Little Cottonwood In Trains Magazine

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The following comes from letters to the editor in January, March and October 1952 issues of Trains magazine, in response to an astronomical bit of error-filled fluff written by Lucius Beebe in November 1951.

November 1951

Lucius Beebe wrote in the November 1951 issue of Trains magazine:

One of the least-known yet most colorful, at least in its implications, of all the narrow-gauges of the old West was the nameless three-foot pike that ran up Little Cottonwood Canyon, near Alta in southern Utah, in the early 1870s to serve the Little Emma silver mine. So inaccessible and precipitous was Little Cottonwood that before the rails were laid ore had been brought down-canyon (from where neither mules nor wheeled vehicles could penetrate) in cowhide stoneboats dragged by hand.

The Little Emma, named for one of Brigham Young's multiplicity of wives, was financed by William M. Stewart, Nevada's most famous "silver senator," and Trenor Park, a San Francisco capitalist of the period. Throughout its brief existence the Little Emma's narrow-gauge possessed as passenger equipment only a three-seater sleigh mounted on a set of trucks borrowed from the Denver & Rio Grande and drawn by mules, but up its grade went more than 5000 miners who dug little ore but raised such uninhibited hell in the Bucket of Blood saloon as to scandalize the staid Mormons at the foot of the canyon.

American investors, having had word of the Little Emma's limitations, were shy of the investment, but the resourceful Park and Stewart, moving through such lofty channels as the American Embassy in London, contrived to bribe the editor of the august London Times and floated most of their stock in England. When, a few months later, the Little Emma pinched out, disgrace and scandal haunted both the American ambassador and "The Thunderer," and suits totaling more than 5 million dollars were filed against the mine's backers.

The narrow-gauge itself has long since merged with the sagebrush and elemental Utah desert, but mile for mile of trackage, no railroad in America carried in its brief heyday a greater traffic in spurious high finance and larcenous stock jobbery. It never knew a steam locomotive.

January 1952

H. S. Johnston, Quincy, California, wrote a Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

I was greatly amazed by the article entitled "Narrow Gauge Through Little Cottonwood Canyon" in November 1951 Trains & Travel. I spent many happy hours hiking up and down this line during the 1930's when the rail was still in place, and I have spent much time delving into the history of this railroad. Mr. Beebe was certainly sadly misinformed.

The railroad was built as part of the Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad, which was completed to Granite (Wasatch) in 1873, to Fairfield (Tanners) in 1874, and to Alta in 1876. The total line, as completed, extended from Camp Floyd (now Bingham) to Alta. However, the portion from Wasatch to Alta operated irregularly after the late 1880's. In 1891 the line from Midvale on the Rio Grande Western to Wasatch was made standard gauge. This work was done by the Rio Grande Western, which had absorbed the line in 1889. The distance from Midvale to Wasatch was nine miles plus a spur to the granite quarry.

The road from Midvale to Alta is shown as the Alta branch of the RGW in Poor's Manual of Railroads for 1889 and in the Official Guide for 1897. It is also shown in Poor's for 1912 as a branch of the D&RGW, but it was not operated. Poor's for 1916 lists it as owned by the D&RGW but leased by the Salt Lake & Alta Railway from Midvale to Wasatch.

The line from Wasatch to Alta was completely rebuilt in 1913 under the name Little Cottonwood Transportation Company. At this time the narrow-gauge trackage totaled 20 miles. Moody's Manual of 1924 shows that the road had three locomotives and 46 cars. Engine No. 1 was either a 2-6-0 or a 2-8-0. Engine No. 2, which is shown in the accompanying picture, was a Shay, purchased from a two-foot-gauge line in New Mexico. She was rebuilt to three-foot gauge at Salt Lake City. This engine lay in the brush between Wasatch and Tanners up until 1938. The builder's plate was gone at that time. Engine No. 3 was also a Shay, and No. 4 was a gasoline-powered Plymouth industrial engine or some such rig, purchased about 1924. This engine was totally destroyed when it ran away and jumped the track near Tanners.

My first contact with this little line was in 1932. Starting from the small yard at Wasatch, the tracks held close to the bottom of the canyon on an easy grade. The canyon is so narrow at this point that tracks and road occupied the same grade. A mile or two from Wasatch the road left the railway. Shortly beyond this point there was an incline tram to the granite quarry. This tram, cable operated, joined a spur of the railway. From this point the railway started its real climb. Steep grade and sharp curves took the line high on the hillside to the first timber trestle (about 70 or 80 feet long and 30 feet high). The grade leveled off a bit at this point, and a mile farther on it was again at the bottom of the canyon. Near here lay engine No. 2. She was upright but quite some distance from the track. Cab, stack, headlight and sand dome were torn off and lying near-by. The trucks were between the engine and the track. The boiler was jacked up on timbers as though an attempt had been made to rerail her. What happened? The curve here is mighty sharp. . . .

Service on the line was irregular, depending on the operations at the mines. Several of the residents had homemade gasoline scooters during the 1930's which they used on the tracks up until the time the bridge was washed out. None of the old-time residents with whom I talked ever mentioned mule power.

The rails were finally removed in 1939 or 1940 when the Rio Grande built a ski resort at Alta Basin.

