Utah Northern Railroad

From The Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Our Pioneer Heritage, Volume 10, pages 152-158 (published in 1967).

Mendon Utah Logo

Utah Northern Railroad

Soon after the Utah Central opened for traffic, people living in Northern Utah began pleading for a raiload. William B. Preston, one of the leading citizens of Logan, proposed that the people ask the Church Authorities in Salt Lake City to back the building of a railroad from Ogden to Soda Springs, Idaho.

John W. Young, son of Brigham Young, assumed the leadership, knowing that the settlers were earnest in their desire. It was to be a people's road, but Young realized the cost of rails, rolling stock, etc. would be greater than the citizens could afford. Hence, he traveled to New York where he secured the promise from Benjamin and Joseph Richardson to the effect they would furnish the needed materials for a railroad that would run from Ogden to Soda Springs, Idaho, provided the people along the line would do the grading, lay the ties and track and perform other work, such as erecting bridges, etc. In August of 1871 Young called a meeting in Logan where he presented the plans to a group of Church leaders in Cache Valley. Following this meeting, telegrams were exchanged between Bishop Preston and Brigham Young.

Logan, August 15, 1871

President B. Young, Salt Lake City:

Will it be wisdom for us in Cache County to grade and tie a railroad from Ogden to Soda Springs, with a view to Eastern capitalists ironing and stocking it; thereby giving them control of the road? The people feel considerably spirited in taking stock to grade and tie, expecting to have a prominent voice in the control of it; but to let foreign capitalists iron and stock it will, if my judgment is correct, give them control.

W. B. Preston

Salt Lake City, August 15, 1871

Bishop Preston, Logan:

The foreign capitalists in this enterprise do not seek the control; this is all understood. What they want, and what we want, is to push this road with all possible speed, if you decide to have one, so that it shall run through and benefit your settlements and reach Soda Springs as soon as possible.

Brigham Young

Upon receiving President Young's answer, the Utah Northern Railroad Company was organized August 22, 1871, the men along the line agreeing to take stock for the grading and tieing of the road. The officers were John W. Young, president and superintendent; William B. Preston, vice-president and assistant superintendent; Moses Thatcher, secretary, and the following were appointed directors: Joseph Richards and LeGrand Lockwood, New York City; William B. Preston, Hezekiah Thatcher, Franklin D. Richards, Lorenzo Snow, Samuel Smith, William Maughan, O. N. Liljenquist, William Hyde, Samuel Roskelley, Marriner W. Merrill and Lorenzo H. Hatch. Plans called for a narrow gauge road with a superintendent in each of the larger areas. The local bishops were held responsible for recruiting the labor.

On August 26th, 1871, ground was broken at Brigham City where a great celebration was held; the ward choir and the town band took part, and according to the history of Brigham City a cannon was fired to announce the new venture.

The first survey, under the direction of James A. Martineau, Utah pioneer of 1850, was made between Brigham City and Logan. The priesthood members of Hyrum, Cache County, cut the trees in Blacksmith Fork, made them into ties, then hauled them to the roadbed, using their own teams and equipment, plows and scrapers. The men living along the right of way were the real builders.

J. Nicholson, writing to the News under date of November 29th, 1871, noted the following:

The construction of the Utah Northern Railroad is going on vigorously. For energy and enterprise, the people of Cache Valley are probably not excelled by any other body of people of the same numbers on this broad continent. They have given many evidences in favor of this among which is the great canyon road between Cache and Bear Lake Valleys, and now they are at work determinedly and energetically making a railroad over and through the mountains and valleys northward.

The portion of the road which the people of this county have undertaken to build commences at a point on the Brigham City road, four miles south of Pack's Springs. From that place to a point one mile beyond the summit of the mountain on the Cache Valley side of the divide, the entire contracts have been let, and most of the road over that distance is already graded and ready for the ties. The greater portion of the work on the divide is very heavy, some of the cuts being through solid stone and gravel cement. There are three particularly heavy fills, the largest of which is that at Cottonwood hollow. It will take 50,000 cubic yards of earth to fill it, and the work has been contracted for by Marion Stevenson & Co., of Richmond. Another, at Birch Creek, will take 40,000 yards of filling, and the job has been taken by Colonel Thomas E. Ricks of Logan. The other, near Pack's Springs, will require 2,500 yards, and Casper Whittle, of Richmond, and his company are busy at work on it. Contracts for several thousand ties have been let, and a number of Cache Valley brethren are in the canyons getting them out. Should the weather continue open, it is thought that the grading will be completed to this city in about eight weeks from now. It is apprehended, however, that the lower bottoms between Mendon and here will freeze up and stop the work. The work has been conducted under the supervision of Bishop Marriner W. Merrill of Richmond and Mr. George L. Farrell of this city.

