Idaho Falls - City of Destiny


The Railroad In Idaho Falls

The growth and development of Idaho Falls, originally known as Eagle Rock, was greatly influenced by the construction of the Utah & Northern Railway. This narrow gauge line, built north from Ogden, Utah, to the mining areas in Montana, was constructed through Eagle Rock in 1879. The first train went over the new bridge across the Snake River on July 1, 1879, and construction of the line continued north to Butte, Montana, which was reached on December 26, 1881, and Garrison, 454 miles from Ogden, where construction of the line ended in 1884.

The Utah & Northern Railway established their main railroad shops in Eagle Rock in 1880, so the town grew and prospered. These shops included the depot, a ten stall roundhouse, offices, and numerous buildings needed to build and repair the engines and cars. These shops were moved south to Pocatello in 1887, but the railroad remained an important part of the economy of Eagle Rock, providing passenger transportation and freight service for all of the products made and grown in the area. The three foot narrow gauge line through Eagle Rock was widened from the original gauge to the standard gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches on July 24, 1887.

The railroad has affected the growth and development of Idaho Falls over the years. On April 30, 1909, the railroad began a capital improvements program to upgrade the facilities at Idaho Falls. The small railroad depot was replaced by a new, large building on what is now Yellowstone Avenue and Constitution Way. This building was opened on March 21, 1911, and used until it was razed in October, 1964, when Yellowstone Avenue was being widened.

At the same time the depot building was constructed, the railroad went through a major track construction project, routing the main line to the east and north of downtown Idaho Falls, relegating the original line on the south and west sides to a siding track used to serve the local businesses. The new main line went across the Snake River to the north of what is now Freeman Park, and the railroad built the girder bridge that is still in use today across the river.

The railroad and the facilities have been changed over the years to meet the changing needs. However, some railroad structures still exist that date back over 80 years. The most obvious landmark is the pumphouse by the Birch Street underpass. Constructed by the railroad when the depot was built in 1909, it was needed to keep the Birch Street underpass clear of water. The stockyards along the Northgate Mile are still standing and being used, although the loading chutes by the railroad tracks have been removed. There are also two old stone culverts under the railroad tracks. One of them is to the east of Yellowstone Avenue at 16th Street, and the other culvert is behind Smitty's Pancake House, just to the west of the bridges across the Snake River. Each culvert still has the construction date "1900" on the keystone of the culvert.

The railroad has always been an important part of the local economy, and its importance continues to this day. The location of the railroad facilities affected the growth and development of Idaho Falls, and this influence continues to the present, although on a reduced scale.

Submitter: Thornton Waite, Idaho Falls Railroad Historian
Sources: Personal files. See also Bonneville Museum files
Note: More detailed articles by Mr. Waite are available through the museum.

Railroad Photos

Note: Photos and captions courtesy of Thornton Waite.
Note: Click on the small picture to see a full size picture, to return to this page click on your viewers back button.

A view of the railroad bridge across the Snake River at Eagle Rock (present-day Idaho Falls), looking upstream. This picture was taken about 1881, shortly after the narrow gauge Utah & Northern Railway reached Eagle Rock on its way north to Montana from Utah. The Taylor bridge can be seen just behind the railroad bridge, and the railroad shops are in the background to the right and behind the bridge.

The Utah & Northern Railway made their own railroad cars and could repair their locomotives and rolling stock at the Eagle Rock shops. These shops were located north of Broadway in downtown Idaho Falls. When the railroad moved their shops to Pocatello in 1887, this tin shop was one of several buildings loaded onto freight cars and shipped south to Pocatello.

A view of Utah & Northern Railway #85 and crew in front of the Eagle Rock roundhouse in 1886. The huge plow was attached to the front of the locomotive to clear the tracks in the winter. The engine cab had curtains to help keep the crew warm during the cold winter storms. This locomotive, originally numbered #28, was built by Brooks in March, 1881.

The second passenger depot in Idaho Falls was located at 13th Street and what is now Yellowstone Avenue. It was a single story wooden structure opened for business in 1901 and was replaced in 1911 by the depot at C Street (Constitution Way) and Yellowstone Avenue. The water tank and coaling facilities can be seen behind the depot. A northbound passenger train consisting of a baggage car and two passenger cars has stopped in front of the depot.

