Clearing the Line

In the Railroad’s Heyday

By Thornton Waite

Whenever I drive the highways in Teton Valley, I look for reminders of the time the Union Pacific Railroad’s Teton Valley Branch ran from Ashton to Victor. The grain elevators, former right-of-way, and bridges are all such reminders.

The line, which ran from Ashton south and east 45.6 miles to Victor, was completed in 1913 and was an essential part of the valley’s economy for many years, as the trains brought in supplies and took out agricultural products. People traveled on the passenger train, which was, for all practical purposes, the only way to reach the area. The railroad was especially important in the winter months, when the roads were snowed shut. It was not unknown for the line to Victor to be blocked by deep snowdrifts created by the winds. This was a time when the railroad was the only reasonable form of long distance transportation, particularly in the winter months. When the lines were drifted closed, there was no way to travel in or out of the valley.

The railroad cleared its lines with plows and crews, often at a great expense. In 1947 Drummond, on the Teton Valley Branch, was isolated for seventeen days by severe snows, and dynamite had to be used to clear the line. In 1949 Drummond was again isolated, this time for twenty-three days. One year, the snow drifted up to twenty feet deep in the cuts, and no trains could run for thirty days. This apparently occurred fairly frequently and hard work was required to clear the tracks.

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Thornton Waite

About Thornton Waite

Thornton Waite lives in Idaho Falls with his wife Susan and has two married daughters. He recently retired from the Idaho National Laboratory, where he was a project manager. His interest in trains has led him to write several books and numerous articles on the growth and development of railroads.

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