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Heber Valley Railroad

Photo Courtesy Heber Valley Railroad
Photo Courtesy Heber Valley Railroad
The Heber Valley Railroad (HVRR), once known as the Heber Creeper and whose official name is the Heber Valley Historic Railroad Authority, is more than just a way to get from point A to point B.

Now offering an entertaining, historic and scenic ride, the train operated as a workhorse serving the people of the valley and across the state from 1899 up until 1967.

"During the 1930s and 1940s, there was more sheep hauled out of Heber Valley than from anywhere else in the United States," said Craig Lacey, executive director of HVRR. "Whether those animals were going to market or to a summer pasture, the train saw a lot of sheep traffic. The last time revenue freight was hauled out of the valley was in 1967 and one of last loads was the White House Christmas tree."

The train also has the distinction of being in several movies. Its Hollywood debut was in the movie "The Professionals", filmed in California in 1966. During its noble movie career, the locomotive and cars would travel to the actual movie locations, most of which were in the western US. "The last big ones were A River Runs Through It and Far and Away filmed in Montana," said Lacey.

After the Rio Grande railroad stopped using the train for hauling in 1967, local citizens decided to preserve the train's history and started a tourist train, named the Heber Creeper, between Heber and Bridal Veil Falls in Provo . It was a popular attraction in the 1970s and 1980s, but by the early 1990s, the train's popularity was falling by the wayside. Still feeling this bit of history should be preserved, in 1992 the locals succeeded in persuading the Utah State Legislature to provide them a one time grant. The Heber Valley Railroad Authority was formed and is now a non-profit, state-run attraction.

"Although we are owned by State of Utah," said Lacey, "we are an independent state agency and get no funding from the state. All the funding comes from ticket sales, gift sales and tax deductible donations."

"One of things we learned several years ago was that it was not enough for people to just come and take a train ride even though the scenery is gorgeous, [wildlife viewing is amazing] and the history is there," said Lacey. "People want entertainment as well."

So the railroad partnered with several local groups and came up with some varied and entertaining packages. One such package is the "Tube and Train" where visitors are taken to Soldier Hollow (during the winter) to do some old fashioned tubing. "Sleigh bells and Whistles" is a tour that includes a train ride and then a sleigh ride on the land of a local rancher.

Summer fun includes "Raft and Rail" which takes riders down the Provo River to Vivian Park and then tosses them in the river (into rafts) to float for about an hour, then ride the train back. There is also a horseback riding adventure and one that includes a lift ride at Sundance Resort.

Three very popular seasonal theme events include the " Haunted Canyon ", a spooky train ride during the Halloween season that includes ghost stories, a "Cowboy Poetry" reading ride where six different artists perform for the riders, and a "Polar Express" ride where actors re-create the experience in the book of the same name. Several other packages and events can be discovered on their official website at http://hebervalleyrr.org/index.php .

Last year the train transported and entertained just under 95,000 people.

Currently, the two steam engines are out of duty for refurbishing (required to keep up with federal safety standards) and the cars are being hauled by a rare diesel locomotive. But when the steam engines are at the helm, it takes "bundles of 20s and 50s [to make it run]" said Lacey, "but seriously, it burns lump coal and is hand shoveled in. On a typical trip to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, it will burn 1500 to 1800 pounds of coal and will consume about 4000 gallons of water."

The starting depot for the various rides is in Heber City which is 44 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, and 28 miles northeast of Provo on US Highway 40.

"It's more than just a train ride," said Lacey, "its history in motion."

Backroads of Utah
by Theresa A. Husarik

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