Union Pacific's Cache Valley Branches

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This page was last updated on January 8, 2020.

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(The following is an updated and expanded version of text used in "Cache Junction, Utah, In The 1940s," by Don Strack, published in The Streamliner, published by Union Pacific Historical Society, Volume 16, Number 4, Fall 2002.) (PDF; three pages, 1MB)

Cache Junction is located on the west side of Utah's Cache Valley, at the state's north end. Logan is the largest city in the valley, and is located on the side of the valley opposite Cache Junction. Tracks of what would later be Oregon Short Line first came to the region near Cache Junction in December 1872 as the narrow-gauge Utah Northern construction crews completed that line over Collinston Divide, which separates Cache Valley from the Bear River Valley to the west. The narrow gauge rails were completed to Mendon (8.5 miles south, railroad west, of Cache Junction) in December 1872, then headed east across the valley to Logan. The Logan completion ceremony took place on February 1973, and construction continued north across the Idaho line, reaching Franklin in May 1874. Just three months before, in February, Utah Northern completed its line to Ogden, and a connection with Union Pacific's line to the east, and with Utah Central's line to Salt Lake City.

There wasn't enough business for the little narrow gauge line, and within four years, bankruptcy forced a reorganization and control by Union Pacific, as the Utah & Northern. Within three and a half years, UP completed the line north to Butte, Montana, and in 1887 the line was converted to standard gauge. UP consolidated its lines in Utah and Idaho as the new Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern in 1889. The new road was organized in part to finance new construction of portions of the old Utah Northern, including an entirely new route that included Cache Junction.

OSL&UN completed the new standard-gauge line between Ogden and Pocatello in October 1890. The new line included 48.5 miles of new construction between Dewey, Utah (14 miles north of Brigham City) and Oxford, Idaho, 20 miles north of the Utah/Idaho line, by way of the Bear River gorge, along with a new 8.5-mile connection between Cache Junction, on the new standard-gauge line, and Mendon, on the old narrow-gauge line. Operation of the new standard-gauge connection between Cache Junction and Mendon line began on October 24. The old narrow gauge line from Mendon across the valley to Logan, then north to Preston, Idaho, was converted to standard gauge at the same time, and became the Cache Valley Branch. Cache Junction became the home terminal for all Cache Valley Branch trains.

In 1906 the Wellsville Branch was completed as a loop around the south end of the valley by way of Wellsville and Hyrum, bringing more local business to the branch, with the resulting addition of yard tracks at Cache Junction, which is 48 miles north of Ogden. Upon completion, the Wellsville Branch became the Cache Valley Branch, and the original and former narrow gauge line became the Old Cache Valley Branch. The old line was used only sporadically during sugar beet harvest and was finally retired in 1932.

In 1912, the Benson Branch was completed as a cutoff for a direct line across the valley from Cache Junction to Logan. This new line was also known as the Ballard Cutoff, because it connected with the Cache Valley Branch at Ballard, 3.5 miles south of Cache Junction. In 1942, this line was abandoned, having been used only during the beet harvest. The sugar factory at Logan was closed in 1926, and sugar beets were shipped over UP's line to Garland on UP's Malad Branch, in the Bear River Valley to the west.

The Cache Valley Branch is still an important source of business for Union Pacific, with a local that operates over the branch on a regular basis. Cache Junction is no longer the terminal that it was during the steam era, and the first 20 years of the diesel era. There was a coaling trestle just north (railroad east) of the depot, and adjacent to the depot was a lunch room that was well-known and well used by many local residents. The junction was actually a yard situated next to a wye. Two legs of the wye were the mainline between Ogden and Pocatello. The third leg of the wye was a connection between the mainline and the Cache Valley Branch. Located inside the wye was a three stall enginehouse.

In a unique play of directions, mainline OSL trains that operated north-to-south through Cache Junction were actually westbound trains, bound for Pocatello. They turned due east at Cache Junction, by way of the north leg of the wye, then on northward to Pocatello. Cache Valley Branch trains were westbound from Cache Junction to the end of the branch at Preston, Idaho, although by the compass, they were running due south from Cache Junction to Wellsville, the due east through Wellsville and Hyrum, then due north from Hyrum through Logan to Preston.

