It’s 3 in the afternoon on a gorgeous October day. School is out, and the last pickup football game has just finished on the lawn of the Annex at the Tooele Central School. No bloody noses today in our rough and tumble game of tackle football. I can’t put it off any longer. It’s time to go home, but it’s so far to walk. And then we feel the familiar vibration of Black Old Engine No. 11 as it slowly pushes its gander of ore cars, led by the caboose complete with its whistle and watchmen as it smokes its way with another load for the Tooele Smelter. We all considered doing it and some even bragged that they had hitched the train home from school, but I don’t know anyone who really had done what we all wish we could do. It was those same braggarts who would, a few years later, lie about a kiss on the porch after their first date. A hitch home would drop me one-half block from my house, just as the tracks made their slight northeast turn toward New Town Station and on to the trestle spanning the gorge at the mouth of Middle Canyon.
That wooden trestle at Middle Canyon saved the Tooele Valley Railroad a little time getting to the dumping spot at the International Smelter, but cost a lot more in time and money to build. It was the most complex structure on the entire line from Warner Depot on the west to the smelter on the east. The rail line was ready to go in 1909, but the trestle connecting east to west wouldn’t happen until three months later. Even then it proved to be a little unstable, and the train would have to slow to 7 mph to make the crossing.
That instability problem wasn’t solved until the digging of the Elton Tunnel. Started during the depression to connect the Salt Lake Valley to Tooele Valley, it proved only marginally successful for the purpose of its construction. It did however provide plenty of waste rock that was then hauled on a spur line to the trestle, where it nicely filled in and strengthened the old timber construction. With that new stabilization, fully loaded trains could now careen over the trestle at 15 mph instead of the usual 7 mph.
Elton Tunnel wasn’t the only spur line off the original Tooele Valley Railroad. As a kid I remember the coal yard just off Vine and Seventh Streets. It seems the coal bin was filled from a spur line that enabled the coal to be dumped from above. For kids living in Newtown, it was a natural although dirty and dangerous playground, as it was easy to climb into the rafters where all kinds of adventures could be invented.
Fond memories for me came with the western most stop at Warner Depot. Warner Depot, called Tooele Depot, spliced the TVRR to the Union Pacific, Western Pacific and Rio Grande railroads. Up until the 1940s, Tooeleans could even buy a ticket on the passenger coaches to Salt Lake and beyond. My memories came later, and even into my teenage years, as my father managed a Petroleum Bulk Plant for Standard Oil Company at Warner. Before I started driving, I would often ride with my dad as he delivered gas and oil products throughout the county in his “big gas truck.”
If you want to know everything there is to know about the Tooele Valley Railroad, but are afraid to ask, come to the Sons of Utah Pioneers Settlement Canyon Chapter’s next educational presentation Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7:15 p.m. in the Tooele Senior Citizens Center. Entrance is free.
Emma Penrod, an award-winning contributor to the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, where she has written since 2008, will make the Tooele Valley Railroad come alive with stories, slides and little known histories. Emma has authored a new book of images of the Tooele Valley Railroad that just came out in September.
The author would thank Emma’s new book, “The Tooele Valley Railroad, Arcadia Publishing” for much of the factual history in this column.