Union Pacific Ontario Branch

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This page was last updated on May 13, 2022.

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During the early years of the 1920s, UP and Rio Grande were in the midst of a heated competition for rail traffic in Utah. In a purely competitive move to steal traffic away from D&RGW's Park City Branch, UP worked with Ontario Silver Mining Company to close its original surface works above Park City, expand its drainage tunnel, and allow UP to serve the new opening as a shipment point for the Ontario's ores. UP christened the new station Keetley.

(Read more about the Ontario Silver Mining company; part of Park Utah Consolidated after 1927)

To serve this new ore loading point at Keetley, in 1923 Union Pacific constructed the Ontario Branch, which left the Park City Branch about four miles east of Park City, at a point that the railroad chose to name Keetley Junction. The station at the Ontario drainage tunnel at Keetley soon became the major traffic point on UP's Park City Branch.

(Read more about UP's Park City Branch)

The new branch to Keetley meant that locomotives did not have to move up the steep and curving spur from Park City to the Ontario mine, situated above the town, improving safety for the railroad and for the town's citizens. The new location also allowed larger locomotives and cars to be used, allowing for increased traffic.

The following comes from the Historic American Engineering Record project HAER UT-47; Park Utah Mining Company, Keetley Mine Complex.

In 1917 the Park Utah Mining Company was incorporated, and by the early 1920s the corporate management of this firm controlled most of the major companies in the Park City District. Under the Park Utah's management a major development took place concerning the Ontario Drain Tunnel. In the early 1920s the drain tunnel was adapted for use in hauling ore to the surface at the mine's mouth in the Jordanelle Valley. While it still carried drainage water, the tunnel was also fitted with a continuous timber structure that supported trackage for a tram/car system. Beneath this wooden frame water still flowed along the bottom of the tunnel. The rails were raised about two feet above the tunnel floor in order to keep the tram equipment from getting wet.

The use of the drain tunnel for general mine operations allowed more extensive operations in ore bodies that had previously been too wet to operate in. Use of the drain tunnel (which was at the 1500-foot level below Park City) eliminated the need to vertically hoist ore out of the mine from this depth. Instead, it could be economically transported to the tunnel mouth at Keetley. Along with construction of the tram system, in the early 1920s the Park Utah Mining Company also built structures at the surface to handle the ore and waste rock hauled out of the drain tunnel.

Upon reaching the surface at Keetley, the ore was directed into a long snowshed with a tipple at the far end. Erection of the snowshed facilitated efficient operations during the long winters when snow could accumulate and drift to prodigious heights. The cars full of ore were subsequently dumped onto a conveyor and raised up about 15 feet. From there the ore was loaded into large railroad cars and then transported to processing facilities located elsewhere. No equipment for concentrating (or processing) the ores was erected at Keetley. Instead, the Union Pacific Railroad built a spurline from Park City to Keetley (and to the Mayflower Mine about three miles further south) solely as a means of carrying ore brought out of the newly adapted drain tunnel.


June 2, 1922
"Ontario Silver Mining Co. is a very old corporation, dating from 1876. The company owns and operates mines in Summit and Wasatch County, Utah. The Ontario Mine is a famous old silver-lead property in which the ore occurs in a great deposit in limestone, developed by about 60 miles of old underground workings, including two tunnels and a 2,000-ft. shaft. The more recent production has come from the lower workings, between the 1,500 and 2,000-ft. levels, and has been chiefly low-grade ore. Recently, modern pumping and electrical equipment was installed, and more active development work was carried on." (The Magazine of Wall Street, June 2, 1922)

January 16, 1923
Union Pacific president Carl Gray, located in Omaha, wrote to the Union Pacific board of directors in New York City, showing the need to build the Ontario Branch.

(Read the January 16, 1923 letter for the need to build the Ontario Branch; PDF, 5 pages; 2MB)

October 15, 1923
The president of the Park Utah Mining company announced that Union Pacific's six-mile spur to the Park Utah mine at Keetley, would be in service "by the first of December." (Salt Lake Mining Review, October 15, 1923)

December 30, 1923
"New Road Completed . Shipments out of the Ontario No. 2 drain tunnel, to the portal of which the Union Pacific railroad has built and completed a standard gauge branch." (Salt Lake Tribune, December 30, 1923)

January 15, 1924
A U. S. post office was established at the new town of Keetley. (Salt Lake Mining Review, January 15, 1924)

August 29, 1924
Union Pacific erected a stock yard at the new Keetley station, competing with D&RGW's stock yard at Heber. (Wasatch Wave, August 29, 1924)

August 23, 1926
Union Pacific received approval from the federal Interstate Commerce Commission to operate its Ontario Industrial Spur in interstate commerce, and to establish Keetley as an agency station.