The third steam locomotive on the Utah Northern Railroad, the predecessor to the Utah & Northern Railway, was the "Franklin," a narrow gauge 4-6-0 built in 1872 by Grant. It was named for the town of Franklin, Idaho. The locomotive had an ornate wooden cab and polished trim and lettering.

In 1911 the Oregon Short Line built this depot at what is now Constitution Way and Yellowstone Avenue. It was a large wooden and brick structure that was part of a major line relocation through Idaho Falls.

When the passenger depot at C Street and Yellowstone Avenue was built in 1911, the freight depot at Broadway and Yellowstone was expanded. It had a 32-foot by 36-foot head house with a basement and a one-story covered platform 32 feet wide by 182 feet long. In October, 1964, the freight and passenger depots (seen in background) were razed when Yellowstone Avenue was being widened. The coaling tower in the railroad yards can be seen in the far background, to the left of the passenger depot.

The bridge north of Freeman Park was constructed across the Snake River in 1909 at the same time the passenger depot at C Street and Yellowstone Ave. was built. This view was taken in October 1909, looking west across the river. The far bridge abutment and bridge pier #7 are almost complete, and the coffer dams for the bridge piers #2 and #3 are being pumped out. Some men can be seen riding to work on a platform in the center of the Snake River. (Photo, Union Pacific Museum)

Editor's Note: Concerning the development of the railroad and its influence on early settlement, Dr. Merrill D. Beal, historian, has written: "In 1871, President [Brigham] Young made a decision that was destined to give impetus to colonization in the great [Upper Snake River] valley. He arranged for his son, John W. Young, to spearhead a project to build a railroad to Cache Valley and beyond. William B. Preston, Cache Valley [LDS] Stake President, was the catalyst. Among his pioneer associates were Thomas E. Ricks, Marriner W. Merrill, William D. Hendricks, William Maughn, James H. Martineau, Moses Thatcher, and others. They organized the Utah Northern Narrow Gauge Railroad Company in 1871. By August, a Mormon cooperative plan was in operation. By June in 1873 trains were running between Ogden, Utah, and Franklin, Idaho.

"In 1877, a reorganization under Union Pacific interests changed the name of the company to Utah and Northern. Some changes were also made in management, but many Mormons were employed to labor with Marriner W. Merrill, superintendent of construction. The line was completed from Franklin to Montana between 1877 and March 9, 1880." These employees were favorably impressed with the area, and as a result many settlements were founded in the Upper Snake River Valley.

Source: Merrill D. Beal, "The Bannock Stake of Zion," in D. V. Groberg, The Idaho Falls Temple.

The Automobile Business
Its Early History In Idaho Falls

From the wooden carriages and teams of horses that Dan Clyne rented to businessmen and travelers at his Eagle Rock livery and the privately owned shays and surreys of the last decade of the nineteenth century, Idaho Falls emerged early in the new century as an important center for the promotion and sales of the most marvelous of modern inventions, the motor-propelled automobile. At the same time, the few, scattered wagon trails that wove their rutted way through the surrounding sagebrush country gave way to a grid of paved streets and highways to accommodate the new mode of transportation and to offer the city's residents more varied and convenient avenues of pleasure and business travel.

Among the earliest participants in the new automotive enterprise were S.S. and Park Blair who founded one of the first automobile dealerships in Idaho Falls. Established in 1914, the Preston A. Blair Co. an agency for both Dodge and Plymouth, had acquired by 1926 both the means and the necessity to provide a large, modern showroom for its product. The corner of A and Shoup Streets was the site selected for the new complex of display, sales, and service areas. Although the company was sold in 1946 to Ellsworth Brothers, Inc., the present owners, it has continuously remained an agency for Dodge and Plymouth automobiles and trucks.

David Smith was another pioneer in the automobile industry in Idaho Falls. He began his small operation as a Chevrolet agency in the lobby of the Idaho Hotel at Park and C Streets in 1921, his inventory at the outset consisting of a single 1921 Chevrolet. As his business expanded, he was joined by John W. and Clarence Hart, Frank Reynolds, and Harold J. Bishop to form a corporation, the Smith-Hart Company, which employed a considerable number of salesmen and mechanics and which even operated a branch agency in Rigby.