The route of the road through this valley has not been fully determined. It is likely, however, that after passing over the divide it will run five miles southward to Mendon, thence, in a northeasterly direction to Logan. It will then probably take an almost direct northern route, touching at Hyde Park, Smithfield, Richmond and Franklin, from which latter place it will take the most practicable northward route to Soda Springs.

Goudy Hogan, pioneer of 1848, wrote in his diary:

1871—This was the first good crop that I have raised for seven years. I was very thankful to the Lord that He had given me wisdom to head off the destroyers once, for I stood in great need of a crop to help me out of debt. I felt that I was a free man once more, that is, I was not altogether out of debt, but the prospects were good if the hoppers would leave the lands. Once more I raised over 700 bushels of grain, while many lost all their crops.

In the latter part of the summer, there was a requirement made from headquarters to build a narrow gauge railroad from Ogden to Soda Springs and wished the people of Ogden and Box Elder and Cache valleys to build road and own a good share interest in it, for the people to do a certain portion of labor to each man. I rigged up my teams and started out in company with William Fisher, and we worked out our portion of work. We were the first who started work on the divide between Cache Valley and Salt Lake Valley. I had fitted out three teams, took my wife, Christiana, and Harriet, my daughter, to cook; Ira and Nels, my sons, and one hired man. Fisher had four teams. We bought seventy yards tent cloth and made a new tent; our calculation was before we left home to do this work on the Utah Northern Railroad and then go south of Salt Lake City and work on the Utah Southern Railroad, for they paid money for work. I was owing a debt of $250 in cash that I gave my note for three years ago with interest; therefore, I made my calculation to earn this with my outfit. We did the work that was allotted to us in three weeks and were going to start south to work, but John W. Young, who had charge of the road, wished us to stay and work on the Utah Northern. There were few could work on the road without some ready means, having lost their crops for so many years, but Brother Young promised to pay us a portion of ready pay, enough to pay up this $250 and take stock in the road for the balance. I worked three months and Brother Fisher was called on a mission to the eastern states. He married my daughter, Harriet, before leaving. My estimate for eleven weeks amounted to $2600. Besides Fisher's work I had two hired men and my own folks to pay in wheat and part in vouchers. These were the railroad vouchers that circulated as money and paid off some of my debts. A deep snow came and we left our tent, provisions and railroad outfits in the snow. We nearly perished going ten miles in the storm, it was that bad. We had to leave one wagon on the road and hitched two span on one wagon. We arrived home in two days over sixteen miles to travel, which we usually did in half a day. My wife, Christiana, and son, Heber D., suffered considerable from the severe storm before we got home. During this winter I hauled wood for two and three fires while the boys were in school. — D.U.P. Library

Early in September 1871, Franklin D. Richards called a mass meeting to be held in Ogden at which time he appealed for public aid, asking the people to do the grading, furnish the ties and any other such labor as was needed for building the road between Ogden and Willard. He received an affirmative answer, and much labor and some cash was promised.

At the same time that work was going north from Brigham City, men from Brigham, Ogden, Willard and other wards were constructing the line from Brigham and Ogden. This link was finished February 5, 1874. Upon this date the following telegram from Brigham Young and George A. Smith who were in St. George, was received by the Utah Northern Officials:

We congratulate you on the successful joining of the track, and expect for the road a brilliant financial future, and that it will be great and lasting in its benefit to the people; and congratulate you on your zeal and perseverance in building your road, as all railroads should be built, by private enterprise, without the aid or patronage of the government.

Before July of 1872, the Utah Northern had acquired five coal-burning locomotives which were named as follows: No. 1, John W. Young; No. 2, Logan; No. 3, Franklin; No. 4, Utah; No. 5, Idaho. Later, additional engines were purchased from the Denver and Rio Grande Western and other railroads. Among the engineers and firemen were Evan Jones, George Fernes, Dan Roberts, Mark Jones, Philip Phillips, Parley P. Jones, A. M. Carter, William Sprount, Edward Lives, Chauncey West, William Hopkins, Charles Paul and Colline Fullmer. Moses Thatcher became president in 1873.

On January 31st, 1873, engineer Evan Jones brought the first train into Logan, Cache County. A roundhouse, turntable, railroad shops, a passenger and freight station were all under construction. The people of Logan and surrounding towns truly celebrated this event with speeches, dancing, banquets, etc.

From the diary of Mary Ann Weston Maughan, published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, we quote:

January 31, 1873. The first trains came into Logan depot about five o'clock p.m., bringing passengers.

February 1st. Today the children of Logan were invited to ride in the cars to Mendon and return. They took two loads, but many were crowded off and disappointed. In the afternoon Orson Smith drove a sleigh load of us, Libbia, Martha, Anne Allen, Sarah Smith and myself to the depot to see the train come into Logan. The conductor invited our company to take a ride to Mendon and return. So away we went on our railroad in Cache Valley. Oh, how wonderful! We returned at 9 o'clock, much satisfied with our pleasure trip. Forty minutes coming from Mendon.

