Southern Utah Railroad's McKeen Car
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This page was last updated on June 21, 2019.
Southern Utah Railroad briefly operated the largest McKeen car built. Its body was 55 feet, 3 inches long, and it had a 300 horsepower engine on the only six-wheel power truck that McKeen built.
Southern Utah no. 100 was one of only two cars built in 1916, and no cars were built in 1915. Two McKeen cars were built in 1917, including SURR no. 100, and were the last cars built by McKeen. The company assets and designs were sold to Union Pacific in March 1920.
Recent research has discovered that when the McKeen car was delivered in January 1917, it was actually a demonstration. The grades on Southern Utah were found to be too much for the gasoline car and it was removed from service. At the same time, the McKeen Motor Car Company stopped doing business and was taken over by Union Pacific. The McKeen car at Hiawatha apparently sat unused until the unique, six-wheel power and 300-hp gasoline engine were reclaimed by UP. The steel car body was apparently turned over to Utah Railway as scrap metal.
Research has found that the car was built for Southern Utah but they never started paying for it. There was a flood in June 1917 that cut the line just six months after the McKeen was delivered on January 1, 1917. Utah Railway was in operation by this time (mid 1917) and Southern Utah was only being used to move coal to the east, and haul passengers between Price and the coal mines.
After the flood, Southern Utah was shut down and the car was apparently used very briefly by Utah Railway. By this time, McKeen's plant in Omaha was also shut down and since no one else wanted the big gasoline car, it was stripped of its 300 horsepower engine and power truck, which was sold as part of McKeen's liquidation. The steel body was set on the ground at Utah Railway's shop at Martin, Utah and became a locker room for shop employees.
Morrison Knudsen came to Martin in 1990 and cleaned up the shop area for their own use to maintain the Utah Railway SD40s. In May and June 1991, the McKeen body was sold, cut in half and moved to private property.
In September 2014, the two halves of the Southern Utah Mckeen car were moved to Minden, Nevada for restoration.
Southern Utah operated a McKeen car in 1917; ordered in June 1916 and delivered at Price on January 1, 1917.
- 91,000 pounds operating weight
- 58 feet 3 inches long
- 300 horsepower
- six-wheel power truck
The following is from Interurbans Without Wires by Edmund Keilty (Interurban Press, 1979), page 54:
One noteworthy accomplishment was production of the biggest McKeen car ever built--for the Southern Utah Railway in 1916. This car had two driving axles coupled by outside rods, and a 300-hp engine with chain drive to the axles. It replaced steam trains between Price and Hiawatha, Utah--18 miles of sharp curves and 4.92 percent grades. The 58-foot car weighed 91,000 pounds.
The following comes from Electric Railway Journal, June 10, 1916:
McKeen "Mallet" Motor Car Sold to Southern Utah Railroad
An application of gasoline motor car service which will be especially interesting to lines having unusual grades is announced by the Southern Utah Railroad Company, price, Utah, which has purchased one of the McKeen Motor Car Company's "Mallet" motor cars. This car will operate in place of the present Consolidation locomotive and combination coach train between Price and the mines at Hiawatha, Utah. This is an 8-mile run of continuous 2-1/2 per cent and 3 per cent grades, with frequent curves and a maximum grade of 4.92 per cent. In order to obtain ample surplus power for ascending these grades, the car will be equipped with the builder's gasoline locomotive-type power unit consisting of a 300-h.p. engine from which the power is transmitted to the driving axles. In this design a third speed is added to the transmission, and the driving wheels are connected by side rods. The car is 58 ft., 2-3/4 in. long over all and contains a 10-ft., 3-in. baggage compartment, and a main compartment with seats for forty-eight passengers. The plan and elevation are shown in the accompanying illustration.
