Downfall of the Interurban - Impacts of the Great Depression and World War II

A 1942 timetable pamphlet with schedules for the U.I.C. Note the difference between this and the earlier timetable as the bus service was becoming the standard method of transportation between cities during this time. This pamphlet also continues the advertising trend with statements regarding safety, efficiency, and speed of transportation.
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(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Utah-Idaho Central Railroad Company, Mendon Station Papers, 1916–1936 MSS 60, Box 22, Item 2)

The optimism and hope of the Roaring Twenties disappeared with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Businesses and people across the nation were affected by the crash of the stock market and the downturn of the economy. The U.I.C. was not spared from these effects, and it would never recover from the Depression. The railroad operated at a loss from 1929 throughout the 30s and had little hope for improvement. In 1939 the company experienced receivership[1] once more, with only a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (established by the federal government as part of the New Deal) keeping it afloat.[2] With the outbreak of World War II, U.I.C. leadership would have likely expected profits to return as the nation mobilized for war and the need for transportation services increased dramatically. However, Sorensen writes that some limitations prevented the U.I.C. from gaining any expected revenue.[3] Thus, the U.I.C. was forced to rely on less profitable freight such as coal and sugar beets as the main source of income; both were unreliable, especially with the start of coal strikes in the early 40s.[4] Ambrious Larsen gave his opinion of the fall of the U.I.C.: “I don't think they [northern Utah] had the business for the two trains. I think one company could handle all the freight, and I think it was just a matter of one having to go out, and UIC was the one that went out.”[5]

A U.I.C. train stopped at the Logan Station on South Main Street. Note the number of automobiles parked and driving on the street, one of the factors bringing an end to the U.I.C.
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(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, A-Board Historical Photograph Collection photo no. A2957a)

In addition to competition from outside railroad companies, a decline in the number of paying passengers also contributed greatly to the decline of the U.I.C. This situation resulted from a combination of a small population base within the region of operation and the increase in the use of automobiles and buses.[6] The improvement and greater use of automobiles led to the improvement of roads, especially the U.S. Highway 89 between Brigham City and Wellsville. Lawrence Cantwell discussed the implications that the road through this canyon had on the U.I.C. “But Sardine was a much closer road—It was rather steep in places. They had to make dug ways through it, and with better power and equipment, steam shovels and so forth, the road was improved so that automobiles could make the trip down into Brigham much faster.”[7] The U.I.C. Railroad was no longer the most efficient or reliable means of transportation between Preston and Ogden and could not survive without the support of the communities it serviced.

Selected Images of the U.I.C. During the 1930s & 1940s

Efforts to Save the Railroad

Correspondence between Herschel Bullen, the director of the Logan Chamber of Commerce at the time, and attorneys, Union Pacific Representatives, and others demonstrates the reluctance of local leadership in allowing the U.I.C. to abandon its lines and services. Bullen recognized the impact that abandoning the U.I.C. would have on local industry and agricultural interests, and he sought for a way to keep the U.I.C. in operation or to replace it with a similar service for the good of the Cache Valley economy. Some examples of his correspondence can be viewed here. Despite his best efforts, the U.I.C. could not recover and maintain their equipment.

Frederick Champ, as a prominent banker and board member with extensive financial experience, assisted the United States Chamber of Commerce in renewing chamber memberships for many companies in Utah. This correspondence below between Champ, representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and corporate leaders within Utah demonstrates the failing financial situation of the U.I.C. towards the mid to late 40s. The letter from Donald Marcellus to R. E. Titus indicates the benefits of renewing chamber memberships in the recovering economy.

[1] See page 8, “Plans for Expansion in the Roaring Twenties,” for a definition of receivership.
[2] Shaw, 3.
[3] Sorensen, “The Utah Idaho Central Railroad,” 151.
[4] Sorensen, 151.
[5] Larsen, 7.
[6] Carr, 29.
[7] Cantwell, 11.
[8] Swett, 77.
[9] Shaw, 3.
[10] S. J. Quinney to Herschel Bullen, August 6, 1947, box 20, folder 2, Herschel Bullen Jr. Papers, 1883–1966, Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library, Logan, UT.
[11] Sorensen, 154.