February 3rd. We have a holiday to celebrate the entrance of our railroad into Logan. I took a sleigh ride with Brother and Sister Ormsby. We expect about seventy from Salt Lake City. I signed for four guests. There are four parties in Logan tonight. The train was blocked near Hampton Station with snow and could not get through. The Salt Lake company went back this morning. The train came in today, bringing the brethren who went out Sunday morning to work on the blockade.

June 9, 1873, a branch line from the Utah Northern to Corinne was completed. This town had been established in 1869 by the builders of the Union Pacific Railroad. It was a most convenient spot for departures of freighters going north to the mines of Montana. Soon after the establishment of the branch line, trade was moved over the railroad by way of Ogden.

By June 13, 1873, a railroad line was operating between Ogden and Franklin, Idaho. In a published train schedule, it was noted that the train would leave Ogden at 9:30 a.m. each week day and arrive in Franklin at 4:45 p.m., and again would leave Franklin at 9:00 a.m. and reach Ogden at 4:30 p.m.

Up to this time the greater part of the road had been built by the people. Cache County had appropriated $4,000 and had abated some taxes, which was a great financial help. The Church had also assisted financially. The cost of the project from Ogden to Franklin had been given at $1,400,000. The people living along the line had given nearly half of that amount by their labor and cash donations. Some had received vouchers for which they had expected to be paid in cash, but the company was unable to redeem all of the work vouchers. Hence, the officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of [p.157] Latter-day Saints redeemed them, taking in pay the capital stock of the railroad, thereby becoming a stockholder in Utah Northern.

From the Deseret News of April 22, 1874, we quote:

George S. Kennedy, writing from New York under date of March 20th, to Chas. G. Reynolds of this city, said Mr. Richardson, General Manager of the Utah Northern Railroad, and one of the directors of the Union Pacific will be in Helena some time in June. He has all the directors of the Union Pacific interested in the Utah Northern, and they have pledged themselves to do all in their power to see the great enterprise successfully carried out. They will build it to Carpenter's Station (in Marsh Valley) on the stage route. They have abandoned the Soda Springs route, so as to tap the Montana road as soon as possible.

But by 1875 the road was unable to meet all of its expenses and the proposed extension further north could not be built without financial help.

The directors met and decided to ask Sidney Dillon of the Union Pacific for financial aid, but he showed no interest in the proposition. Jay Gould, realizing that rich bodies of silver had been discovered in Montana, arranged for the purchase of Utah Northern bonds held by the Richardsons, securing them for $400,000. The local people received $80,000, or about 10 cents on the dollar for their common stock. Later the Union Pacific purchased Gould's interest and formed a corporation called The Utah and Northern, organized in 1877. Soon after the formation of the new company, contracts were let to construct the road further north from Franklin to Fort Hall, Idaho. On December 2, 1877, the Utah Northern was permitted to default on the $1,453,765.32 due on bonds and interest. On April 3, 1878, the assets of the Utah Northern were sold at auction to S. H. H. Clark, general superintendent of the Union Pacific Railroad Company for the sum of $100,000. This occurred in front of the Salt Lake County Courthouse. Mr. Clark then deeded the property to the Utah and Northern Railroad Company, which afterwards floated a bond for $5,000,000 to build the road into Montana. On April 30, 1878, a third company called The Utah and Northern Railway Company was incorporated, after the assets of the Utah and Northern had been conveyed to the new company. The capitalization of this third company was for $960,000. The Utah and Northern Railway Company was given permission to build the line, which enabled them to proceed through Idaho and on through to Montana. It must be known that at this time the Utah Northern belonged to the Union Pacific.

Congress granted the new company the right of way through the public domain, and gave permission for the road to be extended to Helena, Montana, by way of Bear River, Marsh and Snake River valleys. The line reached Pocatello in 1878 and Camas, Idaho, in 1879.

The Deseret News dated December 31, 1879, carried a chilling bit of news about the weather along the line:

The weather along the route of the Utah & Northern Railroad was even colder than heretofore reported. At the terminus most of the thermometers froze up, and it was only by the aid of a spirit thermometer that the weather could be gauged at all. It was 42 below zero. A number of men were severely frost-bitten, livestock was frozen to death, and bread and other articles of food in pantries were caked so hard as to be unfit for use.

In 1880 the road was extended to Dillon, Montana; to Butte in 1881, and to Garrison, Montana, in 1884. The distance from Ogden to Garrison was nearly 500 miles.1

footnote line

1. Our Pioneer Heritage, Kate B. Carter Editor for The Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Volume 10, 1967, pages 152-158.