San Pete Valley Railway - H. S. Kerr

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History Of The Sanpete Valley Railway

By H. S. Kerr

Heart Throbs of the West, Volume 2, published in 1940 by Daughters of Utah Pioneers

One of the first, if not the first coal discovery in the State of Utah, was the finding of the coal measure southwest of the Town of Wales in Sanpete County. This mine was worked locally to a small extent for a number of years by some local people of Welsh extraction living in the town of Wales, Sanpete County.

The property came to the attention of some federal officials, then in Salt Lake City, and a company was organized by them to secure and operate the mines. The two Salt Lake Federal officials were Messrs. Lynch and Moore, and I believe associated with them were some Interior department officials of Washington, D. C. They had great hopes of making a success of this property by manufacturing coke and had in mind the construction of a railway from the mines to Nephi, which city it was assumed would soon thereafter he reached by an extension of the Utah Southern Railway. The coal was mainly used to make coke but an expensive process was necessary to eliminate the foreign matter in order to make a satisfactory coke. This company erected a coal washer and coke ovens, securing fire bricks for the coke ovens from a Salt Lake citizen whose name looms large in the history of Utah thereafter. I refer to ex-Governor Simon Bamberger. He was interested in the plant that furnished the fire bricks.

It seems that the company was unable to carry out its plans by securing needed capital and was unable to pay its bills. Mr. Bamberger saw an opportunity of carrying out the plans if he could control the property. He was able to get control on account of purchasing other claims against the company. He was firmly of the opinion that the scheme as planned would work out to a successful conclusion if capital could be secured. With this end in view he went to London accompanied by the late Mr. Charles W. Bennett, who at that time was a very prominent lawyer in Salt Lake City. He had a large acquaintance in London on account of having been an attorney for some Utah silver mining properties owned by London citizens. Messrs. Bennett and Bamberger were successful in securing the capital from a company organized and known as the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company, Ltd. The president of this company was Sir Henry Tyler who at that time was president of the Grand Trunk railway of Canada, and a very prominent railroad and business man in London. It was decided by the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company to build a railway from the mines to a connection with the Utah Southern at Nephi, the Utah Southern having just reached Nephi on its way south. This was in the year 1881. The survey had been made and right of way secured by the former company in the year 1879 for the construction of a road from Nephi to the coal mine, but no actual work was done until 1881. In that year the Sanpete Valley Railway was incorporated under the laws of Utah. It was a subsidiary of the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company who furnished the money for the construction of the road. A contract was entered into by and between the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company and Mr. Simon Bamberger for the construction of this thirty mile narrow gauge railway, and the line was completed in 1882. It is interesting to note in this connection that the rails used were iron and were manufactured in Wales, shipped to San Francisco by boat and by rail from San Francisco. These were about the only iron rails that were at that time used in the West, steel having replaced iron rails throughout the country in general. These old iron rails were very serviceable, however, and when finally replaced by steel rails, had a high salvage value on account of the superior iron used in their manufacture. They were ultimately traded to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company for steel rails still in service on the road.

The title of the company, "Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company, Ltd.," was decided upon on account of the fact that the promoters were of the opinion that this coal would find a market, not only in Utah but to a large extent for the supplying of the Central Pacific Railway with fuel and also supply local smelters with coke. The plans, however, all came to naught on account of the fact that the Rio Grande Railway was built into Utah in 1882, and they were able to furnish a superior quality of coal and coke at less prices than it would be possible for the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company to produce and market their coal and coke. This condition therefore brought about the failure of the company, almost in its infancy.

