Tooele Valley Railway

Learn about the railway from expert: Jacob Lyman

Engine Work at the Smelter
Engine Work at the Smelter
Another classic but undated scene on the Tooele Valley Railway. One of the two former Butte Anaconda and Pacific locomotives (either #9 or #10) is seen in steam presumably either at or near the smelter. One of the crew members is showing off an oil can being used to lubricate the engine. Sights like this were a daily occurrence, as the railroad had to run 24/7 to maintain a steady supply of workers, ore and fuel to the smelter complex during the height of the steam era.

Anaconda's Final Years and the Butterfly Effect
Anaconda's Final Years and the Butterfly Effect
History has a weird way of showing sorts of weird butterfly effects-moments on the opposite end of the globe that had surprising local repercussions.

Entering the 1970’s, the Tooele International Smelting and Refining facility was an aging and outdated facility. The copper smelting portion had closed in the 1940’s, and the entire smelter was focused on lead and zinc production. International Smelting’s parent company Anaconda though was still expanding into the global market, and one of their most illustrious projects was a series of open pit copper mines in the mineral rich Andean ranges in Chile.

A chain of dominoes though began to fall, and Chile soon elected as president an openly Marxist politician, Salvador Allende. Within a year of taking office, Allende nationalized all the mines in the nation, kicking out foreign owners including Anaconda.

Tooele Smelter as Photographed by the HAER survey in 1972.

For Anaconda the loss of the Chile mines was a sudden hit, and the company had to trim resources to stay solvent. One of the first facilities to get cut was the Tooele smelter; the decision was made to close down at the end of 1971, however due to an overstock of materials the smelter ended up operating into January 1972 before closing. Tooele, Utah had lost a major employment source. The Tooele Valley Railway, once critical in hauling ore to the smelter had now been relegated to hauling trains of scrap out from the now under demolition smelter site.

Anaconda looking to regain lost market share, began prospecting the old Highland Boy claims near Bingham Canyon, and began plans for a four shaft mine at Carr Fork near the old Tooele smelter site. Despite the Carr Fork project bringing jobs and stability back to Tooele, it wasn’t enough to stave off Anaconda’s own woes and the company was gobbled up by the oil company ARCO in 1977. Even then, a drop in copper prices would bring a sudden end to the Carr Fork mine and the Tooele Valley Railway both in the 1980’s.

Salvador Allende in Chile.

In the tension of the Cold War where the US and USSR tended to use Latin American nations as cat paws and proxy battlegrounds; the CIA backed a plan for the military to overthrow Allende’s government… perhaps in retribution for how Allende had crippled American business interests including Anaconda’s. In September 1973, early spring in Chile; a military junta lead by General Augusto Pinochet ousted Allende. Shortly afterwards Allende committed suicide. The Pinochet years turned into a dark dictatorship; not unlike the many other CIA backed juntas in South America. It is estimated that Pinochet’s regime killed about 3,197 people and tortured and imprisoned about 29,000. Although Chile eventually transitioned back to a representative democratic republic in 1990, Pinochet continued to hold political influence until his death in 2006 while dodging claims of tax fraud and mounting human rights accusations.

Memorial Photo
Memorial to the victims of the Pinochet regime. Photo by Carlos Teixidor Cadenas.

Would the Tooele smelter have still closed down without the actions of Allende? Likely, the facility was aging; and a sudden interest in environmental protection likely would have hit Tooele hard had it survived beyond 1972, while decreasing domestic lead markets would have also lead to its demise. Its just strange how a Marxist president in Chile was intricately responsible for hastening the demise of a plant in Utah, a world away from him and far from what most would assume to be his own sphere of influence. Butterfly effects indeed.
When Locomotive #11 Nearly Left Tooele
When Locomotive #11 Nearly Left Tooele
Engine 11 Photo
A scary bit of history for us railfans showed up in 
the Tooele Transcript for Halloween night 2019 in their Front-Page Flashback segment.

