Friday, September 23, 2016

Ghost Rail-Fanning the Tooele Valley

May 31, 2016; the Tooele Valley Railroad Musuem has some of the last intact segments of the Tooele Valley Railway. For example this segment in place to display artifacts such as steam engine #11.
The current display location is near where the engine's retirement ceremony was held on May 20, 1963. The engine was built in 1910, and operated into the beginning of the space age, until stricter boiler standards finally forced its retirement. When retired, #11 earned itself the title of "The Last Steam Locomotive to operate in Revenue Freight Service in Utah." The only way I can ever see it losing that title is if UP decides to plop the Big Boy onto a Z-Train (just kidding...) The somber moment is preserved in the archives of the Tooele Pioneer Museum:
And for those looking to see what this steamer looked like in action, a silent home video of it in action has shown up on Facebook: 

Ghost Rail-Fanning seems to be a natural extension of the rail enthusiast hobby. As fun and awesome as it is to watch a 100+ car long Z-train barrel down the mainline at full speed with a trio of diesel's on the helm; much of the history of railroading is buried in lost fields, rusting and vanishing into the natural landscape. Ghost Rail-Fanning is the part of the hobby where we leave behind active rail tracks, and seek the unknown, hidden away in rural areas, or placed in plain sight in dense urban areas. Rather than seeking out active trains, the Ghost Rail-Fan wants to discover history; and see it for himself (although sometimes abandoned rails are just a stone throw away from active ones!). It is also a great reason to get out some hiking shoes, and discover the beauties of nature that exist where trains once ran.

I have already expressed my fascination with the Tooele Valley Railway. The railroad itself shuttered in the early 1980's; its track swiftly dismantled and its right of way gradually restored over the years. I was born in the mid 1990's, a decade and a half too late to have witnessed my "hometown railroad" in action. Thankfully the prudent and dedicated actions of volunteers has preserved this history in a local museum. Even as a Thomas the Tank Engine loving toddler, that local museum became a place of wonder and awe.  #11 in a way had become (has become?) what I consider to be my engine. Sure, its not like I own the thing, but as a kid there is something fascinating about sitting in the engineer's seat and looking out the windows and staring at the controls of such a beast. I still remember as a teenager the time I met Larry Deppe at the museum (Professor Emeritus and author of the Tooele Valley Railway segment in Mining, Smelting, and Railroading in Tooele County). He walked me into the cab and began to show me the functions of the engine, that after 50+ years of outdoors display, could still work. When I made my first railfan trip with a driver's license in hand, I drove down to the west side of Tooele where Warner Station once stood, the place that once was the meeting place between the Tooele Valley, the Union Pacific, and the Western Pacific (at the time a mysterious railroad I was just beginning to learn about too). After an hour or two of uneventful waiting, I was about ready to give up hope of seeing anything interest when this beauty showed up: 

March 19, 2010; Pretty good catch with just dumb luck ain't it? The railyard in the foreground was once the UP interchange track with the Tooele Valley Railway.

In retrospect the photos weren't great, but the memory still is. My first shot at railfanning by dumb luck resulted in catching heritage passenger cars on an executive special. With it, the allure of railfanning was cemented into my brain and body along with it was the image of the UP, WP, and the Tooele Valley Railway all coming together at Warner Station, as if it were all part of some forgotten story. My journey as a railfan who both chased trains and also searched the ground for hidden history, had begun.

August 10, 2016; when Union Pacific was running Family Days/Operation Lifesaver specials in Utah this year, I purposefully went to see it one day where Warner Station once stood on the west side of Tooele; both to relive the memories of my trip here six years earlier, and to also imagine what it was like when this spot was once home to a passenger station. The location I am standing on is approximately where a wye once stood connecting the Tooele Valley Railway into the Union Pacific (originally the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad)

As my interest and knowledge of railroads increased, so did my desire to understand the history of the Tooele Valley Railway. Incidentally as I investigated history further, I ended up traversing nearly the entire grade of the line in different segments and trips. A Boy Scout master took my troop when I was a teenager over the parts of the line east of Tooele's golf course, through what the railroad called "The Big Curve" and up to the edge of the Carr Fork Reclamation Area. In my spare time I have broken out my hiking shoes again, and have trekked over other hidden gems in the Carr Fork Reclamation Area, trying to imagine when the landscape was dominated by a massive, loud, and polluting International Smelter. I felt a vested interest in the subject, as my maternal grandfather worked brief jobs at the International Smelter, and my paternal grandfather would work at the brief lived Carr Fork Mine which succeeded it. 

