paris had a wye.

This time the train made enough money to support its operations for the first five years. Improved highways helped the decline of the railroad, and then students from Montpelier stopped riding the train to the Fielding Academy in Paris after the Academy burned down in 1929, and they began attending the new Montpelier High School.

The train running between Paris, Montpelier and McCammon was known for many years as the “Ping Pong” or the “Farmers Friend”. The railroad officials preferred the name of “Farmer’s Friend.” Connections were made at McCammon for trains to the West Coast, Pocatello, Boise, or Salt Lake City, and when the train to McCammon was discontinued connections were made at Montpelier with the eastbound and westbound trains. A photograph of the train shows that, for a period of time at least, it had a baggage car. According to local legend, since the right-of-way was through unfenced ranchland, the locomotive had a special shrill whistle to scare away any livestock.

The “Farmer’s Friend” name was reportedly recommended by Richard Olmstead, an OSL superintendent. According to one legend, Olmstead was at a railroad dance at Montpelier and had several drinks. When he heard someone call his train the “Ping-Pong,” he got into a fight, getting a black eye. The train was immediately discontinued. The official reason given was that the train was losing money.

The timetable for 1914 showed one mixed train a day in each direction, as follows:

Train No. 81 Distance from Montpelier Station Train No. 82
8:10 am 0.0 Montpelier 3:35 pm
----- 3.0 Transfer -----
7:48 am 5.3 Ovid 3:55 pm
7:30 am 9.6 Paris 4:15 pm

As can be seen, the train was scheduled for Paris residents who had to spend the day in Montpelier or else catch a long-distance train. In 1915 the Oregon Short Line stated it had lost $224.06 on passenger service on the Paris Branch, a common issue for most branch line passenger services. This was part of an attempt by the railroad to raise the fares, and, as reported in the July 2, 1915, issue of the Idaho Register newspaper it met with the expected opposition. The schedule was improved over the next few years so that there were two trains a day in each direction, and in 1926 the daily train service was as shown below:

Train No. 399 Train No. 397 Mileage from Montpelier Station Train No. 396 Train No. 398
4:20 pm 9:00 am 0.0 Montpelier 8:00 am 2:45 pm
4:35 pm 9:20 am 5 Ovid 7:42 am 2:25 pm
4:50 pm 9:40 am 10 Paris 7:30 am 2:10 pm

In later years the railroad ran a motor car between Montpelier and McCammon in lieu of a train to Paris.


The line was not profitable, and in 1939 the Union Pacific Railroad began to publicize the fact that it was losing money on the line. The railroad tried to encourage passenger travel on the line by offering unlimited rides with a monthly ticket, but this only increased its losses. The railroad stated it lost $7,400 in 1939, and that the railroad had not made any money ion its passenger service since 1936. By 1941 the two daily trips had been decreased to a single trip, but during World War II the second trip was reinstated due to gas rationing, However, by the end of 1942 the railroad announced it was going to abandon the line. The railroad petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon it during the early years of World War II. Local residents protested and appealed to various government agencies, to no avail. On January 12, 1943, the ICC granted the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company permission to abandon the line. In 1943 the U.S. District Court ruled that the line could be abandoned, subject to 30 days notification. The last trip was made 30 days later, on December 1, 1943, with many passengers. The tracks were torn up starting the next week.

Along the Line

There were only three stations on the line, at Transfer (MP 3.0), Ovid (MP 5.3), and Paris, the end of the line at MP 9.6. The Transfer “station” was not a scheduled or flag stop. The train left the Idaho First Subdivision at Montpelier in southeastern Idaho. Montpelier was a crew change point with a roundhouse, turntable, and other facilities used to support operations.

Ovid (MP 5.3): Ovid had a one-story depot, built in 1911, 24 feet x 48 feet, and a frame and cinder platform.

Paris (MP 9.6): The town is believed to be named for Fred Paris, who surveyed the townsite. The settlers were Mormons who came there from Utah in the fall of 1863. It was incorporated as a village in 1897 and as a town in 1907. The town was the Bear Lake County seat in 1875, when the county was created, even though it was not on the main line of the railroad. In 1910 the population was 1038, in 1960 it was 746 and in 2019 it was 629.

Paris had a two-story depot 24 feet x 26 feet, with a 24 feet x 31 feet wing for freight and baggage, built in 1911. The agent lived in the second story. There was a frame and cinder platform. The depot was located at 2nd East and Center Street, two blocks from the center of town. Paris also had a bunk house using an 8 feet x 37 feet car body, installed in 1914 and a 4-inch water column. The stockyard was built in 1911, and there was a wye to turn the locomotive. The wye was to the north of town, where the branch line entered the village.

In 1936 Paris had five stockpens with a single deck loading chute and a capacity of 28 head of livestock in the immediate loading deck.

Construction Costs

The Oregon Short Line Railroad Company prepared a cost estimate for the construction of the Bear Lake Branch from Montpelier to Paris, MP 0 to MP 9.5. The estimate was not dated but may have been prepared after the construction of the line, and the details are listed in Table 1.

Table 1

Construction Costs of the Paris Branch

Further Reading

Farnsworth, JoAnn, Montpelier and the Oregon Short Line. 1993.

Wilde, Pat. Life and Times of the “Ping Pong” Railway