Monday, June 11, 2012

Riding the Rails in Old Utah

Last month, I promised to talk about mining and railroading in Deseret (territorial Utah). After giving it some thought, I decided to split the subject in two. This month I'll concentrate on Utah's early railroads and save mining for next time.

Replicas of UP No. 119 & CPRR No. 60 (the Jupiter) meet at the
Gloden Spike National Historic Site.
Train travel across Utah began with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869. Hammered in by Leland Stanford, head of the Central Pacific RR, that last spike linked the CPRR with the Union Pacific RR, completing the nation's first transcontinental railroad. The windy spot where the rails met was more than sixty miles northwest of Salt Lake City. Both the Mormon capital and Denver, Colorado -- the two largest cities in the mountain west -- were bypassed by the historic route. Feeder lines would need to be built to both cities.

Railroad construction workers in northern Utah
Ironically, Mormons made up most of the Union Pacific work gangs who blasted and tunneled a path through Weber River Canyon and laid track to Promontory. Latter Day Saints President Brigham Young had won a contract with the UP, employing Mormons to build the route in Utah. Church elders were lukewarm about railroads entering their domain, but Young realized train service would make it easier for new converts to "gather to Zion." It would also help their economy by increasing the flow of trade with the outside world. In 1867, Young said, "This gigantic work will increase intercourse, and it is hoped, soften prejudices, and bind the country together."

However, when the decision was made to bypass SLC in order to cut 76 miles and many steep grades from the route, and save 2.5 million dollars, Brigham Young was furious. He threatened to withdraw his support but in the end he accepted the inevitable and sent Mormon laborers to help. Some 4,000 men answered his call.

At the same time, plans were soon drawn up for the Utah Central Railroad, which would run from Salt Lake City to Ogden, where it would connect with the transcontinental route. Incorporated in 1869 and built by Mormons, this vital feeder line was completed in January, 1870. The two hour trip from Ogden to Salt Lake City cost $2, equal to about $55 in 2012.

In May of 1871, construction began on the Utah Southern, running south from SLC down the Jordan River Valley. This road eventually reached 105 miles south to Chicken Creek (Juab, Utah). Meanwhile, work also began on the Utah Northern RR from Brigham City to Ogden, and in 1874, the Utah Western got underway. Workers laid narrow guage tracks west from Salt Lake City, completing the route near Stockton in 1877. These "Mormon Roads" formed the basis for a network of rails intended, not for profit, but to connect the smaller Mormon settlements they served. Of course, there were some drawbacks. As early as the 1870s, air pollution became a problem. Smoke from trains and smelters (more about those next month) damaged crops, and together with coal smoke from home and commercial heating, made Salt Lake City air unhealthy to breath.

 A railroad groundbreaking was an exciting event, as shown in this news article: "Editor News -- Ground was broken for the Utah Northern Railroad, this evening, by moonlight. The dedication prayer was offered by Lorenzo Snow. John W. Young broke ground, and a portion of the grade was begun and completed, by shovel, pick, plow and scraper, amid the firing of cannon and ringing of bells. A great number of people were present to witness the ceremony. The brass band and Professor Fishburn's choir were present." (Deseret Evening News, August 28, 1871)

CPRR Groundbreaking Ceremony, Scramento, CA, Jan. 8, 1863 -- G.J. "Chris" Graves Collection
(Sorry, I couldn't find a picture of a Utah railroad groundbreaking. Darn!)
All of the above mentioned shortline railroads came under the control of the Union Pacific by the late 1870s to early 80s. However, another line, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, entered Utah Territory in 1881. The D&RGW rails approached from Denver via the Price River Canyon, reaching Salt Lake City in June, 1882. By purchasing several shortlines, the company swiftly began collecting revenue, giving the Union Pacific competition.

That's it for now. Next month I'll delve into mining in Utah, and how the railroads influenced the mining industry. Now here are two brief excerpts from Darlin' Druid, showing how I imagine an Old West train depot, c. 1872:

Outside Omaha’s Union Pacific Station, Captain David Taylor awaited the westbound train. Tired of the wait, he paced to a corner of the building, crossed his arms and leaned back against the yellow frame wall. This new depot was a far cry from the rickety old Riverside Station he’d passed through some years ago, he mused. Built on landfill, the new structure stood near the Missouri River Bridge, which had recently replaced the slow ferry service David recalled with distaste.

Admiring the bridge, he did his best to ignore the passengers and baggage crowding the station platform. He loosened his collar and tugged his campaign hat lower against the hot noonday sun. Barely June but summer was already here . . .


She [Jessie] fished a handkerchief from her reticule and patted her damp forehead. The depot seemed to grow hotter by the minute and the smell more revolting. Craning her neck, she looked through the window again, still seeing no sign of Tye. He’d best return soon or they would miss their train. The great iron beast had pulled up outside and now sat building up steam.

With a sigh, she eyed the crowd on the platform. It was a mixed group. There were settlers with children in tow and all their worldly goods heaped around them. Others, well-dressed easterners, might be journeying west for business purposes, Jessie supposed, or simply to see the land in all its glory. She also saw buckskinned westerners, going home perhaps.

Four such men, more dirty and rough looking than most, caught her eye. She watched them pass a whiskey jug back and forth between them and heard the muffled sound of their raucous laughter. They appeared to be well into their cups. Wrinkling her nose, she sincerely hoped they would not be traveling in her coach.

Reference sources
Union Pacific Country by Robert G. Athearn
Mormons and Gentiles, A History of Salt Lake City by Thomas G. Alexander & James B. Allen
Pioneering the Union Pacific by Charles Edgar Ames 


Unknown said...

Another great historical post. You gals amaze me with the interesting information you're sharing. Good job, Lyn.

Devon Matthews said...

Very interesting history, Lyn. I was amazed that they would have an air pollution problem back then. Thanks for sharing!

Lyn Horner said...

Hey Ginger, hey Devon, glad you found the info interesting. Passing along historical details can get kind of dry at times. It's a lot more fun to learn little nuggets of history from western romances. That's one of the perks of writing them, too.

Ciara Gold said...

Very informative. I always love figuring out railways when I'm researching a story so I know if the route my characters take is plausible. It's always fun to see where such research leads. Thanks for a great post.

Lyn Horner said...

Thank you, Ciara. Glad to share. Like you, I like to know my characters could actually go where I send them.

Meg said...

Nice post, Lyn! I always love history and railroads - but I also didn't know about the air pollution from coal in Utah. Interesting!

Lyn Horner said...

Meg, I was surprised to learn about that too, but it makes sense. They knew nothing about polution abatement methods back then, and if you've ever seen a photo or painting of an oldtime coal powered train engine, you'll see the problem. Those puppies belched black smoke. Same goes for ore smelters. Worse still, they undoubtedly gave off dangerous chemical fumes from the smelting process.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Utah has it's Golden Spike, as do many countries' railways. When the Last Spike (subject of poetry and prose) was hammered in to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway, it was plain iron. Even so, they removed the spike and used an even plainer one because they were afraid souvenir hunters would go after it.

Lyn Horner said...

Very interesting, Alison. The Golden Spike was also removed, for obvious reasons. It's now in the cantor arts Center at Stanford University.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I really enjoyed this post. There's so much more to railroad history than the transcontinental, and I appreciate this post and the research it will save me. :) It's amazing all the track that was laid in the 1870s and 1880s. Follow that, and we also learn about the settlement patterns as well as the exceptions. Denver to SLC to Boise--all those lines were initially stubs.