July 13, 2016; the Tooele Valley Railway's abandoned fill over the mouth of Middle Canyon is easily accessible from the Oquirrh Hills Golf Course, and has been preserved to commemorate the railroad.
This view of the International Smelter complex from ca. 1920 is only a fraction of the massive complex. Copper and lead were the primary products of the Smelter. This photo has been preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress:

The modern view in the same vicinity on June 21, 2016; shows how modern environmental reclamation can transform the complete look of a historical location. Even though the EPA has capped the area to prevent further contamination, a quick look reveals broken bricks, glass, and metal wires in the ground; still testifying to the history that once happened here. This photo was taken near the location of the railway's engine house.

These Ghost Rail-Fan trips have resulted in sun burn, and tiredness; but often end in enlightenment. Sometimes I feel like I find true treasures hidden up in the hills, evidence that the history which occurred before I was born is indeed true, and it's veracity is verified by what nature has hidden itself.

While popular memories of the Tooele Valley Railway focus on the steam powered mainline, a full record would be amiss to not admit the use of electric powered switch engines which transferred materials from one building to the next. The history of these little machines is not well registered sadly, but fortunately the Library of Congress's archives provide a small look at them:

June 21, 2016; the yards of the Tooele Valley Railway followed a terraced grade in the mountain side. This curve was once part of the upper rail yard in the smelter complex. The track is long gone, but the grade is still completely intact. I do not know which parts of the yards were served by the road engines, and which parts were served by the electric switchers, but the mystery helps to drive further inquires and searches.

Of course searching the grades of abandoned railroads can yield many surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise possible is entering an area were one thinks nothing remains, only to discover that something does remain. That has happened to me quite a few times while traveling the Tooele Valley grade, and it has yielded many surprises for me! 

As the crow flies, the operations of the famed Bingham Canyon mines and the smelting at Tooele were only a short distance apart. But the Oquirrh Mountains stand like a barrier between the two sites. While the Tooele Valley Railway hauled ores from off site locations and shipped finished product; the Highland Boy tramway was the main manner of shipping ores out of Bingham and into Tooele. The option of taking the railroad (over the DRGW routes from Bingham, interchanging through the WP or UP, and then finally into Tooele) would have taken more time compared to this direct method. I was really happy to discover the standing tram towers on my June 21 trek though the old smelter site. Photos of the tramway in use during it's heyday can be found here:

My June 21 trek also provided me a closer look at the Carr Fork Mine site where my paternal grandfather worked. Built by Anaconda in a move to increase production, after a socialist president in Chile seized Anaconda's Chilean mines; the Carr Fork Mine never became the source of prosperity Anaconda (or it's successor ARCO) was hoping for. The site is now owned by Rio Tinto-Kennecott, and is kept in place as a possible future method of extracting ores in the area, although it has been over 30 years since the site last operated. A keen eye will spot the Anaconda logo, still emblazoned on the tower.

Febuary 7, 2016, I visited Warner Utah again and discovered this abandoned foundation. A bit of asking around and researching revealed this was one of three fuel dealers trackside along the Tooele Valley Railway. These businesses would take coal or oil shipments by rail, and sell the product to the community. 

One of my favorite discoveries in the hills was this small remnant of the remote Elton Tunnel branch of the Tooele Valley Railway that is still in place. I returned to visit it on March 20, 2016, to check on the site, and noticed that this is a rather intact switch frog here in the ground! The second photo shows the 1937 opening of the Elton Tunnel. Planned to be a link between the mines on the east side of the Oquirrh's with the Tooele Smelter; the fortune it hoped to attract never materialized. Photo available as part of the Tooele Pioneer Musuem Archives:

I consider Ghost Rail-Fanning to be the best form of personally researching a lost railroad subject. While I cannot go back in time to railfan these lines myself, I can walk their grades and discover the lost and hidden secrets hiding in plain site. Historical books and photos take on new meaning, as I get the chance to walk in the spots where it had happened. By visiting these lost sites, we can relive history; and the only equipment we need is a good pair of shoes, some water, and a camera! So go get trekking!

-Jacob Lyman

No comments:

Post a Comment