Most little boys grow up playing with trains. Some of us never outgrow it. My friend Dave and I are that way, and on day two of our "Guys Weekend" doing Dave and Gary stuff managed to stumble upon, quite by accident, the remains of the Carbon County Railway, in the Eastern portion of the county while we were out exploring. We'd driven East from Price looking for active coal mines and loading facilities when we drove into the town of East Carbon looking for a mine that showed on Dave's atlas. And while there was no sign of an active mine, or any activity on the railroad line that still has tracks there, we were able to see where an active rail line once was. When we got to the town of Columbia we noticed an access to the roadbed where the rails and ties once were, and it was marked "ATVs" only. Well we considered our Jeep to be an "All Terrain Vehicle", so we decided to head off down the roadbed.
For nearly 10 miles we drove along this roadbed -- through cuts in the rocks, across fills that covered canyons and creeks (and thankfully didn't run into any trestles or washed out bridges). It was almost like we were back in time, running a coal train from the mine back in the 1930s. Our speed averaged 20mph, about what a train would have done on this line, and we were treated to stunning views of the surrounding country, the red-rock cliffs and bluffs of Central Utah and the juniper forests.
We had no idea where this roadbed was going -- it didn't show up on the atlas Dave had, and we figured we'd get to the end and turn around and head back. But after nearly 10 miles, as the line curved a bit East into a canyon, we came smack dab into the center of what was, according to the map, the Geneva Mine complex, now completely abandoned. Just as a train would pull into the mining complex, we too curved in and past a handful of red brick buildings still standing, their windows long since broken, and walls covered with teenage graffiti.
We had happened upon the outbuildings that supported the Geneva mine, including a large shop building for the railroad, a mess hall and shower facility for the miners, and an office building. What we couldn't find was any trace of the mine or loading facilities.
This complex of buildings was sitting out in the desert, at least 10 miles away from any town or people, decaying in the elements. We wandered through all the buildings, poking around, looking at what was left, and imagining what this room or that was used for, and picturing what this place was like when there were a couple of hundred miners working around the clock, digging coal and loading it onto waiting trains to be sent away and used for fuel. There was no sound exept for our somewhat whispered conversations -- it didn't seem right to yell, as if we would disturb a ghost or two -- the wind, and the occasional flutter of a bird. It smelled musty and old, and the light was dim except for the sunlight that came in where windows once were.
After an hour or so of wandering about, and trying to find any sign of the mine itself and not finding any, we decided to hit the road and head back towards East Carbon, but we decided to take the regular highway back to Columbia where we picked up the railbed and then go back to East Carbon on the old rail line. As we came into Columbia on the county road we saw what appeared to be a train station sitting off to the East, so off we went to investigate. It turns out that we were on the old Carbon County Railway after all -- something I'd suspected and hadn't confirmed. There where the rail yard used to be sat the headquarters and depot for the Carbon County Railway, along with several hundred ancient kilns used to turn coal from the mine into coke for use in the steel mill.
I remember reading about the Carbon County Railway when I was younger, but had never seen it in operation. Once home, I learned that the railroad and the Geneva mine complex both shut down in 1982, and the railroad was abandoned in 1984 and the tracks taken up in 2002. The actual mine at Geneva was reclaimed and sealed up and the loading facility torn down in 1990.
But such a major construction project as a railway and a mine don't vanish into the desert overnight, thank goodness. Many of the buildings still stand, and the grade for the railway is still there and will be for some time. That's good, because it allows a couple of 50+ year old guys to play train in a rented Jeep, and to imagine what it must be like to be a coal miner or a railroad engineer, even though our conveyance has a steering wheel and barely enough horsepower to make it down the highway.