Last fall my wife and I discovered East Carbon County, Utah. There was so much to see and do I wrote an article entitled “Roaming The Coal Fields” in RV Life Magazine to share it with other adventure minded RVers. However, to keep the article from becoming a book, I could only cover a snippet of each attraction. In this blog entry we will look at Water Canyon’s 3.5 mile long tram line that was constructed to haul rock asphalt (predecessor to modern day asphalt) from a mine high on Bruin Peak to a transfer station in the valley below. If feats of engineering interest you, like they do me, visiting the asphalt tram line needs to be part of your next RV adventure through the area.
The following are portions of some newspaper articles outlining the scope and grandeur of the project:
The Sun – Feb 24, 1928 – “The Utah Rock Asphalt Corporation is a company organized under the laws of Colorado for the purpose of taking over and developing a deposit of rock asphalt located at Sunnyside, Carbon County, Utah. Rock asphalt is sandstone impregnated with bitumen just as some shales in Western Colorado are with petroleum. It is used as a road surfacing material. The quantity of rock asphalt is this deposit is practically unlimited. There is a whole mountain of it with no overburden. The estimate of the minimum quantity easily available is five hundred million tons. The engineers estimate that the amount is sufficient to keep the quarry in continuous operation for a lifetime and to produce enough tonnage to provide surfacing for a hundred thousand miles of streets or roads. The Utah deposit is four hundred feet in depth and at least two miles in length.”
October 9, 1947 – “The Sunnyside quarry is probably one of the most interesting in the country. Located 9,040 feet above sea level, the mineral is scooped out of the side of the mountain by huge shovels and is transported to the crushers in the valley eight miles away by means of huge buckets suspended on cables. The mountain in which the deposit is located is 10,000 feet high thus placing the diggings almost to the top. A private road leads to the mine winding up the mountain side and from there continues to top where, incidentally, is a deer hunter’s paradise. To have transported all of the heavy machinery to the quarry on the narrow road is an engineering fete within itself and is a source of wonder to the visitor. Approximately 200 tons of rock asphalt are produced each nine hour working day from the present opening which ranges in thickness from 40 to 70 feet. Work is now going on to open a new face which is located several feet higher than the present working and which will open a vein ranging in thickness for 70 to 200 feet.”
Much of the tram line is still solidly standing today serving as a testament to the engineers and the laborers that toiled to construct it. Studying the truss design of each tram tower along with the anchoring and tension of the cable system left me in awe of what ingenious minds could conceive long before computers and calculators.
Even if you are not impressed by engineering, the sight of the hanging ore buckets and weathered support towers take you back to a simpler rustic time in America’s past like a Norman Rockwell painting does.
Finding abandoned feats of engineering marvels from America’s past, one of the best adventures in RVing!