It's very important to me for my fictional railroads to be as believable as possible, and to that end I've found it useful to develop a history of the lines which intermingles with reality here and there. Before moving on to that let's take a brief look at the setting - the Four Corners region of Utah and Arizona.
Above you can see the "main characters" in my cast - the San Pablo Valley RR, the Utah Arizona & Pacific RR, the Castle Valley & La Sal Ry., and the Paradox & La Sal RR. As many probably know, this is a spectacular region of the country, full of widely varying landscapes. But no railroad served these specific areas until the construction of a D&RGW branch in 1963 to serve a potash mine near Moab. I decided to change that bit of history somewhat significantly.
It's pretty well known to fans of western rail history that when he started the Denver & Rio Grande, General Palmer's goal was to create a north-south transcontinental route linking Denver and Mexico City via El Paso. This, of course, never came to fruition. Setbacks, largely to do with a protracted battle with the Santa Fe system, resulted in the D&RG never making it south of its rival's namesake city. Nevertheless, some other southward routes from Utah into Arizona were considered and even surveyed. My San Pablo Valley RR picks up at that point where history left off.
General Palmer resigned as president of the D&RG in August 1883, but kept the same post at the Denver & Rio Grande Western Ry., the D&RG's sometimes-subsidiary, sometimes-enemy across the Utah border. What my line presupposes is that the general kept his eye to the south for a few years longer, looking for a way to build his dream line into Mexico after the Royal Gorge War and subsequent Treaty of Boston ruled out the Santa Fe to El Paso route.
Meanwhile, as the Rio Grande mainline from Denver to Ogden crossed the Utah desert in the early 1880s, miners and investors in the territory's southern La Sal and Abajo Mountains saw an opportunity to tap the mineral and lumber resources there and connect them to markets, primarily in the capital cities of Utah and Colorado. The D&RGW leadership became aware of these plans and provided significant assistance in financing the one they thought looked most promising. This was the beginning of the San Pablo Valley RR, linking the La Sals with the Rio Grande mainline at Whitehouse via the canyon of the Colorado River and the San Pablo Valley. (In actuality, the valley I've named San Pablo is called Spanish Valley, and is the location of Moab, UT). This was completed by Christmas 1883. Construction resumed in the spring of 1884 and the line was extended to Monticello by fall. About the same time, the Rio Grande sent crews into northern Arizona to survey routes and raise money to build north towards the new SPV. By the end of the year, the grandly-named Utah Arizona & Pacific was incorporated for this purpose, and construction began northwards from Esperanza, Arizona Territory, where a connection was made with a new AT&SF branch line.
In September 1885, the SPV and UA&P met near the San Juan River, where the railroad founded a town they named Rome. By this point, General Palmer's hopes for a line to Mexico had finally faded for good, but the two 3' gauge lines served as a viable north-south bridge route, linking the transcontinental lines of the D&RG/D&RGW and AT&SF. Several additional smaller lines were built in the years that followed, as mining boomed in the La Sal range. First was the Castle Valley & La Sal, linking the SPV mainline in the Colorado River canyon with the new city of Castleton and the mines of the northern La Sals, built in 1887. The next year, the Paradox & La Sal was built, connecting the SPV to Colorado's Paradox Valley. Several lumbering lines were also constructed in the mountains to supply the growing towns along the new railroads.
In these early years, the railroads flourished. The SPV and UA&P even jointly operated an opulent pair of express passenger trains to include Pullman service - the northbound train named the Ute, and the southbound the Navajo. They also carried agricultural products, including significant annual livestock rushes, as well as the raw materials for which they were originally founded and the many products necessitated by the expanding population of the region.
In 1890, what originally appeared as a major windfall became an existential threat to the lines - the standard gauging of the Rio Grande mainline. Due to their close corporate relationship, it was first speculated that the SPV/UA&P system would also widen its gauge, but this was not to be. Rather, in order to assist in financing its transition, the larger railroad - now reorganized into the Rio Grande Western - sold most of its shares in the shortlines and left them to fend for themselves. As the only route of commerce into the region, they survived, but were never again as profitable now that it was necessary for bridge traffic to change gauges twice - once at each end.
The SPV would eventually gain a few miles of track with 4' 8-1/2" between the rails. With the continued success of mines in the region, a smelter was constructed on the outskirts of Moab in 1895, and its founders helped raise money to add a third rail between their facility and Whitehouse, so that processed materials could be loaded directly into standard gauge boxcars. Again, rumors flew that the entire railroad would be standard gauged, and again they proved false - only the line's northernmost 40 miles were converted to dual gauge, although the SPV did acquire one new standard gauge engine to serve it.
|#51, an 1895 Baldwin 4-4-0, the line's only standard gauge engine|
|SPV #20, an 1887 Baldwin 2-8-0 near Castleton, UT, circa 1907|