Monday, August 12, 2013


Eleanor Peterson Madsen

First Place Essay

Saga of the Sanpitch 1974

Too-oot! Too-oot! Too-oo-oot! The clear, low whistle of the Sanpete Valley Train echoed
cheerfully from the walls of the high mountains on either side of the silver track as the train made its way slowly, chug, chug, chugging up Salt Creek Canyon into Sanpete Valley. The small train followed along the banks of the clear stream through tall, green grass in the spring of the year or meandered through glistening, snow-covered hills in winter.

The little train had its beginning when the valley was still new and young. As early as 1875, wise
leaders saw a need for a train in Sanpete to haul the ―burning rock to other areas. When Tabiona, an Indian chief, first discovered the coal in 1854, and showed it to Brigham Young, the first coal mine in Utah was developed and this early train played an important part in the distribution of the coal.
The road to the mine was surveyed and partly graded in the 1870‘s by residents of Salt Lake City. Later, Simon Bamberger, Governor of Utah, made a trip to England and interested a wealthy English Syndicate in the coal mine and the prospect of a railway to carry the valuable product to other parts of the world.

This new company extended a branch line from Nephi, where it joined the Oregon Short Line Railroad, past Fountain Green and over to Wales, with a spur going directly up Pete‘s Canyon to the mine where the coal was loaded on the coal cars. The coal had previously been hauled out by wagon team.
Wales thus became the terminal and all the mail from Sanpete and Sevier counties was distributed from there. A post office was built, also a store and a boarding house. The coal venture lasted only a few years, however, as the ―Central Pacific Coal and Coke Company that sponsored the building of the Sanpete Valley railway were insufficient to warrant continued operation of the mine. Consequently, the working plant and coke ovens were abandoned and the narrow gauge railway was taken up and re-located south of the vicinity of Fountain Green to Chester.

A celebration with brass bands, dancing and public meetings welcomed the train to Chester. It wasn‘t
long until another extension of the track was made to Ephraim and then to Manti, the train being greeted with happy celebrations. At a later date the track was extended to the Morrison Mine, east of Sterling, for hauling of coal. Small parts of the narrow gauge track that led to this mine can still be seen across the meadows and salt flats.

In addition to the freight cars, baggage compartments, smoker and coal-fired engine, the train boasted a
passenger car with twenty four plush seats that welcomed interested travelers for a day‘s round trip ride from Manti to Nephi. The train schedule said, ―leaving Manti at 7:45 a.m.  It returned to the point of departure about 3:30 p.m.

The ―Round house at Manti was a terminal for the train. Here repairs were made, engines oiled and
greased under the direction of Tom Chapman and Mr. Wood. Here the train turned around for another run. H.S. Kerr was Superintendent and had his office at the Manti depot. An early day train crew were William Watson, engineer; Sam Parry, fireman; George Bradley, conductor; Ray Stringham and John Kennyberg, brakemen. J.H. Hornung was agent in Manti.

The train had a number of nicknames, one was the ―Polygamist Central.  It received this name because it was believed that the trainmen signaled the polygamists if Federal Officials were aboard.
Another name was ―The Creeper  because of the slow pace which the train traveled. There were a
number of reasons for the slow motion in addition to the train not being geared for high speeds. Leaving Manti the train had to cross the swampy meadows to the west of Manti and Ephraim and due to the boggy nature of the ground, if a faster speed were maintained, the cars had a tendency to rock on the unsteady track. There were also stray cattle feeding along the tracks and many time the Engineer had to pull the train to a sudden halt and get out to shoo a cow or a wayward calf off the track when it failed to pay attention to the loud, insistent tooting of the whistle. Sometimes the train would stop and allow the passengers or the crew to hunt a few jack rabbits on the way. Some years the grasshoppers would be so thick in the fields along the track, that they were a menace to safe, fast travel.  Going down Salt Creek Canyon couldn‘t be a speedway either as passengers often wanted to stop and gather the long-stemmed, tasty, green water cress that grew along the pleasant stream in the spring of the year.

In the fall, the Conductor of the train always obliged the sun-bonneted, overalled travelers by stopping at  Vicker‘s Ranch half way down the canyon to pick some of the abundant hops from the vines that grew high along the fence. The hops were used for make malt beer.

Two young boys, ages twelve and fourteen thought the ―Creeper was well named. One morning they
hitched their buckskin mare to the family milk cart for the daily trip to the farm west of Manti. As they neared the corner south of where the pea factory was later built, the train was just steaming up ready to leave the station. With a chug, chug and a whistle, away it sailed down the track. The younger boy hit the horse with his strap while the older one hung on tightly to the reins, driving as hard as he could. It was a race all the way to the cross road with the boys passing the vantage point and still strapping the horse down the lane and all the way to the farm before finally coming to a halt as the train was fast disappearing across the meadow route, the conductor waving his hat in farewell to the pleased boys.
Sometimes it was fortunate for the passengers that the train was slow moving. It happened once that the
baggage care came uncoupled from the engine and the travelers were left sitting awhile as the engine continued on its merry way oblivious to what had happened to its load.

The baggage car that carried the mail was an important part of the early train. Many people enjoyed the
walk to the depot to see their letters safely on their way.

In the earliest days when coal was shipped from Wales, kerosene, sugar, salt, molasses, and dry goods
were brought back to the Sanpete communities. Later, freight cars carried livestock, wool, and grain from the valley and brought other needed merchandise, thus greatly improving the economy of Sanpete County.

The Denver and Rio Grande railway purchased the Sanpete Valley line in the early 1900‘s and shortly
after that discontinued the road from the Morrison mine and from Manti to Ephraim. At a still later date, they discontinued that portion of the Sanpete Valley branch extending from just north of Moroni to Nephi. The only part of the Sanpete Valley line now in operation is that from Ephraim to Moroni.
There are still those who remember and have nostalgic memories of the Sanpete Valley railway
whenever a long, low, clear whistle is heard across the west meadows.

―History of Sanpete and Emery Counties.‖
―These Our Fathers.‖
―Song of a Century.‖
―Inventory of County Archives.‖
―Sanpete County Fair Book 1970-1973.‖
Leslie L. Madsen and L.M. Kjar

August 21, 1883
"Accident on the Sanpete Valley R. R." "An accident on the Sanpete Valley railroad occurred on Friday, fortunately not doing any fatal harm. The mixed train was coming north, and at the summit between Fountain Green and Nephi, the conductor had orders to leave freight cars. The cars were switched off as per orders, and a man instructed to drop one at a point a short distance below the summit. The man got on the car and started down grade, but discovering that the brake was faulty and that he could not manage the car, he jumped off and let the car go. The mixed train had gone on at a lively rate with the passenger car in the rear. The conductor had noticed the car and feared it might get away from the man, but was forced to let it go. However, he kept a close watch. At the mouth of Salt Creek canyon, the runaway car overtook the passenger, just as it was rounding a curve, and crashed into it. The passenger coach was broken and several cars were damaged. There were four passengers in the coach, one a lady, and all were somewhat bruised, the lady being injured most, but not seriously. Had it not been for the apprehension and care of the conductor in sending his train forward at a lively rate, thus materially weakening the force of the concussion, the whole train would have been wrecked and the passengers and crew probably killed." (Salt Lake Daily Herald, August 21, 1883)

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