Friday, December 26, 2014

Utah’s worst ever train wreck happened New Year's Eve of 1944

- From the book, "History of Ogden, Utah  in Old Postcards," by D. Boyd Crawford.

By Lynn Arave
SEVENTY years ago it was the holiday season with high hopes for an impending end to World War II. However, there was also Utah’s worst-ever train disaster that closed out 1944 with an unexpected calamity.
“Pacific limited crash claims 48 lives,” was a Jan. 1, 1945 headline in the Standard-Examiner.
“Reporter finds tragic horror at wreck scene” and “Wreck reminded me of war, says train crash victim” and “Screams, moans rend the air at wreck scene” were threw other somber headlines in the Standard that day.
A pair of westbound trains crashed shortly after 6 a.m. on Dec. 31, 1944, near Promontory Point, or about 18 miles west of Ogden, on the Lucin Cutoff.
Besides the 48 fatalities, another 79 were reported injured in the crash. Among the fatalities were 29 military personnel and nine railroad workers.
This was the worst-ever rail disaster in the Intermountain area and the nation’s worst railroad crash of 1944.
By Jan. 5, 1945, the death toll from the wreck would rise to 50 and disaster would be known as the Bagley Train Wreck or the Great Salt Lake Wreck.
                    A 1940s train in Ogden at a switching station.

The accident happened in thick fog when a mail express train failed to slow down for a caution signal and smashed full speed at 60 mph into the rear of the Pullman car of a passenger train, slowed down to 18 mph for a freight train ahead with mechanical problems.
(By some other accounts, the engineer of the mail train may have suffered a heart attack and died seconds before the crash happened.)
Seven of the railcars were hurled off the wooden lake trestle and into Great Salt Lake mud and shallow, briny waters. The wreck scene stretched for half-a-mile.
Fortunately there were two medical cars in the passenger train and so Medical Corps members helped the inured, as otherwise help had to wait until arrival by rail from Ogden.

--Switching subjects, here’s a cost comparison from seven decades ago, when obviously prices were a lot lower for most goods, according to Standard-Examiner ads of late 1944:
Ground beef, 25 cents a pound; oranges, 8 cents a pound; apples eight cents a pound; corn flakes, 8 cents; peanut butter 39 cents for two pounds; potato chip bag 22 cents; milk (1.5 pints each) four cans for 37 cents; men’s suits $18.88.
-In two other historical tidbits, “Snow Basin is ready to accommodate thousands of ski enthusiasts,” was a Jan. 17, 1945 Standard headline.
Apparently there was no Christmas, or holiday skiing in Snow Basin’s earliest of seasons.

-“Milk law takes effect Friday” was a Jan. 10, 1945 headline in the Standard, as raw milk could no longer be sold in the Ogden City limits.

(-Published on-line and in print on Dec. 25-26, 2014, by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Back when Cache Valley was isolated in winter

          Highway 89 today goes down from Sardine Summit to Dry Lake.

“The primary highway leading north through the Cache Valley to Idaho is at present a summer road, so far as through traffic is concerned , for the reason that the 10-mile section between Mantua and Wellsville is closed by winter snow,” an article in the January 1924 issue of Utah Highways Magazine stated.
“As a result the fertile and populous Cache Valley is virtually isolated, as far as travel by the highway is concerned, from the rest of the state, for approximately four months of the year. Interstate travel between Utah and points both is confined to the railroads during the winter months,” the magazine article, written by engineer K.C. Wright, concluded.
However, that seasonal isolation, which had existed for almost 70 years, finally ended in the summer of 1924 when a $200,000 new highway was constructed.
The road was completed by Sept. 9 of that year. Much of the new road was truly new and didn’t follow the former alignment.
For example, from Mantua to the Sardine Summit, a new dugway was cut out of the mountain with a maximum grade of six percent. At 24-feet wide, the new highway had ample passing room too.
Previously, the direct “pioneer route” by way of Dry Lake had been used to reach Wellsville. (Ironically, that’s also today’s highway route.)
That steep route, through what is officially named Wellsville Canyon (originally named “New Canyon”), suffered from 20-30-foot-high snow drifts, 10 to 20 percent grades, and wet clay soils at the bottom of the canyon.

                              The 1924 road alignment into the actual Sardine Canyon.

In the new 1924 alignment (that existed until about 1960), the highway curved northeast and winded through Sardine Canyon (the original version) and into Cache Valley. (Sections of the old road are still visible today from Highway 89, looking northeast shortly after Sardine Summit.)
“Sardine Canyon was finally chosen as the route of the new highway because it seemed to present the most feasible location for an all-year road,” an Aug. 15, 1924 story in the Box Elder News stated.
“Canyon road is nearly finished; Highway of crushed rock between Wellsville and Mantua, one of the best earth roads in the state,” was that story’s headline.
During the winter of 1924-25, a 10-ton caterpillar truck with a snowplow attached was used to clear snow on the new highway, a combination of gravel and rock.
In 1927, a combination of gravel and oil was used on the highway. The road was eventually paved and did work well in winter, until modern road building and snow removal came along in the 1950s.
However, the terrible winter of 1948-49 meant the road was closed for a full month during January of 1949.

                        The 1924-1960 Sardine Canyon road alignment on the hillside in the distance.

By the mid-1950s, plans were made to streamline the highway, now a popular scenic highway to Bear Lake and even Yellowstone National Park. In 1960, the revised road opened with its current alignment, abandoning the true “Sardine Canyon” and heading directly to Wellsville from the summit north of Mantua.
Technically, it is Box Elder Canyon from Brigham City to Mantua. Then, it is Wellsville Canyon from Mantua to Wellsville, though the old Sardine Canyon name is today affixed to the entire mountain road between Brigham City and Cache Valley.
The “why” the name “Sardine” for a canyon that’s not narrow is another story for another day.