April 14, 1916
During the spring of 1916 the Southern Utah was losing $10,000 a year. An official of the company stated that the steam locomotives may be replaced by "gasoline motor service" or that the Southern Utah may be electrified. (The Sun, April 14, 1916, p. 1)
June 15, 1916
In mid June 1916, A. B. Apperson, vice president and general manager of United States Fuel, announced that his company had purchased a motor car from the McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska, to be operated between Price and the mines for the benefit of the company's employees. (Salt Lake Mining Review, June 15, 1916, p. 18, "Coal Notes & Personals") (Also in News-Advocate, June 23, 1916)
November 22, 1916
Southern Utah engineer J. M. Riley was sent to Omaha in mid November 1916 for two to three weeks to learn the maintenance and operation of the "new electric motor" that was to be used on the Hiawatha Branch. (News-Advocate, November 22, 1916)
January 4, 1917
On January 1, 1917, the Southern Utah received its new McKeen gasoline motor car, with road number 100. The "Gasoline Car" arrived under its own power from Omaha on Monday, January 1, 1917. It stood at Price all day Monday and ran out to Hiawatha on Tuesday the 2nd. Mr. Riley was the engineer. (News-Advocate, January 4, 1917, "Gasoline Car Here")
January 18, 1917
By mid January, the new gasoline motor car was not yet in operation; it was found to be "not efficient enough". (News-Advocate, January 18, 1917)
July 12, 1917
During the two weeks immediately following the June 25th flood caused by the break of Mammoth Dam, the Southern Utah continued to operate its passenger, express and mail traffic with the McKeen gasoline car. The car ran down to the washed out bridge, where the passengers and mail were transferred to automobiles and taken into Price over the county highway. On July 11, 1917, sixteen days after the Mammoth dam break that washed out its Price River bridge, the Southern Utah Railroad ended the operation of its line. All trains were operated over the Utah Railway, using Southern Utah and Castle Valley steam locomotives for the freight and coal traffic. The passenger, mail and express traffic was handled by the Utah Railway between the coal camps and Utah Railway Junction on the D&RG (where a boxcar served as a temporary depot) using the Southern Utah McKeen motor car. Immediately after the Price River bridge was washed out, all freight traffic was transferred to the Utah Railway. All of the coal traffic was already going out over the Utah Railway. (The Sun, July 13, 1917, p. 1, "last Wednesday", "Southern Utah Tied Up"; News-Advocate, July 12, 1917, "Price Loses The Hiawatha Train")
July 13, 1917
In mid July 1917, about three weeks after the Mammoth dam break, the newspapers again stated that the McKeen motor car was a failure on the Southern Utah grades, which varied from 0.54 percent to 4.9 percent at East Hiawatha. (The Sun, July 13, 1917; Condensed Profile of the Southern Utah Railroad)
Records of the McKeen Motor Car Company show that only two cars were built in 1916, including Southern Utah 100 at the end of the year. The last year of production was 1917 when only two cars were completed. Union Pacific M-24 was the last car built. Although never owned by neither Southern Utah Railroad, nor Utah Railway, the Southern Utah car apparently remained on Utah Railway property pending disposition instructions from McKeen (Union Pacific). At some unknown date (likely in 1919), the combination gasoline engine and six-wheel power truck was removed and sold.
The McKeen Motor Car Company was dissolved in 1920, and Union Pacific assumed ownership of the company and it assets, including the car in Utah. Unconfirmed sources suggest that the engine and power truck were repossessed and removed, with the carbody being abandoned. The 300 horsepower gasoline engine had some value as a marine engine, and was apparently sold by Union Pacific.
To fill its passenger needs, Utah purchased a second-hand wooden combination car from Las Vegas & Tonapah. The Utah Railway 1937 Official Manual shows a 70-foot, six-axled combination passenger, baggage and mail coach purchased second hand on January 13, 1919 from the Las Vegas & Tonapah Railway. The passenger car was retired on March 2, 1927 and converted to outfit car number 05, which was retired on June 6, 1939.
In 1939 the abandoned McKeen carbody was moved from an unknown location, to a location adjacent to the shops at Martin for use as shop employee locker and storage room. The body was removed in 1992.
The only other possible mention of the McKeen car was in the 1951 Chief Engineer's report on the condition of the railroad. On page 21, the chief engineer states "An old steel coach body was installed near the [Martin] enginehouse in 1939 and is used as a workshop by the General Electrician and as a locker building for the car men."
Car Body Moved
In 1991, after recognizing the car's historical value, an employee removed the McKeen body from Utah Railway property by cutting the car into two pieces, then the body was moved to private property for use as a storage shed.
The following was posted to Trainorders.com on March 24, 2010 by user "donaldcurtis":
I can confirm that the carbody was sold for a nominal fee in 1991 to a former Utah employee who was working for Morrison-Knudsen at the time. He cut the body into two pieces through the side door location and loaded it onto his trailer to be taken to his small farm property to be used as a shed.
At the time of removal, the carbody had been disused for many years and was painted silver as I remember. You could still read the lettering for the Southern Utah under the silver paint. The employee in question was rehired by Utah Ry when they terminated the maintenance contract with Motive Power (successor to MK) but I don't know if he still works at Martin today.
On September 9, 2014, the two halves of Southern Utah RR no. 100 were loaded on two trucks, and started their journey to restoration. "The motorcar will be taken to Carson City, Nevada, where it will be restored and then it will be shipped a few miles south to Minden, Nevada, where it will be displayed along with buildings and other relics of the same era." (Sun Advocate, Price , Utah, September 11, 2014, "Tuesday")
Photo and Drawing
Photo -- From the Union Pacific Historical Collection.
Drawing -- From Ed Keilty's Interurbans Without Wires, page 54.
Southern Utah Railroad and Castle Valley Railroad -- Information about the two companies and their jointly operated line between Price and the coal mines at Hiawatha and Mohrland.
Consolidated Fuel Company -- Information about Southern Utah Railroad's parent company, and its mine at Hiawatha.
Southern Utah Steam Locomotives -- Information about Southern Utah's steam locomotives