Robert M. Ellis remembers those cold days when the Salt Lake & Utah freight train was making its way northward up the Provo Bench between Provo and Curtis near the pres-ent-day 12th South in Orem.
"We kicked off coal lumps when we got up to Curtis," recalls Ellis, an occasional crew member on those freight trains and also conductor on the Salt Lake & Utah's final run between Payson and Salt Lake City in 1946. "And when we returned, the lumps were always gone."Ellis remembers that an elderly couple of meager means lived in a house close to the Curtis station, where the lumps were left.
"We guessed that that couple used the coal to heat their home."
Ellis says that one day on one of those runs the crew saw some food baskets alongside the track. The baskets were covered with checkered cloths and contained chicken, corn, baked potatoes and rolls. "Although we never saw those people, we knew who fixed the dinner. We were late, but we didn't care," Ellis says.
Some 40 years have passed since the Salt Lake & Utah, an interurban passenger and freight operation, made its last run in 1946. Extensive fanfare greeted the line's opening during World War I, but the coming of subsidized highway transportation plus competition from steam carriers and deterioration of bridges, track and equipment made abandonment inevitable.
As such, according to "Interurbans of Utah," Judge Tillman D. Johnson ordered the Orem line operations discontinued effective at 12:01 a.m. March 1, 1946.
But time has not cooled the warmth Ellis, who now lives in Washington Terrace, feels toward the friends he made during his work in the passenger operation.
"The people who rode the Orem (named after Frank Orem, the line's developer) were some of the greatest friends I ever met . . . it was like a bartender-customer relationship," Ellis says. "Even with the motormen, there was that kind of friendship - where everyone knew everyone."
On an average day, Ellis left Salt Lake City at 2:30 p.m., and he would work the northbound train back from Chipman. He then left Salt Lake again at 6:15 p.m. - this time going all the way to Payson. The return trip ended at 11:55.
The end came at a time the area between Taylorsville and Riverton was beginning to develop, Ellis said. "It made our day to see people coming in around the railroad."
Buses were scheduled on some Salt Lake & Utah runs, and Ellis was a driver between Salt Lake City and Payson for a while. He especially appreciated the efforts of a regular woman passenger.
At the time, in addition to operating the bus, the driver was required to keep a board showing the number of passengers for each destination. "She sat behind me and always kept it up. She always knew who was supposed to get off where. I think she enjoyed it and it made it more pleasant for her."
Ellis said that on the last run, agents and passengers on the Utah County portion made special efforts to say goodbye, but when the train reached the Salt Lake terminal, it was dark. As a result, he had to switch on the lights so the six passengers could safely leave the terminal, on the site of the present-day Symphony Hall.