The San Pete Valley Railway (SPV) was originally incorporated as the California Railroad by English investors, to transport coal from the newly discovered coal field in Wales, Utah to an interchange with the Utah Southern in Nephi, Utah. However, before the line could be built, the coal seam played out.
The little railway did survive however, continuing its narrow 3’ rails from Nephi up the canyon into San Pete Valley to serve many towns, and eventually ending in Ephraim. Primary freight on the railroad included gypsum, sheep, wool, all manner of general freight in addition to passengers. A branch line up Andrew Canyon (behind Mt. Nebo) was built to bring timber to the communities.
The line existed as a 3’ narrow gauge until July 7 1896, when the line was converted to 4’ 8 ½” standard gauge. A bidding war for control of the SPV began between the Union Pacific RR (that controlled the Utah Southern) and the Denver & Rio Grande RR. And although newspaper accounts proclaim that the SPV was sold to the Union Pacific, my relatives swear that the line became part of the Denver & Rio Grande system. Research has shown that the Union Pacific did buy the line, but then ran into financial troubles. The SPV continued to operate the line until eventually being taken over by the D&RG. The line ceased operation in 1907 with the D&RG using some of its’ track for their own use.
The line was at times known as the “Polygamist Central”, as a federal prison in San Pete Valley housed many pioneers that were slow to obey a new Federal Law abolishing the practice of polygamy. It was said that when a passenger train had a Federal Agent board, the Engineer would sound a special series of whistle blasts when approaching each town that would signal the men folk to have only one woman at their side.
As with most small railroads of the era, the San Pete Valley was often accused of being rather slow in its progress up the canyon. One boastful cowboy, atop of a beautiful white stallion, challenged the engineer of the train to a race from Nephi to Fountain Green, a distance of about 15 miles. Terms of the wager were agreed upon, and when the conductor yelled “All Aboard”, the cowboy was off at full pace, soon to disappear on the streets of Nephi. The engineer opened the throttle, confident that the horse would soon tire, and that he would pass the cowboy in a short distance. Arriving in Fountain Green, the engineer was surprised to see the cowboy resting with his white stallion at the station. Paying the $5 wager (a hefty sum in those days), the engineer then proceeded to take the train further up the line, no doubt wondering how he lost the bet. A good while later, the cowboy split the $5 with his twin brother as he rode up from Nephi, and they gave their doppelganger stallions some extra oats for their part in the deception.