Muddy Creek Historic Backway
The charcoal kilns at Piedmont
Near the western end of the Muddy Creek Historic Backway is the ghost town of Piedmont. Along the route to get there you'll pass Muddy Creek, one of the most famous overnight stops on the Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer Trails. These days, except for the historical stuff, there isn't a lot going on here.
Piedmont was established by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1867 as a site for the manufacture of railroad ties. A tent city was established to house the many workers needed to complete the long, slow, winding grade between Piedmont and Aspen Station. Then the railroad realized helper engines would be needed to get trains up that hill so Piedmont became a wood and water refueling station for those helper engines. Several charcoal kilns were built in 1877 and some of the workforce got busy with producing charcoal for use on the trains. At its height, Piedmont never got bigger than maybe 20 houses. In 1910, the Union Pacific began work on the Aspen Tunnel through Aspen Mountain. The finished tunnel was 1.5 miles long but it ended the ordeal of that steep, winding grade between Piedmont and Aspen Station. For that matter, the railroad track was rerouted between LeRoy and the Aspen Tunnel, resulting in Piedmont being several miles from the tracks. That's when Piedmont began to dwindle away. Some of the buildings in better repair were moved to other locations over the years but there are still a few remnants left at the original site. And the charcoal ovens have held up pretty good.
In early May, 1869, folks were gathering at Promontory Point in Utah for the driving of the "Golden Spike" that would signal completion of construction of the first transcontinental railroad. There was a problem, though, at Piedmont: 300 graders and tie cutters in town had been discharged from the railroad but were still owed their back pay. On May 7, a special train pulled into Piedmont carrying some of the big brass of the Union Pacific Railroad on their way to the ceremonies in Utah. They were stopped at Piedmont by a huge pile of railroad ties laying across the tracks. By the time the ties had been manually removed from the tracks and the way cleared for the train to go forward, the rail car carrying a Union Pacific vice-president and the railroad's financial wizard had been de-coupled and moved onto the siding. They were detained until they sent a telegram out that caused the delivery of $200,000 to the workers to give them their back pay. When the cash arrived in Piedmont, they re-coupled that train car and sent them on their way. The Golden Spike ceremony was finally held on May 10, 1869.
The Muddy Creek Historic Backway can be accessed via either exit 24 or exit 34 on Interstate 80, between Evanston and Lyman. This is a mostly gravel and improved dirt road that runs for about 25 miles through the upper Muddy Creek area, connecting with pavement at Fort Bridger on its eastern end.
In the ghost town at Piedmont