Tom Clyde: A new (old) perspective on traffic
The other day I had to make two trips into town from my house in Woodland. I hate to do that. I came over to ski for a while, and had a party in the evening. Just hanging out somewhere in town while I have a pile of stuff that needs to be done at home (afternoon nap) just doesn’t work, so there were two trips. I got snagged in traffic both times. I confess, I am traffic. It didn’t used to be this way.
I got a look back at how transportation around here used to be, 130 years ago. I stumbled onto a pioneer journal from a guy named Hyrum Neibaur, who had homesteaded 160 acres that later became part of our ranch. I’m sure his descendants are still in the area. It’s a first person account of life out here in about 1890. It’s a fascinating account of a life that covered the Mormon migration, the transcontinental railroad, the mines, and homesteading. If it happened the great Western expansion, this guy was at ground zero, swinging an axe or shovel. It’s incredibly local. He rented farmland in Heber from a relative of mine. His prospects in Heber seemed limited, so he moved upriver and homesteaded at the north end of Pine Valley.
His was a joyful life despite very hard work with little to show for it. A lot of the journal recounts the mundane details of daily life. He ran out of hay, and needed to buy more to feed his horses and dairy cow. There was a rancher named Davis, who was located almost exactly underneath the Jordanelle Dam, who had hay for sale. The trip was about 18 miles each way along the Provo River. It would have been a long round trip in a single day by horse and wagon. I do that for a pizza.
It was April, so Woodland was still covered with snow. He left home with his team pulling a bobsled, and went down the canyon until he ran out of snow. His plan had been to borrow a wagon from a brother-in-law who lived along the way, but when he got there, the wagon was gone. So he left the sled at the edge of the snow and rode his team down the valley until he found another farmer who would let him borrow a wagon. There’s your inter-modal transit system, or an early version of Uber.
With the borrowed wagon, he went on to Davis’s, bought his hay and turned around. Of course it was then afternoon and the road had thawed into a mud bog. He got stuck several times. He finally got back to the sled, transferred a ton of hay from the wagon to the sleigh with a pitchfork, and took the wagon back to the farm where he borrowed it. Then back to his sleigh and home. He doesn’t say how long the trip took. I’m guessing at least 18 hours. He was able to haul enough hay to last a week before he had to do it again. That’s what your Home Depot run looked like in 1890.
Later, the family was on their way from their homestead to a store in Woodland to barter for some stuff they needed. They set out on a loaded wagon, and because there weren’t bridges, they had to ford the Provo River at flood stage. A son drove the wagon over while the parents and a half-dozen children watched from the riverbank. The wagon nearly washed away, and the family decided they would not to go shopping. They walked home, about two miles. The son made it to the store, and on the return trip, concluded that he couldn’t get across the river. Instead, he took a detour that mountain bikers know as part of the Little South Fork/Bench Creek trail. That’s a steep, difficult, 15-mile detour on a five-mile trip, but he got home safely. I think that’s worse than the traffic lights malfunctioning at Kimball Junction.
Getting to Salt Lake was a major effort. He would leave home in the early morning, and if he got lucky, he could hitch a ride to Park City on a wagonload of mine timbers from the sawmills in Woodland. That way, he didn’t need to pay to board his horse in Park City. If all went well, he would get to Park City in time for the afternoon train. More often than not, he missed the train and spent the night sleeping in the hay loft of William Kimball’s barn next door to the Union Pacific Depot. Other times, he would catch the D&RG at the Gorgoza tubing park. It was a full day, sometimes two, to Salt Lake unless the roads were muddy. Then it could take three.
Maybe our traffic problems aren’t so bad after all.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.