The following comes from the ICC published reports, Volume 111, pages 684-686 (111 ICC 684):

Finance Docket No. 5644

Operation Of Line By Union Pacific R. R Co.
Submitted August 16, 1926. Decided August 23, 1926.

The Union Pacific Railroad Company, a carrier by railroad subject to the interstate commerce act, on July 8, 1926, filed an application under paragraph (18) of section 1 of the act for a certificate that the present and future public convenience and necessity require the operation, as a branch line of railroad, of its Ontario industrial spur extending from a point known as Keetley Junction on its existing Park City branch line in the northeast quarter of section 2, township 2 south, range 4 east of the Salt Lake meridian in Summit County, to a point known as Keetley in the northeast quarter of section 24, same township and range in Wasatch County, a distance of approximately 5.37 miles, all in the State of Utah.

The spur was built in 1923 for the purpose of serving the Park Utah mine through the so-called Ontario Drainage Tunnel, which was then in existence. This tunnel has since been electrified so as to carry the ore from mines in that locality eastward to the southern end of the spur. At present the upper levels of the mines are served by applicant and the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad at Park City, which is slightly over 9 miles northwest of Keetley. Stockyards have been constructed at Keetley, and the applicant represents that the present and prospective traffic at that point requires the immediate establishment of an agency station.

The applicant does not expect that the proposed operation will be profitable in itself, as the rates which now apply to and from Park City will apply to Keetley. It is of the opinion, however, that the effect of such operation on its system revenues will justify the action proposed. It is estimated that shipments of ore destined to Salt Lake Valley smelters, 69.57 miles distant, will increase from 70,443 tons during the first year of operation to 189,609 tons during the fifth year, that outbound shipments of sheep and cattle will increase from 50 cars during the third year to 150 cars during the fifth year, and that inbound traffic will increase from 67 cars during the first year to 121 cars during the fifth year.

It is stated that previous to the construction of this spur the tonnage from the Park Utah mines was about 50,000 tons annually, and that tonnage over that amount included in the applicant's estimates represents business developed and created by the operation of the new line. The applicant handles at Park City about 70 per cent of the ore developed in the upper levels of the Park Utah mines. It states that approximately 50 per cent of the anticipated livestock traffic over the spur and about 10,000 tons of ore annually will represent tonnage diverted from existing lines.

It appears that the operation of the spur in question as a branch line will be of material aid in the development of the mining industry and furnish more accessible railroad facilities for livestock shippers in the vicinity.

Upon the facts presented, we find that the present and future public convenience and necessity require the operation of the Ontario industrial spur, described in the application, as a branch line of railroad. An appropriate certificate will be issued.

Certificate Of Public Convenience And Necessity

Issued August 23, 1926

Investigation of the matters and things involved in this proceeding having been had, and said division having, on the date hereof, made and filed a report containing its findings of fact and conclusions thereon, which said report is hereby referred to and made a part hereof:

It is hereby certified, That the present and future public convenience and necessity require the operation by the Union Pacific Railroad Company of the Ontario industrial spur, in Summit and Wasatch Counties, Utah, described in the application and report aforesaid, as a branch line of railroad.

It is ordered, That the Union Pacific Railroad Company, when filing schedules establishing rates and fares applicable on said line of railroad, shall in such schedules refer to this certificate by title, date, and docket number.

May 23, 1927
New ore loading bins were built at Keetley, to serve the Park Galena Mining company at the old Mayflower mine, two miles to the south by wagon. (Bingham Bulletin, May 23, 1927)

(Read more about the Mayflower mine)

April 25, 1940
Union Pacific began surveying for a new spur to be built south from Keetley, to the site of the Mayflower tunnel of the New Park Mining company. (Park Record, April 25, 1940)

September 21, 1941
Union Pacific's original track to the Ontario drain tunnel at Keetley, was extended 1.76 miles to a new mine known as the Mayflower. Union Pacific built the new line at a cost of $99,000, and the new spur was opened for service after a ceremony attended by 900 people on Sunday September 21, 1941. During the dedication ceremony, a special silver spike was driven. The station at the end of the line was called Cranmer, named in honor of W. H. H. Cranmer, president and general manager of New Park Mining company. The construction work for the spur was completed by Morrison Knudsen. (Park Record, September 25, 1941; April 23, 1942) (W. H. H. Cranmer was president and general manager of New Park Mining company from 1934 through to his retirement in 1962, remaining on the company's board of directors. William Henry Harrison Cranmer died on May 9, 1967 at age 84.)