(-Originally published on-line and in print on Dec. 18-19, 2014 by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Weber’s mass student suspension of 1911 over a frolic

                                     Weber State College in the early 1950s.

ONE of the largest mass student suspensions in Utah took place just over a century ago in Ogden.
“Students of academy expelled” was a March 16, 1911 headline in the Standard-Examiner.
Fifty students of Weber Academy (forerunner of Weber State University) were suspended from school as a result of a “junior class frolic.”
“The students of that class took it upon themselves to have an all-day holiday, and accordingly went to the (Ogden) Canyon,” the Standard story reported.
“The faculty could not see where the joke was and decided to take disciplinary measures. The names of the offending students were read out in assembly this morning and the students were asked to leave the building and leave the grounds,” the story stated.
The students would only be reinstated with a letter from their parents requesting such action, backed up by assurance from the students that they will keep school rules in the future.
The majority of the students followed the procedure and returned to school the next day.
-Another historical item: “Tunnel through the Wasatch Mountains” was a January 24, 1903 headline in the Standard-Examiner.
In another ambitious early 20th Century plan that never quite happened, an irrigation tunnel was planned for a thirsty Wasatch Front, where crops had been suffering from a lack of water.
This 20-mile tunnel would have taken water from the Weber River, near Peterson in Morgan County, westward to what is now the Hill Air Force Base area, or back then John Hill’s ranch.
“Not only would a tunnel be a work of eternity and cost little for maintenance, but it would be an underground drain for the seepage of the mountain range,” The Standard story reported.
A new corporation, to be known as the Davis County Canal & Irrigation Company, was to organize this gigantic feat for an estimated $310,000 ($7.5 million in 2014 dollars).

                           The mouth of Weber Canyon.

The tunnel would also rely on two small dams on the Weber River, one near Peoa and another near Kamas.
This plan was believed to be less expensive than a nine-mile-long wooden flume and could help irrigate some 100,000 acres of farmland in Davis and Weber counties.
Fast forward 50 years to 1953 and the Weber Basin Project became a similar feat, though this far more complex water storage and delivery system required more than $57 million and 17 years to complete. The modern project also included a 3.3-mile-long tunnel through the rock of Weber Canyon.
-In yet another historical note, the communities of West Weber and Slaterville were united on March 1, 1891, thanks to the completion of an iron bridge over the combined Ogden and Weber rivers.
A Standard report from that date, stated that “after long years of mutual and patient tax-paying, after passing through much tribulation in their endeavors to be tied together,”   a superb iron bridge was finally built by Weber County.
James McFarland poured “a libation of wine” on the bridge to christen it. Then, Richard Slater, 80, the first of the settlers on the north side, advanced to the center to the bridge. He had a banner that stated, “Hurrah! This element is spanned. And may this bridge forever stand.”
Slater was there greeted by John Douglas, 76, senior settler on the south side, who had a banner that stated, “And may both sides be united in everlasting harmony.”
Carriages then carried area residents back and forth the new bridge. Then, a tame deer from West Weber ran across the span to the Slaterville side.

(-Originally published on-line and in print by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on Dec. 11-12, 2014.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Oddities that never made the history books

                                         Joseph F. Smith

OLD newspaper archives are full of startling historic items that apparently never made the history books.
 Here are a few more of these oddities:
-“Joseph F. Smith was to have been kidnapped” was a July 23, 1915 headline in the Standard-Examiner.
President Smith, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time, was in a plot exposed by federal authorities, to have been kidnapped and held for $100,000 ransom.
Authorities said this kidnapping was no idle threat and “decided upon extraordinary precautions for the safety of the Mormon Church head,” according to the story.
The same bandits had already held up 125 passengers touring Yellowstone National Park and had also kidnapped a wealthy Idaho Falls cattleman, demanding $6,000 for his return.
These blackmailing thieves had extensive plans that came to light, showing how they would take President Smith to the “impenetrable passes of the Jackson Hole County in Wyoming. The robbers felt this kidnapping would have been their biggest prize yet, though the easiest to pull off.
The robbers were eventually caught and the planned criminal plot was never known by the LDS Church until the news media released it.
-“Gov. Mabey is arrested on fishing trip; Mistake in signs leaders Ranger to take executive party into custody” was a July 17, 1922 headline in the Standard.
Utah Governor Charles R. Mabey was arrested with a party of friends while they were fishing the Duchesne River back on June 29.
The Forest Ranger did so because the river had been posted for no fishing until July 15.
According to the story, the Ranger “asked them if they could not read printed English and was informed by one o f the men n the party that the notices were mistakes, that only the headwaters of the Duchesne River and of Rock Creek were mean to be closed.”
Still, the Ranger arrested the men and forced them to accompany him to the nearest ranger station. There, “he was surprised to hear Governor Maybe call up the state game warden and ask about the notices.”
The state game warden admitted the notices were a mistake and the group was released.
However, the ranger was “complimented by the Governor for doing his duty,” the story stated.
This was NOT Governor Mabey’s only  arrest. The story stated he was arrested for speeding in Layton the previous week. He was released, as his identity was made known. The arresting officer was reportedly relieved of his duties.

                   The Great Salt Lake looking south to Antelope Island.

-“He fished the Salt Sea” was a Dec. 2, 1911 headline in the Standard. Not even April Fool’s a “Dr. Green” (no first name given) took a young man on a three-hour fishing expedition to the Great Salt Lake, and had the youngster fully expecting to catch a lot of fish.
He didn’t catch anything and even left a pole set up overnight to try and get some fish. The young man apparently left, thinking he was a bad fisherman.

 (-Originally published on-line and in print in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on Dec. 4-5, 2014 by Lynn Arave.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: