Emigration Canyon Railroad, By Ira Swett

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Taken from "Interurbans of Utah" by Ira Swett, pages 3-5

The historic flight of the Mormons from Nauvoo Illinois, to the site of Salt Lake City is too well known to dwell upon here. Suffice it to say that the epic migration westward -- "Where we can build a city in a day, and have a government of our own, got up into the mountains where the Devil cannot dig us out, and live in a healthy climate, where we can live as old as we have mind to" -- came to a successful conclusion on July 21, 1847. On that day the advance party pushed through a steep canyon and entered Salt Lake Valley. On July 24, the main body of the Mormons entered the valley and the date has even since been celebrated as "Pioneer Day," Utah's outstanding holiday.

That steep, often narrow, canyon which served the Mormons as the entrance to the future City of Zion was named, appropriately enough, "Emigration Canyon," and from its rocky walls came most of the rock and sandstone which built Zion.

By 1907 the task of transporting this heavy material in sufficient quantity to alleviate the growing pains of the city and its satellite towns was recognized to have outgrown the slow, inefficient freight wagons. The Mormon Church solved the problem by constructing an electric railway deep into Emigration Canyon.

Construction got under way that year, and was pushed through to Pinecrest, about fourteen miles distant from Salt Lake, by the time winter hit. The Emigration Canyon Railroad was a reality.

The nerve center of the road was at the intersection of Fifth South and University Avenue in Salt Lake. There the little rock trains transferred their cargo to waiting wagons, and there were located the storage yard and repair shops.

Cars of these rock trains were of the single-truck, flat type --- possibly rebuilt from retired streetcars of the Utah Light and Traction Company (records fail to shed any light on their origin). Two electric locomotives were in service from the beginning: Nos. 1 and 2. Both definitely were home-built. No.1 was extraordinary in appearance; a double-truck motorized flat was surmounted by the body of an old UL&T closed city car. Only other rolling stock was the line car -- a single-truck closed car, also obtained from UL&T.

The company soon realized that it was overlooking a profitable source of additional revenue in not operating passenger trains. In 1909 four passenger cars were ordered (two motors, two trailers) and by the close of that year passengers rode up to Pinecrest in perfect comfort. A lodge was built at Pinecrest to accommodate the sightseers, and quite soon summer cottages began springing up all through the canyon. The novelty of riding "real electric cars" deep into the cool canyon which had first captured the imagination of Mormon and gentile alike soon resolved into a more realistic attitude: here was dependable transportation to a very desirable vacation and rest area. Little wonder business soared!

Additional passenger equipment took the form of two closed trailers and two closed motor cars, all named instead of numbered, in keeping with the company's policy.

Most of the company's passenger trains originated at the yards at 5th South and University. However, some schedules ran over UL&T tracks to the heart of the city at South Temple and Main Streets, in front of the Hotel Utah. The company failed to wax overly enthusiastic about operating its trains into downtown Salt Lake; first, there were the operational problems which confronted anyone seeking to run trains of as many as six cars throughout areas of heavy traffic density; second, UL&T tapped ECRR 5 cents for each passenger transported on its trackage. Nevertheless, it must have been quite a sight to behold six car trains loaded with vacationers winding up and down the main streets of Zion.

From the Hotel Utah, ECRR trains ran east on South Temple to State Street, south on State to Second South, east to Tenth East, south to Fifth South, and east to the yards at University Avenue. After UL&T abandoned its trackage on Second South and Tenth East, ECRR trains were rerouted via First South and 13th East (where the city's last streetcar ran until 1945).

The route from the yard into the canyon and up to Pinecrest Lodge must have been somewhat exciting, to say the least. From the yard the route continued for four city blocks, then made a sharp turn to the left and ran for more than two miles on a tangent toward the Wagner Brewery, located at the mouth of the canyon. Upon entering the canyon proper, rails wound their tortuous way into the labyrinth -- crossing and re-crossing the stream no less than sixteen times before arriving at one of the two switchbacks required to gain necessary elevation; at this point the grade was 5-1/2 percent. The last mile to Pinecrest Lodge boasted a constant 8 percent grade!

At a point about a mile before reaching the Lodge, a branch line switched back, up and around a ridge some seven thousand feet high -- higher by more than half a mile than Zion. Passenger trains backed cautiously up this branch to Point Lookout for a view of a portion of the wide valley below. Unfortunately, intervening ridges cut off the best part of the view, but even so the side trip was a "must." This branch continued upward for another mile above Point Lookout but the company considered it too dangerous for the operation of passenger trains.

The worst enemy of ECRR was, of course, winter. While the sun shone warmly, all was lovely; passenger and freight trains ran on schedule with full loads. But the winter snowfall buried the rails hopelessly deep and service had to be suspended until the spring thaw. Sometimes the first train of the season cautiously nosed its way up the canyon as early as February.

ECRR kept pretty much to itself insofar as other electric and steam roads were concerned. Aside from the UL&T, the ECRR's only other interchange was with the Union Pacific -- and this was gained only via the streetcar company's trackage. At no time did ECRR have working agreements with SL&U or Bamberger (SL&O), and of course Saltair was not then electrified. ECRR electric engines were occasionally seen hauling cars of supplies and materials through Salt Lake from the UP interchange on the northwest side of the city, and we have a record of one of UL&T's wreckers being dispatched up into the canyon to pull the wreckage of a Bamberger baggage trailer (short steam type) up from the bottom of the canyon.

It is also on record that ECRR in 1914 seriously considered joining with SL&U and SL&O in the Union Station project; at about the same time ECRR was reportedly considering extending its road to East Mill Creek or Cottonwood Canyon. Neither proposal was successful in gaining official approval.

What, then, brought about the demise of this seemingly prosperous company? A technological advance was responsible: the introduction of concrete as a foundation for buildings revolutionized construction methods and ECRR was left with a negligible freight business. The passenger revenue was insufficient to keep the company in the black and so must be recorded the melancholy fact that 1916 was the last year for ECRR. Evidently the management was optimistic to the very end, for some rather expensive work was done during the winter of 1916-17 in changing the controls on the motor cars.

The dismantling of the ECRR was complete. Rails were removed and even the spikes went to help the nation's war effort. The cars and a locomotive also were pressed into the alleviation of the emergency: they went to the Tacoma Municipal Railway in Washington, where they hauled war workers to the shipyards for many months. All were consumed in the first of two major car house fires at Tacoma, about 1918. The more than fifty flat cars were scrapped, and the final act of the ECRR management was to divide up between the officials the company's remaining property: four battered old shovels.

Station List

The following is a list of stations as they might have appeared on an ECRR timetable (timetables were conspicuous by their absence):