The writer of this brief sketch (H. S. Kerr) came west as a very young man to work with the Rio Grande engineering department and was connected with that company a couple of years and until the completion of their line to Ogden. Having learned of the conditions pertaining to the operation of the Sanpete Valley and having heard rumors that it was the intention of the company to change part of the location of their line so as to reach the agricultural sections of Sanpete and Sevier counties, he called upon Mr. Bamberger and was engaged by him to make the necessary railway location. His instructions were to utilize as much as possible of the existing line from Nephi and to make the initial point of his survey at some place between Fountain Green and Moroni; locating a line through Moroni and Ephraim to Manti. His instructions were to pull up the track from said junction point to the coal mine and relay the rails via Moroni to a point beyond Moroni as far as material available made it possible to go. This was in the latter part of the year 1884 and track was completed to Chester in 1885. Mr. Bamberger's plans at that time contemplated securing funds to extend the road to some point in Sevier county, and also to build from Nephi to a connection with the Denver & Rio Grande Western at Springville, a survey for that proposed part of the road having been made. The outlook seemed promising that the development of such a narrow gauge feeder to the Rio Grande would develop considerable business, and the writer felt that his interests justified him in considering the proposition that he accept the position of superintendent. He did so in the year 1885, fully expecting that funds would be forthcoming for the extension of the road as outlined above (at any rate the southern extension). Such, however, was not the case, possibly on account of the fact that the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company was in the hands of receivers in London and this expansion could not be accomplished until a reorganization was perfected.

The extension from Chester to Manti was ultimately brought about by the efforts of Mr. Theodore Bruback, who succeeded Mr. Simon Bamberger as president of the Sanpete Valley Railway. Mr. Bruback took charge of the road in 1888 but on account of some litigation that had to be straightened out to clear title, it took him much longer than anticipated to get the reorganization perfected and the funds available for the rehabilitation and extension of the railway. Upon conferring with the receivers of the property, in London, he ascertained that Mr. Charles Morrison was one of the principal bond holders. Mr. Bruback succeeded in persuading Mr. Morrison to undertake the reorganization and buy out the other interests. This being done, Mr. Morrison became the sole owner of the property, with the exception of a small minority holding held by President Bruback. From 1888 until 1892, the road enjoyed a fairly lucrative traffic even though handicapped by the fact that most freight and passengers from Sanpete and all from Sevier moved a considerable distance to reach the railroad. The bulk of Sevier traffic however teamed to Juab to the Utah Southern. The local business directly on the railway was limited to the towns of Nephi, Fountain Green, Moroni and Chester. All other freight from Sanpete and what was secured from Sevier had to be teamed to the railway. Passengers were moved by stage or private conveyance. While the road enjoyed a fairly good business, they could not secure remunerative revenue on account of team competition and short haul. A good many of the merchants felt that on account of the fact that they had to use teams to get to the railway that they might as well haul to and from Salt Lake City. To meet this competition low through rates had to prevail. In spite of this fact, however, as stated , above, the road enjoyed quite a fair business though never able to make interest on their bonded indebtedness.

About 1890 the Denver & Rio Grande decided to build a branch line from Thistle to Sanpete and Sevier. Their first plan was to build from Springville down to Nephi and to absorb and extend the Sanpete Valley Railway. In fact their plans were so definite on this point that they secured an option for the purchase of the Sanpete Valley Railway. Afterwards they declined to exercise the option and instead decided to build a branch road from Thistle, via Fairview, Mount Pleasant and Manti to Salina. This branch was afterwards extended from Salina to Marysvale. The Rio Grande having declined to exercise their option and also having decided to build the Thistle branch, left the Sanpete Valley practically "high and dry." It was finally decided by the Sanpete Valley, in order to protect their investment, to extend the line from Chester to Manti and ultimately beyond. In fact, a company called the "Utah and Arizona" was organized which contemplated the extension of this road to a connection with the Santa Fe in Arizona. Funds were secured for the extension from Chester to Manti in the year 1893. Thereafter the Sanpete Valley secured traffic, in competition with the Rio Grande. The road was handicapped, however, as the Rio Grande had changed from narrow to standard gauge. To overcome this handicap, the gauge of the Sanpete Valley was changed from narrow to standard in the year 1898. Prior to this and in the year 1897 the road was extended (as a narrow gauge) from Manti to some coal mines located in Six Mile Canyon, east of the town of Sterling and a six mile branch was constructed to reach the Nebo Stone Quarry in Salt Creek Canyon. President Bruback was firmly of the opinion that this coal development provided the solution of the railway troubles. The coal at Sterling, geologically, was the same as the coal mined in the Castle Valley measures, or Book Cliffs field. The company spent a large sum of money, something like $250,000, in the development of these coal mines but on account of the fact that the coal was in a faulted area the quality was not equal to the "Book Cliffs" coal, of Castle Valley, and cost of mining was more expensive. However considerable coal business was handled, as well as other freight, and livestock, after changing the gauge to standard. The S. P. V. had the advantage of a connection with the Union Pacific and affiliated lines and could thus make a strong bid for competitive business. While considerable business was secured, the road was unable to make a satisfactory financial showing, especially as the Union Pacific entered into a traffic contract with the Rio Grande which cut the Sanpete Valley out of participation in through business. These traffic matters were adjusted after a year's time but the railway never made any money over and above operating expenses and taxes, and the coal mines were operated at a loss. In view of this fact Mr. Morrison became discouraged and was unwilling to furnish the additional capital that would have been required to extend the road further to the South.

