Report from Division Engineer Samuel B. Reed to Chief Engineer Peter A. Dey Describing Survey from Green River to Salt Lake City, December 24, 1864

In this December 24, 1864 report, Samuel B. Reed describes his surveys and explorations of the land from Green River, Utah to Salt Lake City. He gives his recommendations for the route of the Union Pacific Railroad line, including the availability of timber for railroad ties and coal to power the locomotives.

To Peter A. Dey, Esq.

Chief Engineer

Dear Sir:

According to instructions received from the Union Pacific Railroad Cy. dated March 7th, 1864, I have the pleasure of submitting the following report of my explorations and surveys in the mountains east of, and in the vicinity of, Great Salt Lake City.

On reporting to you in Omaha, Nebraska, the 2nd day of April last for instructions, I found that arrangements were not made for me to leave immediately for Great Salt Lake City. While in Omaha information was received that the 1st assistant assigned to my party declined the appointment; Mr. A. J. Mathewson was transferred to fill the vacancy.

Arrangements for our journey being completed, we left Omaha April 30th, via Western Stage Company's line, for Atchison, Kansas, where we were delayed until the 7th of May before we could secure our seats in the Overland stage for Great Salt Lake City.

I was informed that Governor Brigham Young would furnish all my men, teams and supplies for the survey.

When I reached Salt Lake City he was absent on a tour to Bear Lake Valley, in the northern part of the territory.

His absence caused a few days delay, however, arrangements were soon made and we commenced field work the first day of June last.

Salt Lake City to Mouth of Weber Canon.

The point of commencement is in the northwest part of the city near Jordan River, which is connected by course and distances with the monument at the southeast corner of Temple block, in north latitude 40 45' 44", west longitude 111 26' 24". The altitude at the beginning of the line as shown on the profile is 4285.8 feet above tide water.

From the point of commencement the line runs near the base of the mountains, in a northerly direction, past Warm and Hot Springs and in the vicinity of the Great Salt Lake, to the mouth of Weber canon, a distance of 36.5 miles. By referring to the map and profile you will observe that five or six miles of this distance can be saved by making a short tunnel through the low hills near the base of the mountains. Careful surveys and estimates will determine between the line run and the one suggested. The amount of excavation and Bridging on this part of the line is light. Grades easy, and alignment good. The altitude at the mouth of Weber Canon is 4655.5 above tide.

Weber Canon.

On arriving at the mouth of this canon we found it to be very narrow. The general course is direct. The sides of the canon slope back at an angle which will admit of the roadbed being made on the slope when necessary.

The river at the mouth of the canon is 120 feet wide, and from four to six feet deep, being swollen at the time of the survey by melting of snow on the mountains. It has a strong, powerful current over a bed of water-worn stones and fallen rocks of immense size.

There is one obstacle to be overcome in this narrow gorge, known as the Devil's Gate.

A heavy point projects from the south into the valley. This deflects the river 600 feet north of its general direction. The water rushes around this bend with tremendous force, where it is impossible to build the road on account of the short crooks and the rapid fall in the river.

To overcome this obstruction one and a half miles of maximum grade (116 feet per mile) will be required. The line below the gate winds along the side of the canon, crossing ravines and projecting points of rocks. From the Gate to the head of the gorge no heavy work is encountered. The excavation through the canon will be loose or solid rock. Granite and gneiss predominate.

At the upper end of the gorge (40 miles from Salt Lake City) the mountains recede to the right and left, leaving a valley from one half to three miles wide, and fifteen and one third miles in length. Here the grading and bridging will not be extensive. Easy grades and curves of long radius are obtained. There is rock for masonry at convenient distances on either side of the valley. A limited supply of timber can be obtained in the canons for cross ties and bridge purposes. The place from which a supply of timber for railroad purposes through the mountains can be procured, will be herein after described.

From the upper end of the valley the mountains close in upon the river, forming a narrow crooked canon six miles long. The river winds from side to side of the narrow gorge, making frequent crossings necessary. The excavation and Bridging will be expensive. About one half the excavation will be rock. Black limestone, carboniferous sand rock and clay slate predominate.

Two short tunnels will be required, one at station 1043 of 300 feet long and one at station 1085, 400 feet long. The high point crossed by the line at station 1053 to 1072 can be avoided on the located line. (See map and profile.)

In this canon there is one mile that is very narrow. The "debris" on both sides of the river slopes to the water's edge. During storms of rain, or sudden melting of snow, great quantities of loose rock slide down the side of the mountain into the river. Expensive retaining walls will be necessary to protect the roadbed. From this place to the mouth of Echo Canon (5 miles) the valley is wide and of a very uniform surface. Excavation and bridging not expensive.

Stone for what few bridges are required can be obtained at convenient distances on both sides of the river.

