Way We Were: Salvation, part two — rail competition comes to Park City | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: Salvation, part two — rail competition comes to Park City

Union Pacific challenger left a lasting legacy

David Nicholas
Park City Museum researcher
A D&RGW locomotive, with four men standing or sitting on or by the pilot (sometimes called a cow catcher).
The Park City Historical Society & Museum, Nan McPolin Collection

Welcome to our second article regarding the salvation of Park City’s railroad blues. In our first installment we discussed the railroading aptitude of Brigham Young’s third son — John Willard Young (JW). By 1888 JW possessed 20 year’s experience as an iron horse entrepreneur. A new opportunity beckoned — connecting Salt Lake City with Park City, Coalville and beyond.

The residents and commercial interests of these towns were desperate for a competitor to the Union Pacific Railroad (UP). By 1887, UP enjoyed a monopoly concerning the rail-related transportation needs of Park City. It achieved this by eliminating its only competitor — the Utah Eastern Railroad.

Originally chartered to construct a narrow gauge (3-foot) railroad from Coalville to Park City to Salt Lake City, the company had exhausted its funds by the time it reached Park City in December 1880. Engaging in financial and securities chicanery, UP gained control of the Utah Eastern then shut it down in 1887. A true coup d’état. Just as the mines were extracting bullion from the treasure-laden mountains surrounding Park City, the UP was intent to extract its own riches unfettered by competition. The harder the UP squeezed, the louder the prayers for salvation. JW was listening.

Park City and Coalville represented alluring new markets for JW and his financiers. The mining industry featured a near-insatiable appetite for coal, timber (both for construction and fuel), salt and other commodities. Besides, the mines needed to ship their ore to outside markets. In addition, Salt Lake City required ever-increasing quantities of cost-effective coal — emphasis on cost effective. Transporting the “black diamonds” from Coalville was expensive and traffic in Parleys Canyon was a mess — the toll road between Salt Lake City and Park City was constantly choked with wagons.

JW appreciated the engineering and financial challenges of constructing a railroad between Park City and Salt Lake City. However, he was bolstered by an unshakable belief in the benefits of a direct rail connection and its potential business bonanza. Travel time would be reduced from 10 hours to two, with a corresponding decline in drayage rates.

Exercising his oratory, visionary and financial skills, JW secured the required funding from both local and outside financial markets. Conquering the steep grades (6%) of Parleys Canyon precluded construction of a standard gauge (4 feet, 8 1/2 inches) railroad. Thus, a narrow gauge (3-foot) design was selected. Construction proceeded at a remarkable pace, with regular service commencing in May 1890.

Alas, JW failed to realize the benefits of directly connecting the two growing metropolises. Construction costs of the Salt Lake and Eastern Railway vastly exceeded estimates. Over-extended, JW lost control of the company, which was merged into the second incarnation of the Utah Central Railway, a subsidiary of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway. The D&RGW would break the UP monopoly and serve Park City until 1947 — a period of 57 years.

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