It was not until the year 1910 that the writer knew that Mr. Morrison was one of the wealthiest men in England. At that time, when on a business visit in London, he called at Mr. Morrison's office and had a long talk with Mr. Cooper, the General Manager, of Mr. Morrison's numerous affairs. It was impossible to arrange for an interview with Mr. Morrison as he was then very ill and not expected to survive more than a few days longer. Mr. Cooper stated that Mr. Morrison was then past ninety years of age, being a man of great wealth, the inheritance tax that would be payable upon his death, would be over five million dollars. Mr. Morrison passed away while the writer was in London and the statements made by Mr. Cooper were corroborated in the London press at that time. With a man of such great means controlling the struggling Sanpete Valley Railway, it was certainly to be regretted that a better showing could not have been made in order to secure from him the capital to have made the Sanpete Valley road a first class transportation system, and an important coal carrying road by reaching the Castle Valley coal measures.

Going back in the story some years, I stated that the writer's connection with the Sanpete Valley road began in 1884. He had been waiting for years for a future that had failed to materialize and finally accepted a more lucrative position with Mr. Cune and his company operating in South America. This was in 1904.

While he was away, in the year 1908, the Sanpete Valley Railway was sold to the Rio Grande Western and is still operating as a branch line though some of the trackage has been abandoned. To the Rio Grande it has been a satisfactory investment, not that it pays interest on its cost, but on account of the fact that it eliminates entirely the competition that formerly prevailed, and in turn the Rio Grande is able to compete on Nephi business with the Union Pacific. It is fully as seedy and run down a looking railway now as it was when under independent ownership and during the most checkered period of its existence as the Sanpete Valley Railway. Before the sale of the property, the Sanpete Valley operated 57 miles of line. There is now operated by the Rio Grande only the line from Nephi to Ephraim, a distance of 35 miles.

While the railway certainly had a checkered career, before the sale to the Rio Grande, and proved very unprofitable to its owners, it was, withal, a boon to the people of Sanpete Valley in that reasonable rates prevailed even when, in railway parlance, the tributary territory was "exclusive" to this, the pioneer line of Sanpete. Many thousands of dollars were saved to the citizens of the State in transportation costs through the operation of this railway, particularly after its competition with the Rio Grande. '

The writer had twenty years service with the company and looks back with keen appreciation to the friendships established with the citizens, served by the transportation facilities he was in charge of during this time, and the loyal cooperation given by the employees, some of whom it is a pleasure to state are still "in harness" -- Hornung, now retired, succeeded the writer. Mr. Bradley, another old timer, is still in service. -- H. S. Kerr.