[Photo Caption] OSL 2-8-2 Mikado 2524 is westbound here as it passes the Cache Junction depot, with the coaling trestle in the background. Known as "Mikes", in later steam era days these 2-8-2 locomotives were usually used on local trains, and this view shows 2524 on the Ogden to Pocatello Local as it leaves Cache Junction. (Photo of UP 2524 at Cache Junction)

[Photo Caption] Although not shown in the 1937, 1948, or 1955 Utah Division timetables, Train 553 train is Cache Junction to Preston passenger train, shown here prior to departure at the Cache Junction depot, with two cars in tow. The unusual smoke stack treatment on OSL Consolidation 568 is a spark arrestor that consisted of numerous rods installed across the stack. (Cache-3.jpg)

[Photo Caption] Although timetables show Train 262 as a daily Green River to Pocatello time freight, it is shown here leaving Cache Junction powered by a 2-10-2. Although the even number on the train's number denotes this as an eastbound train, this train is actually heading south to Ogden. (Cache-4.jpg)

[Photo Caption] UP Mountain class 7038 sits at Cache Junction. Built in 1922, these versatile locomotives were used regularly on both passenger and freight trains, all across UP's far-reaching system. (Cache-5.jpg)

[Photo Caption] OSL 9506 was one of 15 4-12-2s on the Oregon Short Line. Delivered in 1930, these giants saw service all across the OSL (except north to Butte) throughout their years of service. They were replaced by diesels in the late 1940s, moved to UP's Eastern District, and retired in the mid 1950s. OSL 9506 is shown here westbound under the coaling trestle at Cache Junction. (Cache-6-9506.jpg)

End Of Steam

In Cache Valley, the change from steam to diesel locomotives was started in 1948, with steam locomotives passing through on freight trains as late as 1954. Passenger trains traveling through Cache Junction stopped being powered by steam locomotives by 1950.

A steam locomotive can travel about 20 miles before it needed to have more water added to make more steam. The water used in a steam locomotive had to be treated to remove the minerals that were in water that came from either springs or wells, almost the only source in areas away from towns with water treatment plants. Treating the water, and storing it came at great expense for the railroads, and reducing that cost was one of the reasons railroads adopted the use of diesel locomotives. Also, maintaining steam locomotives cost about three to four times as much as maintaining diesel locomotives, and they required maintenance more often, all of which added up quickly and made it easier to convert from steam to diesel.

Although the last steam locomotive was used in Cache Valley during 1954, it wasn't for another ten years that the coaling station was dismantled. A photo taken in June 1965 shows the coaling station being demolished. The roundhouse at Cache Junction was demolished during the 1970s.

Passenger Service

March-June 1968
On a date in the three-month period between March 10, 1968, and June 30, 1968 (the dates of the appliable Union Pacific public timetables), the mixed train local serving the Cache Valley was discontinued. The Cache Valley mixed train was UP Trains 303 and 304, and was shown in the March 10, 1968 public timetable, but not in the June 30, 1968 public timetable.

Branch Line Summary

(Most of this information was transcribed from handwritten notes taken while doing research in the files of UP's engineering department during 1982-1983, then compiled as a computer file in 1988, with additions through September 1994.)

(The notes from the early 1980s were completed prior to the closure of UP's engineering office in Salt Lake City in about 1984. All files and most personnel were moved to Omaha in 1983-1984. The office was located in the Utah Division offices in the former depot annex building, just south of Union Pacific's Salt Lake City depot. The building was demolished in 1999 to make room for The Gateway Project.)

OSL Cache Valley Branch

OSL Benson Branch

OSL College Branch

(QUESTION: What happened to the 0.16 mile of branch from the end-of-track caused by 1932 abandonment and the end-of-track mentioned in the 1947 abandonment?)

