The abandoned Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad route between Thistle and Marysvale is, a local artist says, "a dark scar on the central Utah landscape."
Trains rumbled over the steel rails for almost a century, until the springtime landslide and flood at Thistle in 1982 ended the lonely sounds of the whistle and the bell and the lights flickering past farms and towns in the darkness.All that remains of the era that began in 1890 is the scar that is slowly fading but will probably be plainly visible for another hundred years.
The first train that rolled down from Hill Top was greeted with celebrations along the way. In Ephraim the whole town turned out as the engine eased up to the depot its whistle shrieking and its bell clanking.
The band played patriotic numbers, the crowd surged around and the Relief Society served a chicken dinner.
"I was so excited I thought my heart would stop beating," Hannah Allred wrote in her diary.
Residents from Thistle to Marysvale understood that their isolation was ending that they had gained access to a new world.
A&K Materials' salvage rights to the Marysvale Branch expired on March 1. By then the firm had hauled away the ties and the rails and smoothed the roadbed that 125-mile-long scar across the central Utah landscape.
Some local residents have purchased the rights to some of the overlay that remains slag that the D&RGW hauled in from Geneva steel. Kim Larsen and Bill Tuttle, both of Manti, bought a mile of the material from A&K Materials and are now selling it by the yard.
It's considered excellent material for street repairs, and Ephraim city is considering purchasing several miles to use on its streets between the hard top and the gutter.
The overlay is 8 to 10 inches deep, Tuttle says. Other people are getting it to use around their yards and in corrals. But most of the slag is likely to remain.
The Marysvale Branch right of way varies in width. In most places it's 100 feet wide, sometimes 200 feet and in a few locations 400 feet.
The D&RGW holds title to much of the land, the federal government to all the rest, except a few stretches in private hands. The D&RGW land holdings are now for sale, appraised at anywhere from $500 to $6,000 an acre depending on the location.
The land along Fifth West in Manti, for example, is priced at $4,000 an acre. Land that does not have much value except for grazing has a $500 price tag.
Manti real estate agent Roy Hatch has the sales rights on land D&RGW owns along the route between Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County, and Salina, Sevier County.
Who would want that land, burdened with an overlay of dark gray slag and black coal dust?
Farmers, he says, whose grandfathers' farms, years ago, were bisected by the right-of-way; business owners whose holding impinge on the track; and the Gunnison Irrigation Co., which purchased some acreage to protect access to the Gunnison Reservoir west of Sterling.
In time, some cities may grow and want to turn the right of way into a street, he said.
There have even been suggestions that a few miles of the trace may become a bridle path or a trail for recreational vehicles. That's already happening for some sections of the track over which locomotives once thundered.
In its 125-mile journey, the D&RGW right of way curved through the hills, skirted the edges of towns, bridged streams, crossed rich farmland.
How long will the trace survive? As long as Hadrian's wall in England and the pyramids of Egypt, the local artist thinks.