The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad financed the Western Pacific Railroad (WP) from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to compete with the Southern Pacific route. The WP, incorporated March 6, 1903, provided a standard-gauge-track connection to the Pacific Coast, operating 1,719 route miles in California, Nevada and Utah. Operation through Wendover began in 1907, when the route was completed west from Salt Lake City across the Bonneville Salt Flats to the Nevada border at Wendover. In 1908, the Denver and Rio Grande consolidated its various branch lines and subsidiary companies in Utah and Colorado, including the Rio Grande Western, to finance the completion of the Western Pacific line. By the end of 1909, Western Pacific Railroad began operating newly laid rail line through the area. The final spike was driven at the center of Spanish Creek Trestle, known today as Keddie Wye in California, connecting Salt Lake City to Oakland and San Francisco. The Rio Grande lost control of the West Pacific in 1916, and the WP remained independent until it merged with the Union Pacific in 1982.
Wendover was chosen as the desirable location for a railroad subdivision encampment. Although no water was available, extensive studies by WP engineers and accountants determined that installation of a water line at Wendover instead of Shafter, 30 miles to the west, would save $100,000 a year in operating costs. Wendover lay at the foot of 33 miles of one percent grade track to the west and 100 miles of level track to the east. Westbound trains had helper engines added to make the trip over the mountains. The helper engines were removed before heading eastbound across the Bonneville Salt Flats. Wendover’s Western Pacific Railroad had loading docks, train station facilities, water storage, housing, maintenance facilities, yards, and terminals, with permanent yard crews to provide service before the trains continued to the Pacific Coast or east to Salt Lake City.
Area War Efforts
During Work War I, the West Pacific Railroad served as a connection point for the Deep Creek Railroad. This line hauled valuable processing ores from the arsenic mines of Gold Hill, some 30 miles south, for distribution throughout the West. In the early 1900s, arsenic was used in the processing of fine metals such as copper, silver, and gold. During World War II, Wendover was booming, and a large contingent of workers operated the railroad in Wendover 24 hours a day. The WP brought men, women, equipment, and materials to Wendover Field, providing much-needed transportation in and out of the area as part of the overall war effort.
From 1909, until merging with the Union Pacific in 1982, the WP was one of the West’s most popular railroads, including the operation of the famous passenger train, the California Zephyr. One hundred years after the first train pulled into Wendover, the route is still in use. Steam locomotives are no longer in need of water, but now large diesel-electric locomotives pull the freight coast to coast along these same rail lines of an era long past.