Two Railroads Moved Coal to Provo in the 1880s.
By the 1870s, available local wood that could be used for winter fuel had become scarce. Fortunately for Utah Territory’s settlers, coal mines opened in Pleasant Valley (Scofield and Winter Quarters – see the disaster at the Winter Quarters Mine here) in 1875. However, hauling coal by wagon down Spanish Fork Canyon to the settlements along the Wasatch Front proved to be too slow to supply the huge demand.
Two Springville men, Milan Packard and M.P. Crandall, joined by other interested businessmen, founded the Utah & Pleasant Valley Railroad Company in 1877 to haul coal from the mines in Pleasant Valley to Utah Valley. Since money was scarce, the railroad company partially paid for their workmen with goods. These goods often included fabric used for making clothing. Hence, the railroad received the nickname “Calico Road.”
The new tracks arrived in Provo late in 1880. Workmen transferred most of the coal brought to Provo by the Utah & Pleasant Valley Railroad to the Utah Southern Railroad for shipment to Salt Lake City or points south.
During the spring of 1881, a railroad with more ambitious goals planned to build through Provo. The Denver & Rio Grande Western hoped to eventually ship freight, carry passengers, and service Utah’s mines. The new railroad laid tracks between Provo and Salt Lake City in 1881. Unemployed men in Provo found work constructing the grade and laying the tracks.
The Denver & Rio Grande Western soon bought the Utah Southern, and the Denver & Rio Grande, ultimately connected Provo with the rest of the nation. Competition between the two companies helped keep freight prices more reasonable for Provo’s farmers and manufacturers.