The Uintah Railway

Fossils being hauled to the Uintah Railway at Dragon, UT
Mules hauling dinosaur bones through the snow taken in November, 1910

Uintah County Photo Archive

The story of how the dinosaur bones were transported from the quarry to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA is almost as epic as the excavations themselves. The bones were boxed up in wooden crates and taken down the mountain using two or three teams of mules and horses. From there they were ferried over the Green River and taken over rough and hazardous roads for 60 miles via mule cart to Dragon, UT.
Uintah Railway Bones
The Uintah Railway was primarily built to haul gilsonite. Here you can see a dinosaur bones peaking out from under a tarp on its way to Mack, CO for shipment to the Carnegie Museum.

NPS/Earl Douglass Diaries edited by Evan Hall

In the early days of excavation Dragon was the terminus of the Uintah Railway. This narrow gage line was created to transport a mineral called gilsonite over the bookcliffs from the Uinta Basin to Mack, CO. The grades on this line were so steep that special locomotives were invited to move cargo over the treacherous terrain. In Dragon, the bones would be transferred to boxcars and transported another 60 miles over Baxter Pass. From there the bones were loaded on the Denver and Rio Grande standard gage cars and shipped to Pittsburgh.
First Class Ticket
First class ticket for the railway. Earl Douglass frequently took the passenger trains into the Uintah Basin on his way to look for fossils.

Uintah County Heritage Center

The fossils were carefully prepared by Earl Douglass to make sure they weren’t damaged during the transport process. Never the less, the bones proved to be so heavy the wagons actually had to be lowered into a trench and the bones loaded directly onto them because they were too heavy to pick up. Even with this precaution, one of the specimens broke through the bottom of one of the wagons and another nearly tipped over.

Alhanbra Ferry on the Green River
Fossil bones being loaded onto the Alhandra Ferry en route to the Uintah Railway

NPS/Earl Douglass Diaries edited by Evan Hall

Earl personally supervised the loading and unloading of the fossils on the railway. He took extra care to make sure that they all reached the Carnegie Museum safely and returned to Pennsylvania later that year to supervise the construction of the Apatosaurus skeleton that was transported on the first trip out of the basin. The Uintah Railway would continue to serve faithfully transporting fossils until the Carnegie ceased its quarrying operations in 1923.

Last updated: September 5, 2018

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