A one-car train has a short service life, long retirement in Carbon County
In late 1916, a strange train car approached Price and soon arrived. It was a self- propelled motorcar called a McKeen Car.
Engineered and built by the McKeen Motor Car Company, an offshoot of the Union Pacific Railroad, the car had been purchased by the Southern Utah Railway/Castle Valley Railway to transport people from the coal fields of southwestern Carbon County and northwestern Emery County.
In retrospect, it was the most powerful motor car the company ever built with a six-wheel leading truck and with two of the three axles in that truck powered. The engine, a marine powerplant built by a company in New Jersey and powered by gasoline, developed 300 horsepower. Unlike most McKeen cars which had knife like fronts, this one had a rounded head.
At the beginning of January 1917 the car was getting ready for service on the line to Hiawatha. According to the News-Advocate that was published on Jan. 4, 1917 during a test run to the town it "...took the hill in good shape although it stuttered a few times on the worst grades..."
The car was a 55 feet long with a passenger capacity of 48. The additional power had been added to the car when ordered because of the grades (up to 4.92 percent) and curvature of the line between Price and Hiawatha for which it was intended.
Unfortunately, even by mid-January the car was not yet in regular service. The News-Advocate (Jan. 18, 1917) noted that the car was "not efficient enough."
However the car began to run between the towns within the next month. While at times the service struggled, it was still important enough to keep going.
Then came the Mammoth Dam break in April of 1917. The flood from the dam which was located in Sanpete County (just below where the small Gooseberry Dam is now located off of Skyline Drive) failed and water poured down Fish Creek, into Pleasant Valley (where the first Scofield Dam was not built for another decade) and down into Price Canyon. The water severely damaged the Rio Grande rail lines running through the canyon, and then came down into Castle Gate damaging much of the town. It flowed into the Price Valley and took out a number of bridges, including the one that the McKeen car passed over on its route to Hiawatha. Where the car was located when the flood took place has not been noted, it could have been on either side of the Price River, but later it was used for a while to transport people from the broken bridge to Hiawatha. People who wanted to go to the towns to the southwest had to get transportation to the new start of the line.
The car had struggled anyway with both the grades and efficiency, and now with the bridge out its operation really faltered.
On July 13, 1917 The Sun, had an article on the front page of the paper, claiming that the car experiment had been a failure and that it had been discontinued the week before.
"Passenger train service on the Southern Utah into Price was abandoned last Wednesday and mail, express and passenger service is since given Mohrland, Black Hawk and Hiawatha by way to the Utah Railway from Utah Junction, about halfway between Helper and Castle Gate," stated the paper. "Whether or not the new arrangement is permanent is yet to be seen. Officials of the operating department of the Utah Railway say they do not know."
The paper also reported on that date that automobile service had begun to the towns. It was a ghost of the future, because in 40 more years the end of the largest part of passenger service on railroads would be eliminated because of the gas powered personal vehicles.
"As yet no effort has been made to repair the Southern Utah Bridge at Price..." stated The Sun. "W.C. Broeker has established an automobile line to the camps south."
It was the end for the short lived experiment. However reports were that the Utah Railway did use the car as late as 1919 on the service from Utah Junction to Hiawatha.
The car was one of the last the McKeen Motor Car Company ever built. They went out of business in 1917, in a splatter of legal actions.
What happened after that is not well documented, except that the trucks and engine of the McKeen car were removed and sold off or repossessed, because of some legal squabble within the bankruptcy of McKeen. The car itself eventually ended up in at the rail operations in Martin where it was used for employee lockers and a storage room. Then in 1992 an employee of Utah Rail bought the car and took it to his place in south Price, where it sits today.
It is in two pieces and is being used for storage.
(Some information for this article came from Don Strack's UtahRails.net).