"The only business activity in area is farming, principally sugar beets. The movement of sugar beets over the line [between Logan and College] has decreased in recent years because of the inability of the sugar company operating in the area either to induce more farmers to plant the crop or to induce farmers now growing beets to increase their acreage. No regular train service is provided. No organized communities are located on the line. In 1945 the traffic handled on the line consisted of 23 carloads of beets and 4 carloads of potatoes, and in 1946 it consisted of 25 carloads of beets. No substantial loss or inconvenience will be suffered...because the farmers can truck their products to nearby stations on the main Cache Valley Branch, no shipper has objected to the abandonment." (267 ICC 640)

OSL Wellsville Branch

OSL Logan Sugar Factory Branch

Logan Sugar Factory Branch (1.89 miles) ran from Sugar Factory Junction north to College Junction, through the Logan sugar factory. This branch started out in March 1901 (land for right-of-way purchased at same time) as the spur to the sugar factory, and was extended through Hyrum and Wellsville in September 1906 to reach Mendon, becoming the Wellsville Branch. This congestion of the sugar factory was bypassed in August 1916 when a two-mile cutoff was completed that allowed trains direct access to Logan, without passing through the sugar factory. An additional 0.58 miles was added to the Sugar Factory Branch in November 1947 when the College Branch was abandoned. This new portion extended from College Junction east to Logan Junction, on the Cache Valley Branch.

The 1.49 mile portion of the Logan Sugar Factory Branch north from its crossing of the Logan River to its connection with the Cache Valley Branch at Logan Junction, including the 0.58 mile portion between the old College Junction (where the original 1.89 mile branch had ended) to Logan Junction, was retired on January 22, 1949, under OSL Work Order 2617. (ICC Finance Docket ???) The remaining 0.97 mile section became the Sugar Factory Spur, where sugar beets were still loaded until about 1970.

OSL at Hyrum


December 19, 1872
Utah Northern tracks completed to Mendon, after having crossed over the Collinston Divide and entering the Cache Valley. (OSL corporate history)

January 31, 1873
Utah Northern the tracks were completed to Logan. Completed to within a mile of town on the 19th. (Beal, p. 17)

There were many delays caused by the frigid temperatures and winter storms. The winter conditions were the reason that the completion ceremony at Logan was postponed until February 3, and still a snow storm prevented residents of Salt Lake City and Ogden from attending. (Reeder, p. 229)

February 1, 1873
The Utah Northern has been completed to Logan. (Deseret Evening News, February 1, 1873) (OSL corporate history says the road was completed to Logan on January 31.)

October 9, 1873
Utah Northern track completed to Hyde Park. (Salt Lake Herald, October 9, 1873) (Hyde Park is 4.5 miles north of Logan)

May 2, 1874
Utah Northern tracks completed to Franklin, Idaho. (Salt Lake Herald, February 3, 1874) Work had begun from Logan on September 17, 1873. Tracks had reached Hyde Park on October 9 and Smithfield on November 17, where work was halted for the winter. Work resumed at Smithfield in late March 1874. (Reeder, p. 234)

September 27, 1890
"The Utah & Northern Gauge." "On Monday next [September 29th] the last rail of the standard gauge will be laid on the main line between Ogden and Pocatello; and in a few days when surfacing has been completed, the line will be thrown open for through traffic between Salt Lake and Butte." (The Logan Journal, September 27, 1890)

The 15-mile section of the old narrow-gauge main line north from Preston to Oxford, Idaho was abandoned upon completion of the new standard-gauge line, as was the 12-mile narrow-gauge line between Dewey and Mendon, by way of Collinston Summit. This original line over Collinston Divide was used 25 years later by the Ogden, Logan & Idaho Railway to build their electric line between Ogden and Logan in October 1915. (Swett, p. 76) The line between Preston and Oxford later became the alignment for today's U. S. Highway 91.

October 1, 1890
OSL&UN completed the new standard-gauge line between Ogden and Pocatello. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, October 2, 1890, "last rail in widening of old line and building new line") The new line included 48.58 miles of new construction between Dewey, Utah and Oxford, Idaho (20.64 miles north of the Utah/Idaho line) by way of the Bear River gorge, along with an 8.58-mile connection between Cache Junction, on the new standard-gauge line, and Mendon, on the old narrow-gauge line. Operation of the new standard-gauge connection between Cache Junction and Mendon line began on October 24. (OSL corporate history) The conversion of the old (original narrow-gauge) line between Mendon and Preston, through Logan, was completed on Sunday, October 26. (Utah Journal, October 22, 1890) This line became the Cache Valley Branch. (ICC Financial Docket 15790, 267 ICC 638)

The direct line between Mendon and Logan later became the Old Cache Valley Branch when the Wellsville "Loop" was completed in 1906.