Lyle C. Johnson, Salt Lake City, Utah, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

...Near a sharp curve north of Taggart's Flat [sic: Tanner's Flat] I found the remains of an old Shay.... It was certainly a steam engine.

Alta, Utah, is an old mining town located at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. For many years it was almost deserted.

For a long time the only way to Alta was up a very steep, rocky, rugged road in the bottom of the canyon. In later years Alta has become one of the famous winter sports areas, topped by the recently built Peruvian Lodge. Along with improvement of facilities at Alta, a new road was built which greatly improved the accessibility of the town. When the new road was built from Salt Lake City to Alta this old railroad grade was utilized almost all the way from the bottom of the canyon to Alta. Today it is a good paved road.

David Lloyd Stearns, Seattle, Washington, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

...Construction of the Wasatch & Jordan Valley was commenced in 1870 and by 1872 operation was begun from Sandy to Wasatch. Steam locomotives were used on this section, and there must have been considerable traffic over it, since the stone for the Mormon Temple at Salt Lake City was quarried there and carried out over the W&JV. Wasatch was always the end of steam operation.

The extension to Alta was first operated in 1876. This portion of the line, according to the 1880 issue of Crofutt's Guide, was run by mule-driven cars "about the size of ordinary handcars, fitted up with seats that will comfortably accommodate about nine persons besides the knight of the whip." Local wags used to say that the motive power of the W&JV consisted of "narrow-gauge locomotives and broad-gauge mules."

F. D. Fellow, Farmington, Utah, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, January 1952:

... The first move of the RGW in building to a juncture with the existing D&RGW line from Denver to Gunnison was to purchase the Bingham Canon & Camp Floyd narrow-gauge on September 1, 1881, and the W&JV on December 31. 1881. This constituted a line of 34.5 miles. The RGW let contracts immediately to connect with a narrow-gauge coal road built in 1875 from Springville, Utah, over Soldier Summit to mines in the top of the mountains. RGW history states that contracts covered the line from Salt Lake, indicating that the BC&CF and the W&JV connected with a standard-gauge predecessor of Union Pacific's Provo line.

The Bucket of Blood saloon had 110 killings behind its hospitable doors. The population of Alta in 1872 was 5000. One hundred forty lives were lost in landslides and snowslides.

March 1952

Lucius Beebe, Virginia City, Nevada, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, March 1952:

Rebuttal by Beebe

I have no desire to dispute H. S. Johnston's unabashed dismay in the January issue at my short-short about the narrow gauge in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah [November 1951 Trains & Travel]. I have never been there, but in defense of myself as a professional historian, I would like to quote my sources in this matter.

My details of the ownership and financing of the Little Emma by Trenor Park and Senator William Stewart of Nevada were derived from Silver Stampede by Neill Wilson, a thoroughly accredited expert in the history of silver mining. My reference for the operations of the railroad was David Lavender's The Big Divide, pages 115 and 116: "For a long time wagons could not get there (the Little Emma Mine). The owners dragged their ore down the canyon in boats of untanned cowhide, shipped it to California. . . . Not even the Rockie's ubiquitous narrow-gauge railroads braved the canyon. For years the camp's sole passenger conveyance was the body of a three-seated sleigh mounted on a handcar and tugged up a pair of slender rails by two black mules hitched in tandem. . . . The power on the descent was gravity . . governed by an erratic set of hand brakes."

The photograph supplied me by the Western Collection of the Denver Public Library bore the caption: "Mule drawn cars were the only railroad stock ever to run in Little Cottonwood." Residents of Mr. Johnston's acquaintance may never have heard of the mule power, but the power in the picture doesn't seem to me to be Mallets or Moguls. It has four legs and long ears.

Lucius Beebe.
Virginia City, Nev.

October 1952

H. S. Johnson, Keddie, California, Letter to the Editor, Trains magazine, October 1952:

Period, end of report

A last letter in an attempt to wind up the feud between Lucius Beebe and myself which has been going on via the pages of TRAINS & TRAVEL for some time [November 1951; January and March 1952]. The following is information I wrote to Mr. Beebe concerning the Little Cottonwood Canyon narrow-gauge which he requested I pass on to you.

Since our last letters appeared in TRAINS & TRAVEL I have delved further into various histories of Utah and come up with the fact that we are both correct!

This line was first built from Salt Lake to Wasatch during the 1860s to haul granite for construction of the Temple in Salt Lake City. Oxen were used to pull crude four-wheel flats. This piece of trackage was taken over by the Wasatch & Jordan Valley in 1873 and extended on to Alta in 1876. Early operations used steam power, but due to very steep grades of up to 287 feet a mile, plus extreme curvature, the road was expensive to operate. The revenue from freight and passenger operations didn't even pay operating expenses. Hence, about 1880 the steam was taken off between Wasatch and Alta, and mule cars were substituted. The line was operated in this manner throughout the 1880s. So that the road could operate in winter months, seven of the eight miles were covered by snowsheds.

When Alta became dormant after the crash of silver in the 1890s, the rails were removed between Wasatch and Alta. When this portion was re-laid a few years later as the town revived, some curves were made less severe and the gradient was cut down by relocation of a portion of the roadbed from the bottom of the canyon, where it paralleled the creek, up onto the hillside. From this time on, steam power was used exclusively.

That should square things away on this obscure little road.

H. S. Johnston.
Keddie. Calif.