Mineral coal was seen in places in the Weber Valley, two miles below the mouth of Echo creek.

The dip of the rock indicates that if coal is found north of this place, it will be below the bed of the River. Numerous indications of iron ore were found but none in place. The farmer living in the valley informed me that there are large deposits of this mineral on one of the small tributaries of the Weber, on the north side of the river.

The subject of fuel and timber will be explained more fully hereafter.

The altitude at Echo Canon is 5535 above tide. The average grade from the Devil's Gate (29 miles) is 22.96 feet per mile. The grade is somewhat undulating, but generally very uniform, as a reference to the profile will show.


Sixteen bridges over Weber River will be required, and some tributary streams, and numerous irrigating ditches will have to be crossed.

I will here remark that the profile of the line from Great Salt Lake City through the Wahsatch Mountains, via Weber Valley to this place 78.32 miles is much more favorable than I expected to find.

From the mouth of Echo Canon to the east branch of Sulphur Creek two lines were run. One via Echo Canon crossing the divide between Weber and Bear Rivers, at the head of Echo; thence down a tributary of Bear River to the same, up Bear River to the mouth of Sulphur Creek, and up Sulphur to the east branch of the same stream. This line will hereafter be more fully described.

The other line continues up the valley of Weber River, 6.44 miles without encountering any heavy work to

Chalk, or White Clay Creek.

From information received from various sources before leaving Omaha and after arriving in Utah, I was led to believe that this valley would prove to be the most favorable, if not the only practical route over the high divide between Weber and Bear Rivers.

It was, therefore, with great anxiety that we worked our way up the valley of this stream to the summit. The first two miles up Chalk Creek Valley is through well cultivated farms. Then the valley narrows to a canon one mile in length only wide enough for the bed of the stream and quite crooked.

The rocky points from opposite sides of the creek, projecting past each other will cause heavy rock excavation. From here the valley opens and for a distance of 18.33 miles the excavation and embankment will be comparatively light.

The average ascending grade from the mouth of the creek to this place is 64.32 feet per mile, almost three times as much as the average in the Weber valley above the Devil's Gate.

The approach to the summit is made with 5 miles of maximum grade. The excavation and embankment will be expensive.

A tunnel of 2700 feet will be required through carboniferous sand rock, with expensive approaches at each end.

The altitude of the summit is 7834 feet above tide. This is the highest point reached on the survey.

In the mountains to the south, there is a large tract of pine timber, suitable for railroad purposes accessible from this point.

From the summit of Bear River the country is very much cut up by the various small tributaries of Yellow Creek. It is necessary to cross these with the line. This makes heavy work as will be seen from the profile.

While exploring the country at the head of Chalk Creek, I became satisfied that it was impossible to cross the divide between Weber and Bear Rivers south of Chalk Creek, on account of the near approach to the Uinta fountains. Subsequent explorations fully confirmed this opinion.

From Bear River (which is 150 feet wide and one foot deep at low water) to the east branch of Sulphur creek is 11.74 miles. The grading and Bridging is light.

Alignment good and timber convenient. As two lines were run to this place, I will return and describe some of the distinguishing features of the

Echo Canon line.

Echo Canon is a deep gorge worn in the soft sand rock, from 100 to 1000 ft. wide and 23.48 miles long. Bold escarpments rise almost vertical from five to eight hundred feet high and extend on the north side from Weber valley twenty miles up the canon or nearly to Cache Cave.

On the south side the hills recede at an angle of 45. From Cache Cave to the summit the hills are more rounded and slope back at a greater angle. Numerous short tributaries spread out on both sides cutting the country into a succession of deep ravines and sharp ridges.

From the point where we leave the Weber valley line, up the canon up to Cache Cave 21 miles, the work is light, material good and grades not as objectionable. The alignment is much better than the same distance up the valley of Chalk Creek.

The summit is reached with 3.22 miles of maximum grade, where a tunnel will have to be made 4000 feet through soft sand rock.

The altitude of this summit is 6879 feet above tide. The average ascent per mile from the mouth of the canon to the foot of the maximum grade at the summit (21.60 miles) is 44.90 feet.

From the summit the line was run down the valley of a small tributary of Bear River to the same, thence up Bear River Valley and the Valley of Sulphur Creek to its connection with the Chalk Creek Line, 24.45 miles or 49.20 miles from the mouth of Echo Canon. On this portion of the line the grading and Bridging will be light. The alignment good and rock for masonry convenient.

By referring to the accompanying map and profile the relative merits of these two lines will be apparent. The altitude of the summit on Chalk Creek line is 955 feet above the summit on Echo Canon line. The total ascending and descending grades are 1020 feet in favor of the Echo line. The alignment, excavation and embankment is also largely in favor of this line.

coal was seen on the Echo line in Bear River Valley which it is believed will prove good for locomotive fuel.

