Ox-drawn wagons were the
most reliable freight transportation for carrying goods
to Utah before the coming of the railroad. Many people
moving to the West Coast chose to go by way of Panama
rather than suffer the hardship of wagon travel. When
stagecoach lines and freight companies set up way stations,
horse and mule power was more practical to haul people.
As people came West for the gold rush and settlement,
demand for better transportation grew. Government contracts
to carry mail across the country were let as early as
1847. George Chorpenning was the contract holder to carry
mail by pack horse between Salt Lake City and California;
he was still operating in 1858 when Colonel James H. Simpson,
on a wagon road survey, encountered him in the desert
west of Johnson's Pass. Other carriers included numerous
express companies that brought mail and packages to Utah.
Adams Express Company, American Express Company, and Wells,
Fargo and Company were important names in the business.
Mormon leaders moved most of their followers by wagon.
There were some hardy pioneers who came by handcart. Two
unlucky handcart companies were caught by early snowstorms
in Wyoming and suffered hardship and some loss of life.
The Brigham Young Express Company bid for government contracts
and succeeded for a while until competition organized
against the Mormon company. Russell, Majors and Waddell
was the largest freight hauler before 1870. That company
contracted to haul the U.S. Army supplies for the Utah
War in 1857; the task involved 3,500 wagons, 40,000 oxen,
1,000 mules, and 4,000 men.
The Pony Express, organized in 1860 to deliver mail from
St. Louis to California and back, was another government
project to bridge the enormous distance between the widely
scattered American people. It lasted only twenty months.
Such enterprises soon gave way to technological progress.
The transcontinental telegraph was completed in October
1861 when the wires were connected in Salt Lake City.
Eventually, the railroad replaced the wagon freight haulers
between major centers of population. Local branches of
both the telegraph and railroad later were built and often
financed locally to serve more rural traffic and connect
with national lines. Utah lay in the path of many transcontinental
transportation and communications links.
By the 10 May 1869 completion of the transcontinental
railroad at Promontory, the Utah Central Railroad line
was nearly complete from Ogden to Salt Lake City. Then
the Utah Northern connected with Butte, Montana; and many
other railroads were built to transport ore and mining
products. In 1872, when the Denver and Rio Grande Western
Railroad was building west from Grand Junction, Colorado,
coal was discovered in what is now Carbon County. The
D&RGW was changed to continue north toward Price Canyon.
By 1882 the D&RGW had bought a small narrow-gauge
line called the Scofield and Pleasant Valley Railroad,
built by Milan O. Packard to bring coal from Scofield
to Utah Valley. It was called the "Calico Railroad"
by some of the grade builders because Packard, as a Springville
merchant, had paid workers in dry goods rather than cash.
After building their road up Price Canyon, and changing
to standard gauge, the D&RGW was connected to Salt
Railroads changed the economy of Utah. The ability to
ship goods both within the state and to and from other
states was greatly improved. Metal mining in many cases
now became profitable. Consumer goods were cheaper but
required that more business be transacted in cash, resulting
in the establishment of more banks. Community economics
changed from their rural antecedents. Railroads created
a commercial zone by their demand for services and by
providing a shipment area. Stockyards, lumberyards, and
breweries were built. Distribution firms set up shop to
receive goods for retailers. Workers lived near the places
of their employment.
Railroad tracks also divided communities. People living
on the "wrong side" of the tracks often were
held to be inferior. In the less desirable parts of town,
less fashionable businesses such as slaughterhouses were
established, cheaper housing was available, and the population
tended to be more transient. Community services were not
as well provided. From the railroad depots in Salt Lake
and Ogden, streetcar lines were built to serve local passenger
Interurban railroads began in Utah when Simon Bamberger
started building the Salt Lake and Ogden Railroad in 1891
to provide service to local businesses along its thirty-six-mile
line, which was electrified in 1910. In September 1952
the line ceased operation; its closure was attributed
to bus transportation replacing its business.
The Salt Lake and Utah Railroad, better known as the "Orem,"
began construction in Provo and Salt Lake in October 1912.
The finances were provided by W.C. Orem of Portland, Maine,
and by Salt Lake businessmen. The sixty-seven-mile line
ran from Salt Lake City to Payson and was completely electrified
when the line reached Payson in 1916. The road had opened
to Provo in 1913. Its closure in June 1946 was blamed
on "subsidized highway building."
Highway construction in Utah was and continues to be a
subsidized effort. Awakening along with the rest of America
to the need for better roads, the Utah legislature formed
the first State Road Commission in 1909. The commission
was besieged by various groups--part of the "good
roads" movement--who believed that good roads would
create a demand for motor vehicles. By 1920 the commission
had inventoried 1,200 miles of roads; and during the next
twenty years that list included over 5,000 miles of roads.
Half the cost was paid by federal dollars. Almost all
roads were constructed or maintained by federal money.
When the Interstate freeway system was authorized in 1956,
the federal share rose to ninety-five percent for those
expensive stretches of double- and triple-lane road in
public-land areas. Roads did create a demand for motor
Trucks were introduced to Utah in 1905 and quickly became
part of the transportation picture; but World War I was
the test that truly proved the utility of motor trucks
and airplanes. Following that war, both means of transportation
supplemented rail transport before they began to compete
with the railroad for business. Motor trucks depended
on roads for access to their customers. The war had demonstrated
the value of trucks; roads were just beginning to be built.
The government passed the Federal Highway Act of 1921
which provided money to improve seven percent of states'
road systems. Utah participated with enthusiasm, and the
heavy construction industry blossomed for the next decade.
The trucking industry developed two categories of truckers:
"for hire," meaning those who were available
to haul freight by contract; and "private,"
meaning those who hauled for their own company.
Airplanes had the advantage of speed. In May 1920 air
mail service reached Utah. Airplane passenger service
began in 1926 to Los Angeles. The combination of mail
contracts and passenger service made business profitable
from the beginning. After World War II, air travel virtually
drove rail passenger service out of business.
Broadening the definition of transportation a little,
the use of pipelines to transport goods in the twentieth
century is significant. Wooden-stave pipe was installed
in Salt Lake City to carry water to the Avenues district
in 1875. Prompted by conservation and public health concerns,
citizens soon demanded that enclosed water systems be
installed as a common practice. The next fifty years saw
the development of enclosed culinary and irrigation systems
throughout the state.
Natural gas is also delivered from gas fields to the consumer
in pipe. Installed in 1929, the line from Wyoming to Utah
brings energy for commercial and residential heating.
Petroleum products often are also shipped in pipes to
refineries in Salt Lake City and some pipelines are laid
across the state, because Utah remains in the path of
transcontinental transportation. The pipeline traffic
is a significant part of the state's economy.
Jay M. Haymond