September 12, 1906
OSL completed the 14.53-mile Wellsville Branch between Mendon and Logan Junction, through Wellsville and Hyrum. The line began in March 1901 as an industrial spur from Logan to the Logan sugar factory of the Logan Sugar Company (later, in July 1902, the Amalgamated Sugar Company) which had begun construction of its factory in December 1900. In September 1905 work was started on the extension of the spur to the west, reaching Hills Spur, just east of Wellsville and nine miles south of Logan Junction, on December 11. Work was halted for the winter. Construction started again in the spring, with the line being completed to Mendon in September. (Arrington: Eccles p. 243; OSL corporate history) The original, direct line between Mendon and Logan, built as the narrow-gauge main line in 1872 and 1873, became the "Old" Cache Valley Branch. (ICC Financial Docket 15790, 267 ICC 639)

July 1911
OSL began using a 100-passenger motor car for service on the Cache Valley branches. To connect with through trains that ran through Cache Junction, one round trip was made between Cache Junction and Preston, Idaho, each day, and two round trips were made between Cache Junction and Logan each day. The motor train operation was in addition to regular steam trains which continued to make their scheduled truns. (Box Elder County News [Brigham City], July 27, 1911)

August 1916
The trackage for the Wellsville passed through the Logan sugar factory and was becoming a bottle neck for the other Cache Valley traffic. To remedy the problem OSL completed, during August 1916, a two-mile direct connection which by-passed the sugar factory. The new line connected with the Wellsville Branch on the south at a point called Sugar Factory Junction. The connection to the north was named East Logan Junction.

The name Logan Junction was retained for the connection between the Old Cache Branch and the north end of the line that still served the sugar factory. In 1932, with the abandonment of the west end of the Old Cache Branch, East Logan Junction became Logan Junction, and the old Logan Junction became College Junction, because the Old Cache Branch then ended at College and was renamed the College Branch. The Wellsville Branch became the new Cache Valley Branch at the same time. The old line through the sugar factory became the 1.89-mile long Logan Sugar Factory Branch, between Sugar Factory Junction on the south and Logan Junction on the north.

October 25, 1932
OSL retired and removed the western 2.78 mile portion of the College Branch, from College, at Mile Post 3.14, to Mendon, on the main line of the Cache Valley Branch, Mile Post 5.92 and end of the College Branch. (OSL work order 258; ICC Financial Docket 9518, approved August 25, 1932, 187 ICC 329)

April 1941
Union Pacific retired the station facilities at Mendon. (OSL Work Order 3331, dated April 1941)

November 1942
OSL retired and removed the western 2.9-mile portion of the Benson Branch from Mile Post 0 at Ballard Junction on the Cache Valley Branch, to Mile Post 2.9 at Benson. (OSL work order 428; Abandonment approved by the ICC on October 26, 1942, Financial Docket 13927, 254 ICC 810)

The 8.17-mile Benson Branch was completed in October 1912, between Ballard Junction (Mile Post 3.53 on the Cache Valley Branch) and Benson Junction, in Logan, as a direct route (11.7 miles) for through traffic between Cache Junction and Logan, by-passing the Cache Valley Branch (15.3 miles) and the Wellsville Branch (23.9 miles). The branch was used seasonally for 90 days each year for the movement of sugar beets to the Logan sugar factory. The Logan sugar factory operated until 1926 and was dismantled in 1936. In the twenty-five years that the sugar factory was in operation, from 1901 to 1926, it processed 1.5 million tons of beets and produced 3.5 million hundred pound bags of sugar; in its peak year of 1920 the factory processed 100,000 tons of sugar beets. (Arrington: Eccles, p. 243)

November 3, 1947
OSL received ICC approval to abandon the 2.98-mile College Branch, between College Junction, on the Cache Valley Branch south of Logan, to College. The line had originally been constructed in 1873 as the main line of the narrow-gauge Utah Northern Railway between Ogden and Franklin, Idaho. It became the Cache Valley Branch in 1890, upon construction of a new standard-gauge line between Ogden and Pocatello, and in 1906 the line became a secondary line, with the completion of the Wellsville Loop through Wellsville and Hyrum, further south in the Cache Valley. The 2.78-mile western portion of the College Branch between Mendon and College was abandoned in 1932. In 1945 the only traffic on the College Branch had been 23 carloads of beets and four carloads of potatoes. In 1946 there had only been 25 carloads of beets. (ICC Financial Docket 15790, in 267 ICC 640)

By October 1948, Union Pacific had sold all of the property between the junction and College. (Cache County Recorder's office)

June 1954
OSL retired and removed the remaining 5.2-mile portion of the Benson Branch from Benson, at the end of track, to Benson Junction in Logan. (Work order 4203)

(The wye at Benson Junction, along with about 1,000 feet of the branch, remains today as part of the Cache Valley Branch.)