Some Facts Regarding The Coal Mine Near Wales, Sanpete County, Utah

By H. S. Kerr

Heart Throbs of the West, Volume 2, published in 1940 by Daughters of Utah Pioneers

Coalville, Utah, is named by historical authorities as the location of the first commercial coal development in Utah. This was about 1856. However, just prior thereto, coal was discovered near Wales, Sanpete County. The Wales coal, however, was of no importance commercially until the year 1878, being too remote from rail transportation and having a very limited local demand. Wood at this time was plentiful, near Sanpete County towns, and money was scarce. The main use of Wales' coal in the early days was for blacksmithing. It was and is the best blacksmithing coal in Utah. The same condition applies as to coke. Prior to the production of coke by the Utah Fuel Company in Carbon County, the best Utah coke would have been the product from the Wales mine. The coking possibility was the reason for "great expectations" the owners had regarding this property. About the year 1876, a company was formed to develop the mine. They purchased some of the developed coal land, acquiring adjacent property from the U. S. Land Office, and erected a small plant for manufacturing coke. Their plan was to be ready for production when the Utah Southern Railroad reached Nephi, anticipated and accomplished about 1878.

The owners of the Wales Coal property desired to construct a railroad from Nephi to the mines, being of the opinion that they would have a good market for coal and coke. They were unable to carry out their plans and arranged for Mr. Simon Bamberger to try and dispose of their holdings. Mr. Bamberger was assisted in his efforts by Mr. Charles Bennett, a prominent Salt Lake attorney. These gentlemen went to London and were successful in their mission. The company organized in London was the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company, Limited. It was a strong company headed by Sir Henry Tyler, who at that time was President of the Grand Trunk Railroad of Canada. The men organizing the Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company were friends and associates of Sir Henry Tyler. It was thought at that time that the enterprise would be successful. The company had sufficient funds to develop the coal property and construct the 27 miles of narrow gauge railroad from Nephi to the mines, via Salt Creek Canyon and the base of the San Pitch mountains, in the western part of Sanpete Valley. The company entered into a contract with Mr. Bamberger for the construction of the Sanpete Valley Railway. This railroad was constructed in 1880.

The amount of coal mined at Wales was small. The annual quantity being approximately 4,000 tons per year, from 1878 to 1893. Since 1893, a very small production has applied. -- H. S. Kerr.

Halbert S. Kerr Obituary

(Salt Lake Telegram, October 31, 1950)

Halbert Stevens Kerr, 85, who helped build the railroads into the Intermountain west during the turn or the century, and later turned to designing and construction of Utah highways, died Monday (October 30th) at 2:45 p.m. at his residence, 74 E. 2nd North, of causes incident to age.

Mr. Kerr retired from the Utah state road commission in 1949 after 32 years service. He was the commission's chief engineer for seven years.

Born January 3, 1865, at St. Michaels, Maryland, a son of John Bozman and Lucy Hamilton Kerr, he married Emily Keller in 1900 in Manti.

Mr. Kerr came to Utah in 1881 to work for the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad, which was at that time pushing toward Utah from Colorado. After three years, Mr. Kerr had learned to handle most phases of railroad location and construction work.

Mr. Kerr located the Helper engine wye at the spot where Helper, Carbon county, now is situated, and also is credited with an important part in the beginning of coal mining operations at Castle Gate and later at Clear Creek.

Upon completion of the D&RGW in 1884, Mr. Kerr then 19 years of age, obtained the position of engineer and was assigned to locate and construct the extension of the Sanpete Valley railroad for 30 miles south from Nephi. He moved to Manti where he became Superintendent of the road.

In 1904, he went to Peru to take charge of the Cerro de Pasco railroad for the late A. W. McCune of Salt Lake City, and his company, operators of the Cerro de Pasco mine.

He joined the state road commission as a locating engineer in 1917, serving as locating engineer, resident engineer, district, assistant chief, chief engineer, senior engineer, and finally as claim agent.

He was a life member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a life member of Utah Society Professional Engineers. He was a member of Kaibab lodge No. 25, F. and A. M., and formerly served as chaplain of the lodge.

Survivors include his widow, a son and daughter, Kenneth Kerr and Mrs. Beatrice Kerr Morton, Salt Lake City, and five grandchildren.