The early history of the automobile business in Idaho Falls would be incomplete without the names of "Dad" Clay, E.A. Wackerli, and J.E. Browning. "Dad" Clay established his reputation during the first decade of the century principally as a service garageman and the owner of the first structure in the state of Idaho to function solely for garage purposes, constructed in 1910. His publication of the first road log in the state as well as his road signs directing motorists to his place of business widened his reputation. But, he also served as an early agency for Buick and for Ford before the latter agency was assumed by the Bonneville Auto Company in 1916 and developed into one of the major automobile dealerships and service companies in the area with its headquarters at the corner of Capital and A Streets. E.A. Wackerli and J.E. Browning both entered the automobile business in Idaho Falls in 1917. The Gem State Auto Company, owned by the former, offered Plymouth, DeSoto and Hupmobile cars, while the Browning Auto Co. sold Buick automobiles and General Motors trucks.

It has been estimated that by the mid-1930's approximately 1.5 million dollars were spent annually in Idaho Falls by its residents and those from surrounding communities in the purchase of automobiles, with most families owning some kind of vehicle at that time. The automobile business has continued to grow and prosper as agency ownership passed to descendants of the pioneer entrepreneurs, such as the Harts, the Smiths, the Wackerlis, and to other enterprising local businessmen. The original showrooms have been replaced by larger, more modern structures, and today most families own not only one car but two and sometimes three vehicles, including trucks and a variety of recreational vehicles. Only a bare trace of a wagon trail can still be seen in isolated spots, paved streets have proliferated, and major state and interstate highways now pass through Idaho Falls. These thoroughfares hum with a steady flurry of vehicles which display a great variety of streamlined designs and feats of aerodynamic engineering which Park Blair, David Smith or E.A. Wackerli could not have imagined nearly a century ago.

Submitted by: Carol A. Chazin Sources: Bonneville Museum files.
"Automobile Industry Comes to the Front Here." Post Register 10 Sept 1934.
"Clyne's rent-a-team." Post Register 10 Sept 1934. (Reprinted in July 4, 1991.)
"Dad Clay One of First to Operate Garage in Idaho." Post Register 10 Sept 1934.
"Modern Transportation Far Cry from Methods Used During Early Days." Post Register 10 Sept 1934.
Marker, Joe L. "Fall of 1927 brought harvest, adventure for local duo." Post Register 7 April 1980.
"Pickup truck now is status symbol." Post Register 23 Oct 1977.

Early History of Aviation In Idaho Falls

The history of Idaho Falls and its aviation history have been inextricably entwined for many years. In fact, the first recorded aviation activity in the Idaho Falls area took place in 1911, only eight years after the first airplane flight was made by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina!

More than merely a form of transportation, aviation has impacted almost every facet of life in the Idaho Falls area-- agriculture, tourism, postal service, scientific research and development (Idaho National Engineering Laboratory), local businesses, community needs, such as medical, law enforcement, search and rescue, personal travel, and recreation, to name a few.

The following chronological overview reflects the historical significance of aviation in the Idaho Falls area.

The first recorded aviation activity in the Idaho Falls area occurred in the spring of 1911. Charles Willard assembled and flew his Curtis Biplane from the fairgrounds (present site of Tautphaus Park), entertaining the large crowd gathered there. Over the next few years a series of aerial exhibitionists performed from the fairgrounds or nearby pasture lands.

The city acquired the first 200 acres of land at the present airport site. Land was leveled to provide for a north/south landing strip of approximately 4000 feet by 500 feet. Provision for an east/west landing strip 3800 feet by 500 feet was also made. The original runway was actually about 1500 feet long. All the equipment used was horse-drawn. Claude Black, City Engineer supervised the construction.

In 1929, National Park Airways carried the first passengers to this county airport, to be called the Idaho Falls Municipal Airport.

During 1930-1931, the U.S. Department of Commerce installed the airport beacon, landing area boundary lights, and an aeronautical communications weather station, which was located at the site of the Pinecrest golf course. Also during that year, D. F. Richards built the first aircraft hanger at the airport.

