A rusty chunk of Carbon history leaves for Nevada
A heavy crane gently hoists half of the McKeen Car to a waiting flatbed trailer.
Inch by inch, the motor car section is lowered to the trailer bed.
A motorcar that was originally sent to Carbon County to send passengers to and from Hiawatha in 1917, and has been sitting in a field south of Price for the last 22 years, left the county for Nevada and a new life on Tuesday.
The motorcar (meaning the car itself contains its own engine) will be taken to Carson City, Nev., where it will be restored and then it will be shipped a few miles south to Mindon, Nev., where it will be displayed along with buildings and other relics of the same era.
The car was purchased by a Nevada corporation for the restoration and for the display. Drivers from the Carson City area loaded the car (which was cut in half when it was moved to the field) on two trucks with the help of a crane from Nielsen Construction.
The history of the car, which caused a good deal of excitement when it came to the area is a varied and interesting one. In late 1916, the strange train car approached Price and it was different from anything most people in Carbon had ever seen. The self- propelled motorcar, called a McKeen Car came into town with some fanfaire. 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 to and 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, a large amount of power out of a gas engine at the time. 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 regular 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 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 soon the car began to run between the towns the next month. While at times the service struggled, it was still important enough to keep it 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 would 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 from Price.. 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 service the towns.
"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. It was also the largest. The company 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 to house employee lockers and was 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 was moved from Tuesday.
Now the unique motorcar will get a new lease on life. While the projected finish for restoration is in about a year, other cars that have been restored that are similar to it took a longer time. But sometime, soon in the future it will once again be a show stopper, a unique piece of Utah history, but displayed in west central Nevada.
(Some information for this article came from Don Strack's UtahRails.net).