“In 1969, city donates locomotive to Salt Lake Museum… October 28-31, 1969… Featured on Friday’s front page was news of Tooele City donating the old Tooele Valley Railroad Locomotive Number 11 to the Wasatch Railroad Museum in Salt Lake City. The locomotive for several years had been the dominant feature at the City Park on West Vine Street.”
“‘I’d like to see it stay here, but it’s a dirty shame that it has been so badly neglected’ said Tooele Mayor Frank Bowman. ‘We have been calling on many of the city’s clubs and organizations asking for help and nothing has been done. When the thing is going to pieces, I feel I must act to preserve it.'” (Republished Tooele Transcript October 31, 2019)

1969 came to an end, and well… Tooele Valley Railway #11 was still in Tooele City. What happened? A vocal campaign from local citizens kept the engine in Tooele City. Eventually in 1982 #11 left the city park and traveled several blocks east to become the centerpiece of the new Tooele Valley Museum.

In a way, #11 may have dodged a bullet. The Wasatch Railroad Museum, while listed in Salt Lake City at the time of the article’s authorship, is better known as the organization that started heritage/tourist rail operations on the abandoned Rio Grande Heber City Branch. Shunned by Tooele City and unable to get #11, the now Wasatch Mountain Railway instead leased from the State of Utah Union Pacific 618, which was at the time previously stored in the Utah State Fairgrounds. Without the modern FRA mandated safety inspections in place, 618 was steamed up as soon as it left the park and arrived on the Heber Branch in December 1970…

… This was the first bullet #11 dodged. With its boiler condemned in 1963, the potential risk of a boiler explosion on 11 if it was steamed up by the over-eager Wasatch Mountain crew could have been disastrous. Possibly destroying 11 and killing the volunteers who would have attempted to operate it at Heber. Admittedly the same risk existed with 618, but it fortunately survived its first steam up and would see use in the years in Heber; last being used in 2010. As mentioned previously, modern law prohibits such practices with antique steam locomotives now and requires extensive inspection and repairs before a fire is lit in the locomotive.

The second bullet 11 dodged was in 1990’s. After years of private ownership, the Wasatch Mountain Railway known to locals then as “The Heber Creeper” had gone bankrupt. January 31, 1991 was the last day of private operations; and to pay off the accrued bills the Heber Creeper began selling off its equipment to other museums. Among the items sold was the former International Smelting steam crane known as “The Crab” which was sold to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City with other ex-Creeper equipment. Other pieces of Heber equipment were sold to lines across the nation. Had #11 been at Heber at this time, it too would have been sold. Perhaps had it been lucky it might have ended up with fellow Tooele native “The Crab” in Boulder City. Or perhaps it would share the fate of locomotives such as SP 1744 (which is currently in pieces in Colorado being transferred to new owners in Niles Canyon, California). Simply put, it would have been unlikely that Tooele Valley #11 would have ever returned home to Tooele City; and its likely possible that without it there might not have been the incentive to found the Tooele Valley Museum.

Fortunately, UP 618 was the right locomotive for the place it needed to be. Since it was leased by the state to the Heber Creeper, when the operation went bankrupt it could not be sold at auction like the rest of the line’s equipment. In July 1992, UP 618 and fellow state owned diesel locomotive UP 1011 became part of the new state operated Heber Valley Railroad; which operates to the present day. Both 618 and 1011 are currently waiting to finish restoration, but their critical role in the early years of the state operation are fondly remembered. Just as Tooele Valley #11 was the right locomotive for our Tooele Valley Musuem, so was UP 618 the right engine for the nascent Heber Valley Railroad.

If Mayor Frank Bowman was right on one thing though, its that locomotives need a lot of work to prevent deterioration. In the early years of the museum Marion Bevan and other volunteers brought 11 back up cosmetically to a better state than it had ever been in the park, including a new layer of boiler jacketing. In the future, the work will have to be done again including asbestos abatement on the antique locomotive. Its something that has been brought up in the museum board meetings, a long term project for sometime in the future. When the people of Tooele petitioned for #11 to stay in our city in 1969, we inherited a duty to maintain the engine that persists to the present day and is part of our museum’s mission.