In 1933, the N.S. landing strip was lengthened to 2700 feet.

In 1934, airmail service came to Idaho Falls, along with a scheduled north/south passenger service by National Park Airways, utilizing the Boeing 240-70. Construction projects during this time included the drilling of a water well, building the large log hangar, the caretaker's house, and administration building.

In 1936 the communications station was moved to the airport.

Underground refueling facilities with pits and pumps were installed in 1937. Capitol Airways instituted mail and passenger service to Boise and intermediate points, and Western Air Express (later called Western Airlines) took over National Park Airways routes.

Paul Crowder became the first local aircraft owner. A.A. Bennett started a flying service out of the log hangar.

From about 1940 to 1945, the N.S. landing strip was extended to 5100 feet, narrowed to 150 feet, and hard-surfaced. A N.E./S.W. runway of the same specifications was built with connecting taxiways and parking ramps. Runway lights were added in 1945. Subsequently, the airport was used as an alternate and refueling base for the United States Army Corps based in Pocatello.

During 1944 to 1949, airport activity increased considerably. Ray Groth was appointed part-time Airport Manager. Two flying services were started locally, and the first of the metal hangars at the south/east corner of the airport were built privately. Western Airlines began flying DC-3's in the route. Zimmerly Airlines (later West Coast Airlines) and Hughes Airwest (later Republic Airlines) initiated west bound air service, first with the Cessna Airmaster four-passenger aircraft, followed by Boeing 247-D, Fokker F-27, and then Douglas DC-9's.

Civil Air Patrol provided services of air search and rescue through an active Idaho Falls unit following World War II. Even though documentation regarding a CAP charter from national headquarters is not available for the period of time, acknowledgement of the activities of these men and women and the service they provided is justified.

Submitter: Karen Sackett
Note: Mrs. Sackett has prepared a chronological history up to the present and looking to the future. This is available at the Bonneville Museum, Reading and Reference room Idaho Falls files.
Sources: Air Idaho Rescue (Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center)
Paul Crowder (early aviation history in Idaho Falls)
H.P. "Pete" Hill (Centennial Report), Bonneville County Museum Files
Robert "Bob" Hoff (F.B.O.'s and Rainbow Ranch)
Sharon Laird (99'ers organization)
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama (Personnel Dept.)
J.L. "Mac" McClurkin (Experimental Pilots Association)
Post Register Files
James Thorsen (Manager of Fanning Field)



Begin Here
Introductory Comments
Chap. 1 - Agriculture
Potatoes, grains, sugar beets, livestock, irrigation.
Chap. 2 - Business and Industry
Banking, Chamber of Commerce, Rogers Brothers Seed.
Chap. 3 - Amusements, Arts and Music
Amusements: dancing, circus, baseball, theaters, Heise Hot Springs, War Bonnet Roundup, parades. Arts: painting, drama, dance, music, symphony, opera theatre.
Chap. 4 - Communications
Newspapers, telephone, broadcast.
Chap. 5 - Celebrations
Centennials and Jubilees, Pioneer Day, Intersec.
Chap. 6 - Churches
Chap. 7 - City Government
Mayors, City Hall, Public Library; Departments of Electricity, Fire, Police, Building and Planning, Parks and Recreation, Public Works.
Chap. 8 - Courthouse and Federal Post Office
Chap. 9 - Historic Preservation Efforts
Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Commission (Historic buildings, places, homes), Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
Chap. 10 - Schools
Chap. 11 - Clubs/Fraternal Organizations
Lodges, Sportsmen's Association, American Legion and other Veterans Associations, Boy Scouts.
Chap. 12 - Transportation
Railroad, Automobiles, Aviation.
Chap. 13 - Medical Practice &Amp; Hospitals
Chap. 14 - Native Americans
Chap. 15 - Snake River
Bridges, Greenbelt, Temple.
Chap. 16 - Tourism and Hotels
Chap. 17 - Lawyers and Judges
Chap. 18 - War Efforts
Red Cross, World War I, World War II.
Chap. 19 - Population Growth
Chap. 20 - INEL
Appendix 1 - Bibliography Guide
Appendix 2 - Chronology