Ode to Utah Coal, Vol. 1
Yet, we have a remarkable inability to appreciate change except from the point of view of great distance. For example, in the year of my birth, nine railroads operated within an hour of Utah’s Wasatch front. Today, there are three. It goes without saying that there is a tremendous difference between then and today, and it is easy to point to how things are different. But, it is more difficult to point to how things are different from six months ago. It seems as though our minds are very imprecise for dealing with change in real time.
It is rare when one has the clarity to see change as it happens in the now--recognition that, at this very moment, the earth upon which you stand is shifting. This week, I had that moment when the Utah Railway operated its last coal train over Soldier Summit. This move was the end of a 105 year service record.
105 years... Let that sink in.
In 1912, the Utah Railway was chartered to carry coal from Utah mines to points of interchange with the Union Pacific and Rio Grande. For decades, the labor of moving coal over Soldier Summit was almost the railroad's exclusive task. Today, the railroad is in a state of transition. It is an emergent bridge carrier, and this is good. It will keep the railroad operating into the future.
But, it is not the same. And while I watched the crew cut-out six mid-train helpers, I knew that tomorrow was going to be different. Somehow, tomorrow already feels different.
All i can say wow 105yr.
A sad day indeed. I live 200 yards away from the Utah Railway tracks and they are almost totally silent. My parents house is about a half mile away from the Utah’s yard. Growing up I remember watching the Alco RSD 4’s, then the “newer” Alco’s from the Santa FE, then the SP SD 45’s, then the ex BN units. At work I would watch the SD 40’s, SD 50’s, and then the Cat 5000C’s go by, watch the clock and about 2 hours later catch the helpers coming down Price canyon. Monday through Friday when things were slow at work. When I first start working at the power plant in ‘77 the RSD 4’s were still in service and some time around 1 A.M. they would be dragging a coal train past. What a sight and sound! A mix of 12 Alco’s about half of them blowing fire out their stacks slowly crawling by, pulling 84 UP hoppers. During the SD 40 years when the train would go by my house I had about 10 to 30 minutes, it varied, to go to a semi secluded crossing and wait. As the mid train helpers went by I could walk next to the train, almost within touching distance, and just feel the power going by. What a rush! A total eargasm. You could feel the ground shake, and hear nothing but 15,000 to 18,000 EMD horsepower. Beautiful sound! Maybe that’s why I have tinnitus now. Totally worth it! No regrets. My wife even done it with me. She smiled from ear to ear, never been so close to a moving locomotive screaming in notch 8 going 15 mph. Should have taken much more video, but life was always getting in the way of having fun. That’s my only regret, not enough video. In Price canyon I never knew how much air blew out of a tunnel just before the locomotives came out. Never thought about, until it happened. Last parting thought. I will not buy sound decoders until one of them record the sound of an EMD locomotive actually WORKING. Right now all I have heard is recordings of a loco sitting still and just running the throttle up. I have heard EMD’s working hard pulling a load uphill all of my life.I know the difference between what is available and the sound of a working EMD. If you don’t believe me get on UTube and watch and listen to SP moves a loaded coal train through the Tehachapi’s, then listen to a sound decoder. The difference is painfully clear.
This does seem to be the end of “big time” railroading for Utah Rwy – 105 cars with many helpers mid-train. D&RGW used to be a bridge route, but classic bridge Rio Grande ended in 1988 with the merger into SP lines. Could the Utah Rwy become a new bridge carrier like the D&RGW of old? As I read in an article on the Rio Grande in Utah, the only constant is change.
Cheers, Jim Fitch
Last May (2016) my son and I “discovered” the Utah Railway on our first trip through Price Canyon. I had hoped to see some D&RGW action, but they were having what appeared to be a signal maintenance blitz and no trains were running that day. We spotted the Utah Railway coal hoppers as we approached Helper and pulled into the shop area for a few quick photos. The railroad hadn’t previously registered in my railfan mind, but the encounter caused me to do some reading. It is very sad that it won’t be around for my next trip through the area.
I spent a few days chasing the old grey alcos and their blue assistants just before they got replacements. seems like yesterday but my infant son then, is now a securities analyst with 2 kids and a big house and flecks of grey hair. I had a rental big Thunderbird which I drove in the dirt along the line the line south from Martin until I hit a gulch with walls too steep to drive across somewhere below the first wye to a mine. Had to drive around the long way to get to the mine at the end of the line.
Rental cars are durable. next trip I drove one the length of the D&SL from Moffat tunnel east entrance to Moffat west entrance after they dynamited the roof of needles eye tunnel. That Chrysler K car went over the rockpile like Jeep tv add.
Blaine – I hadn’t realized that the slump in western coal Had proved fatal to the mines west of Helper. It was a thrill to see and hear huge numbers of those red-and-grey locos straining up the grade toward the summit when I would drive to Salt Lake from my home in Colorado. Pity!
I understand what your talking about. I have a birthday tomorrow,2/07/47, 70 years old. I have love Trains my hole life. Being born In Southern California ,I had an opportunity to see SP Daylight steam, Cab Forwards, Pacific Electric street cars, US Navy Supper Connie’s taking off and landing at Burbank Airport, everything that’s a kid that lived in the San Fernando Valleycould want to see.
I don’t live there anymore, the Daylight Steam, the Cabforwards, Pacific Electric, and the US Navy Supper Connie’s, "WC121J, are gone, even the SP is gone.
Time move’s on. The U.P. Willl move the coal, The Utah Railway will work for the BNSF
Remember the Denver & Rio Grande Western
This is so sad. I never was able to see this action. Have paced up loaded grain trains west up the 3 track from churn. Four units. All emd. All in run 8. That should read Cheyenne. What a thrill.
The Utah Railway runs deep in my heart, my memory, and my consciousness.
I remember seeing endless drags of Utah hoppers while on motorcycle trips through the West towards Yellowstone.
What a sight!
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February 12, 2017
As with everyone else who has shared comments & memories, I too will miss the Utah Rwy. But I was lucky enough to
see their trains in action, both on their line out of Martin, and over Soldier Summit. And to have seen & photographed
the gray & red units leading trains over the elegant, curved, & scenic Gordon Creek trestle. It has been constant change, for sure. The writing seemed to be on the wall, as the Utah’s mines closed up one-by-one. Much the same has happened on the ex-Rio Grande, with now maybe one train a week off the Craig Branch, and the same < if that > off the North Fork Branch. Those who have seen, photographed, and experienced the Utah & DRGW coal trains will miss that, but we are still far better off than the serious fans who never were able to get there, or were too young to enjoy the experience. Thanks for the opportunity to comment!