The advantages of the Chalk Creek line are its close proximity to large bodies of timber, its convenience to coal mines that are being worked in Chalk Creek valley, and the difference in the length of the tunnels at the summit on the two lines, which is 1300 feet in favor of the Chalk Creek line.

East Branch of Sulphur Creek to Green River.

From this place to the summit between the waters of the Great Salt Lake basin and the Gulf of California, the line follows up a small tributary of Sulphur Creek two miles; thence over a low divide into the valley of Quaking Asp Creek, an affluent of Bear River, and up that to its source on the divide, from here we reach the valley of the "Muddy" in 7.7 miles, 2.4 miles of this is maximum grade. The altitude of the summit is 7570 feet above the tide. The line was run down the valley of Muddy nearly to its junction with Black's Fork; thence 21 miles down the Valley of the Black's Fork, thence over the divide between Black's Fork and Green River to that stream, which is 200.32 miles from Great Salt Lake City. From the rim of the Great Salt Lake Basin to Green River the work is generally light and the material good; but very little rock excavation will be encountered on this portion of the line.

Immediately after crossing the summit there is a marked change in the topography of the country. Instead of the disturbed and upheaved rocks, which characterize the region of the Great Salt Lake Basin, flat tables or terraces of horizontal strata now form the distinguishing feature of the country, sometimes standing alone like islands in the barren plains or forming bold escarpments along the streams.

The hills are fast wearing away under the influence of wind and rain.

In Green River Valley I made a thorough exploration to the mouth of Bitter Creek, a distance of 20 miles.

The valley is narrow, with bold escarpments on both sides of the river, rising in many places hundreds of feet, almost vertical from the water's edge. To follow down Green River to Bitter Creek will require sixteen bridges, otherwise the work would be light. This involves an expense I was anxious to avoid, if possible.

The only way that appeared practicable was to cross the high table land between Green River and the north branch of Bitter Creek.

I traversed this country, but not as thoroughly as I wanted to do, on account of the hostility of the Indians, who were committing depredations on the whites in that vicinity while we were there.

I recommend that a more thorough exploration be made from Green River to Bitter Creek before a final location is made.

From Green River to the north branch of Bitter Creek 21 miles the grading is expensive. Some rock excavation will be encountered as shown on the profile. This is over a desert country, no fresh water can be found, and but very little grass for animals.

From the place where we descend to the valley of the north branch of Bitter Creek to Rock Springs (our connection with Mr. Evans' line) the grading and bridging is light.

It will be seen by an examination of the profile that to follow this line over the high table land the altitude to be overcome is very much increased. From Salt Lake City, via Echo Canon line to our connection with Mr. Evans' line in Bitter Creek Valley, is 233.46 miles. The altitude at that point is 6315 feet above tide.

The profile shows a great preponderance of light work. It is true there is some that is very heavy. I think the work will compare favorably with the Baltimore and Ohio or the Pennsylvania Central railroads.

We will now return to the second line run through the Wahsatch Mountains via


This line was commenced at a point in the Weber valley line, near the mouth of Chalk Creek, and continued up the valley of Weber River, to and across Kamas Prairie, 24.32 miles, to the Timpanogos Valley. The work over this portion of the line will be very light, grades easy and alignment good. Stone for all the bridge structures required convenient and abundant.

In order to conform as near as practicable to instructions I made an extended reconnaissance up the valley of Weber River to its source, to satisfy myself beyond a doubt, about the practicability of a line crossing the divide between Weber and Bear Rivers south of Chalk Creek. My route was up the narrow valley of Weber River in a northeasterly direction, 20 miles from Kamas Prairie, where the river is doubled back upon itself, and heads five miles east of Kamas Prairie. The high mountain range which forms the divide is from 1800 in the lowest pass, to 4000 feet above Weber River. The summit appears to be not more than two miles from the river and is like a continuous solid wall. The water shed to the river is narrow and steep.

I am satisfied that there is no possibility of getting a line over this divide without a tunnel at least three miles long (the altitude of the lowest point on this divide is 9162 feet above the tide).

I passed over the divide to the west branch of Bear River and followed up that stream in a southerly direction to its source. From a high point, the sides of which were covered with snow, I could trace the various rivers that take their rise in the Uinta mountains.

The dotted line on the map shows the route of this exploration.

In these mountains I found an abundance of timber suitable for railroad purposes.

That growing on the Bear River slope is of easy access and can be rafted down the river to the line.

On my return we continued the line down the valley of Timpanogos River to the valley of the Utah Lake. Heavy work and 2.27 miles of maximum grade is encountered to get from Kamas Prairie down to the valley of the river, from thence down the stream 8.61 miles, the valley is narrow and the grading will be expensive. From thence across Round Prairie, 11.36 miles, good grades, easy curves, and light work, are obtained.

