Heber Train Station-Photo Print

Heber Train Station-Photo Print


The “Heber Creeper” is operated much like the typical short line railways that could be seen in many parts of the Utah and all over rural America during the “Golden Years” of U.S. railroading from 1920-1950. The Heber Valley Railroad attempts to preserve a slice of Americana that has otherwise disappeared. The train ride and atmosphere of the railroad equipment, yard, and building will hopefully recall a bygone era.


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In the late 1800’s, the Provo Canyon Toll Road was the only way to ship to the hay, sheep, cattle and dairy products to market. It was also the only way citizens in the community could travel to Provo and Salt Lake City to shop, purchase goods and attend activities. It was a three day journey in good weather and  longer in winter if snow slides blocked the route.


In the spring of 1896 the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway began surveying a route through Provo Canyon over the objections of the Telluride Power Transmission Company, which had plans to build an 85-foot high dam and reservoir within the canyon to feed its new power plant. After many court battles Rio Grande Western finally won and a railroad was built. The first Rio Grande Western train arrived in Heber on September 21, 1899. Rio Grande Western trains that ran over the Provo Canyon Branch carried both passengers and freight cars together to save the expense of running two separate trains. The train was quickly dubbed the “Heber Creeper” by area residents.


Passengers on the Heber line were often secondary to freight shipments, which consisted of lumber and building products, bulk fuel oil, milk and coal. The shipment of agriculture products was also very important. In 1915 the Rio Grande recorded that 60 cars of sugar beets, 40 cars of cattle, 280 carloads of hay and 360 cars of sheep were shipped from the Heber depot; at the time Heber was one of the largest sheep-producing regions in the world.


In the 1930s a paved highway, US-189, was built between Provo and Heber and farmers in the Heber Valley could choose to ship their goods by truck or railroad. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation also came to Heber City to build Deer Creek Dam and they had to work for two years to move the railroad tracks from the valley floor to a ledge on the west side of the valley that would be above the shoreline of the Deer Creek Reservoir. After the end of the WWII in 1945 both freight and passenger revenues dropped off again as more and more people chose to use US Highway 189. By the mid-1960s freight traffic had all but disappeared and by 1967 the train was making the run to Heber only a few times per month. The last Rio Grande freight train made the run out of Heber city depot in 1968.


Local residents were determined to preserve this slice of Utah railroad history and, in 1970, the historic rail line was saved from destruction. A new railroad, led by Lowe Ashton and other Heber City businessmen, along with members of the Promontory Chapter and National Railway Historical Society, was established in order to run steam train tours from Heber City to Bridal Veil Falls. The privately-owned Wasatch Mountain Railway operated from 1971-1990, sometimes under different names but always as the “Heber Creeper.” Unfortunately, despite an attempt by the State of Utah to purchase the railroad, it went out of business in 1990. But just as it had in 1970, the community came to the rescue of the historic rail line. In 1992 the Utah state legislature created a state agency: the Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority, to operate the train and appropriated $1 million to find and purchase the appropriate locomotives and cars needed to operate the railroad and refurbish the tracks which had fallen into disrepair. The revived train, now christened the Heber Valley Historic Railroad, made its debut run on May 8, 1993. Since that day there have been many changes and improvements at the railroad.

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