Union Pacific Railroad and the Teton Valley Branch is a slim but detailed book that gives a thorough insight into the history of the railroad branch that ran from Ashton to Victor in the twentieth century.
The author, Thornton Waite, lives in Idaho Falls and has written extensively on the history of railroads in Idaho. In his new book chronicling the Teton Valley Branch, he draws from sources including the Teton Valley News, the Teton Peak Chronicle of Ashton, the Jackson Hole Model Railroaders, private photo collections, and the Valley of the Tetons Library’s robust historical archive.
Published earlier this year, the book is catnip for train enthusiasts and includes yearly timetables from the 46-mile line, and photos of the lightweight locomotives that traveled on the branch. But it also offers plenty for people who care more about the history of Teton Valley, with detailed descriptions of each local depot, assessments of local agriculture, breakdowns of the epic bridges that still span Bitch Creek, Fall River, and Conant Creek, and, best of all, a full chapter about the herculean task of snow removal on the tracks.
“The snow blockades of the Teton Valley Branch are perhaps the most dramatic part of the line’s history, an arduous challenge that tested the mettle of railroad employees assigned to snow service,” Waite tells the reader. He provides a wealth of photos of tiny people examining 30-foot-deep drifts, trains stranded in snow, and rotaries forging a path into the valley.
One fun reminder from the book is that Jackson Hole’s economy was once dependent on Victor, not for its workforce as it is now, but for freight. Teton Pass was the only year-round route over the hill, so the Teton Valley Branch was an essential conduit in the multi-stage trip to Jackson. Trains bore national park tourists, supplies, and even materials for the Snake River bridge to Victor, and then horse teams and later trucks carried the freight the rest of the way. Jackson Hole ranchers in turn sent their cattle over the pass, down the railroad, and out to the Upper Valley to be sold.
“The Teton Valley Branch, like many railroad lines, handled the mundane chores involved with transporting goods and people,” Waite writes in his conclusion. “It never boldly ventured into a mountain range, but instead dead-ended at the foot of one. Yet, it will be remembered for its unique role in the transport of livestock connected to old-time cattle drives, for ill-conceived ventures regarding coal mining, and for providing tourists with a way to easily visit two national parks. Trains no longer roll through Teton Valley, but their legacy does.”