November 15, 1955
Union Pacific closed the agency at Trenton, Utah, on the Pocatello mainline.

Cache Valley Memories

by Vyron G. Dowdle

(as told to Don Strack, December 21, 1993)

Steam locomotives operated on the Cache Valley Branch until about 1952, when they were replaced by two diesel locomotives. The assigned engineer for the Cache Valley Local was Mr. Keith Polsen, who, prior to his retirement, had worked for Union Pacific for about 45-50 years, starting out as a track worker. He got his start in engine service when one day while working on the section gang he was asked (because Keith was a big, strapping young man) to fill in for the regular fireman on the Cache Valley Local. At that time, the steam locomotives used a combination of hardwood and coal as fuel, and the fireman needed to be strong in order to shovel the coal and haul the hardwood. Mr. Polsen started as a fireman and worked his way up to being the engineer. During the later days of steam on the Utah Division, he was asked several times to move down to Salt Lake City, but he declined, saying that he preferred to stay in Cache Valley because that was where his home was. Mr. Polsen hated diesel locomotives, saying that they were too slow when starting to work; he was used to the quick response of the regular steam locomotive that was assigned to the Cache Valley Branch (UP 2458?). Mr. Polsen retired in about 1953, being in his late 60's. After the steam locomotive was replaced, and while Mr. Polsen was still the regular engineer, the locomotive was kept in the yard as stand-by, and Mr. Polsen would go out occasionally and fire it up and run it back and forth in the Logan yards.

A couple years after Mr. Polsen retired, he purchased a live steam miniature steam locomotive, some cars, and track and operated the trains on a circle of track in his back yard in Logan. Mr. Polsen's son, Keith Jr., still has the locomotive, cars, and some of the track in his back yard at his home in Ogden. (NOTE: No Polsens currently in Ogden telephone directory.)

The Benson Cutoff, between Logan and Ballard Junction (about 3 miles south of Cache Junction) was operated by Union Pacific until about 1954 when the wooden trestle over the Bear River finally collapsed; at about 10 pm one night, according to the people who had heard the ruckus of the bridge falling into the river. The branch remained in service from Logan to the river from the east and from Ballard Junction to the river from the west, being used to store cars and for access to the beet dumps to move the beets from the farms to the sugar factory.

During the severe winter of 1948-49, the drifting was so bad that Union Pacific used a steam-powered rotary snowplow to clear the line through Cache Valley. Some of drifts were so deep that the engineers had to look up from the locomotive cab windows to see the top of the drifts.


Cache Valley Branches -- A Google Map of OSL (UP) and Utah Idaho Central lines in Cache Valley.

More Information

A History of Cache Junction -- An article by Larry D. Christiansen

Cache Junction, Utah, In The 1940s -- An article by Don Strack, in The Streamliner, published by Union Pacific Historical Society, Volume 16, Number 4, Fall 2002, page 35.) (PDF; three pages, 1MB)

Union Pacific Railroad System Employee Timetables (Reprint, UPHS, 2000). See the pages for the Third Subdivision of the Utah Division.

Crossroads of the West, by Kooistra, Belmont and Gayer (Pentrex, 1998). See pages 39-42, map on page 40.

Union Pacific Salt Lake Route, by Mark Hemphill (Boston Mills Press, 1995). See pages 136-137, map on page 137.

Emil Albrecht's UP Small Steam -- A full PDF version of the book "Emil Albrecht's Union Pacific Small Steam Power", published in 1985 by Motive Power Services. This wonderful book contains 256 photos of Union Pacific non-articulated steam power, all by Emil Albrecht. A total of 48 of these are specifically at Cache Junction, with another 10 or so taken at other location on the Cache Valley Branch. (presented here with the permission of the copyright holder) (PDF; 114 pages; 68MB)