After connecting (in late summer and early fall 1940) with the Park Galena ore vein, the New Park Mining company was using the Mayflower tunnel to transport ore to the surface. The buildings at the Mayflower portal had been put back into shape, including a new compressor house, new shops and a new warehouse. The Star of Utah tunnel, after reaching 8,000 feet, had only been in development and never in production, and in December 1940 was being rented to Park City Utah Mines Company. The Park Galena was again in production after many years of suits and countersuits were settled in 1935. But without an economic connection to get the ore out of the mine, the expense of pumping and transportation in the lower levels by using a series of hoists and trams, was too much for the mine to be profitable. The Mayflower tunnel had been driven 7,546 feet, with a raise of 633 feet to reach the Park Galena vein. October 1, 1940 was being used as the date when development ended and production started. (Park Record, December 12, 1940)

For the complete year 1941, the Mayflower mine of the New Park Mining Company shipped 29,309 tons of dry ore, compared to 20,333 tons during 1940, a 44 percent increase. (Park Record, April 23, 1942; figures given in pounds) (At 50 tons per carload, the mine shipped about 586 carloads of dry ore during 1941, or about 11 carloads per week.)

Prior to the completion of the spur to the Mayflower, the mine's ore was hauled by truck to the Park Utah Consolidated Mines Company at Keetley, to be shipped to the Midvale smelter of the United States Smelting, Refining & Mining Company. (Park Record, December 12, 1940; this article includes an excellent technical description of the New Park properties)

Anaconda announced in early November 1971 that it would be closing its lead smelter at Tooele, and one week later, the United States company announced "phased shutdown by year's end" of its lead smelter at Midvale. With the closing of the Midvale and Tooele plants, several mines in Utah also announced their shut down. Hecla Mining Company was already sending its ore from the Mayflower mine to ASARCO at El Paso, but other mines were faced with having to ship their raw ores to either the ASARCO and Bunker Hill smelter at Kellogg, Idaho, or to the ASARCO smelter at El Paso, Texas. All of the mines faced likely shutdown due to the high cost of transportation, and the low market value of lead, zinc and silver. (New York Times, November 27, 1971)

(Read more about the end of lead smelting and refining in Utah)

The new owners of the Mayflower mine were distracted in their search for new projects, such as oil and uranium, and the Mayflower mine production started to decline. After the local lead smelters and refineries closed in late 1971, the declining production, and increased costs forced the entire New Park operation at the Mayflower tunnel to close, and the company assets were sold in a bankruptcy sale in August 1972, and the area around the Mayflower portal was cleared of all buildings and equipment. (Treasure Mountain Home, Introduction, page xv)

The Mayflower mine, leased by Hecla Mining Company from New Park Mining Company, closed at the end of 1972.

The Keetley site, the original destination of the Ontario Branch in 1923, was abandoned as a rail operation in 1975 when Park City Ventures replaced it with a new vertical shaft located south of Park City, very near the former site of the original Ontario Mine.


In 1973 Union Pacific added a new station called Phoston, 2.5 miles from the beginning of the Ontario Branch at Keetley Junction. Phoston was built as a loadout for phosphate rock trucked 40 miles from Stauffer Chemical's phophate mine near Vernal. At Phoston, the phosphate was loaded into rail cars and moved by Union Pacific to Garfield and the Westrern Phosphate fertilizer plant.

By the 1970s, mineral mining had essentially ended in the Park City mines. Instead, phosphate rock was becoming the major source of traffic on the branch. To support this increased phosphate traffic, in 1973 Union Pacific upgraded the Ontario Branch, along with the portion of the Park City Branch between Echo and Keetley Junction where the Park City line connected with the Ontario Branch. The upgrading effort included new, heavier rail and the use of newer, more powerful GP30 locomotives, and would allow heavier cars to be loaded and moved over the branch.

The upgrade of the Ontario Branch as far as Phoston in 1973 included laying 133-pound rail from Keetley Junction to Phoston. Beyond Phoston, the original 90-pound rail laid in 1923 remained in place.

(Read more about the phosphate mines near Vernal, and the movement of phosphate rock from the Vernal mine, to UP's Park City Branch, to the final destination at Garfield, Utah)

(View an aerial photo of the loadout at Phoston)