From the west end of Round Prairie to the mouth of the canon in Utah Lake valley, 11.83 miles, the most difficult part of this line is encountered. The canon is narrow, and, unlike Weber, is very crooked. The points, from opposite sides of the river, project past each other, making frequent crossings of the river necessary, and a constant succession of heavy rock excavation unavoidable.

The prevailing rocks are granite, lime and sand. No indications of coal was seen in this valley. Thirty-four bridges will be required across the Timpanogosriver.

The grade from the mouth of the canon to the foot of the maximum grade at Kamas Prairie 31.8 miles averages 47 feet per mile.

From the point where the TimpanogosRiver enters Utah Lake Valley, there is a wide table land or terrace extending from the mountain to the lake. We ascended from the Timpanogos valley to this terrace and run in a northwesterly direction through the thriving towns of Battle Creek, American Fork and Lehi, crossed the Jordan River at the "narrows"; from thence over the extensive stock range on the west side of Jordan to the point of the west mountain, which is 12 miles west of Salt Lake City. From thence westerly between the base of the "West Mountain" 15 miles west of Great Salt Lake City. From thence westerly between the base of the mountains and the Great Salt Lake, to the end of our line in Tuilla Valley, 107.61 miles from the Weber valley line near the mouth of Chalk Creek.

An examination of the profile will show the work in Utah Lake Valley and the valley of Great Salt Lake, with the exception of crossing Jordan River, to be light. The grades and alignment are unobjectionable.


During the summer, and after the above surveys were completed, I made extensive explorations of the Wahsatch, Uinta and Bear River Mountains.

The Wahsatch range was crossed at every place where there seems to be a possibility of finding a line through the mountains between the Timpanogosand Weber Rivers.

Between Weber and Bear Rivers I traversed the summit of the mountains from the head waters of the Timpanogosriver in the Uintas, north to the source of Lost Creek (known in Stanbury's map as Pumbar Creek). Echo Canon line crosses this divide in the lowest place on the range.

Between Bear River and "Muddy", I followed the rim of the Great Salt Lake Basin, from the head of Sulphur Creek, in the Uintas, north to the head waters of Ham's Fork, crossing with my line at the lowest place on this summit, which divides the waters of Salt Lake from those of the Gulf of California.

From these explorations I am satisfied that I have shown the best line that can be found through the Wahsatch range, north of the Uintas, unless a line should be run down the valley of Bear River. This, if practicable, will increase the distance to Salt Lake Valley about 80 miles.

You will observe that I have confined myself to the maximum grade. When I could not overcome the various difficult summits that I encountered, I abandoned the survey and sought a new line.

timber and Fuel.

This is an important subject, and it was with great interest that I observed the various places from which a partial supply of timber can be obtained. Before exploring the Uinta mountainss, I looked upon the scarcity of timber as the most serious obstacle to be overcome in building the road through the mountains.

From the head waters of Bear River contiguous to the various tributaries of that stream, you must look for timber to build the road west of Bear River. Ties and bridge timber can be rafted down to the line.

I was informed by Mr. Granger that there is a large tract of good timber on Green River, 40 miles north of the crossing of that stream.

In the Wahsatch Mountains a limited number of cross-ties and some bridge timber can be obtained.

coal is abundant on Bitter Creek, Ham's Fork, Sulphur Creek, Chalk Creek, Weber and Bear Rivers.

Indications of coal were seen on Muddy, Yellow Creek, and in Echo Canon.

There are petroleum springs in the valley of Sulphur Creek, and in Pioneer Canon, northeast of Quaking Asp Mountain.

We closed our work and started for Omaha on the 28th day of October. In the mountains and on the plains we encountered severe storms which prevented our reaching Omaha until the 18th day of November.

In conclusion I want to acknowledge my obligation to President Brigham Young for the courteous and gentlemanly treatment I received from him.

To his cheerful and prompt compliance with all my requisitions for men, means of transportation, and subsistence, the company are in a great measure indebted for my success.

To Mr. Granger, for supplies loaned us, and for his valuable assistance in exploring the country in the vicinity of Black's Fork and Green River without charge.

To Mr. A. J. Mathewson, F. J. Paris, J. F. Smith, assistants, and all other members of the party I am obliged for valuable assistance during the entire survey.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

Samuel B. Reed Division Engineer

About this Document

  • Source: Report of Samuel B. Reed, of Surveys and Explorations from Green River to Great Salt Lake City .
  • Citation: Nebraska State Historical Society, Samuel Reed Papers (Union Pacific Railroad Collection), MS 3761, Unit 1, Subgroup 14, Series 1, Box 2, Folder: "Survey, Salt Lake Region 1864"
  • Date: December 24, 1864