INTRODUCTION:  After the demands of the transcontinental railroad for railroad ties was satisfied  by the tie hackers producing millions of ties and sending them down the Uinta’s North Slope rivers into Wyoming from 1867-69, the need for some ties, plus other wood products continued.  From 1873 to 1880 the Hilliard Flume and Lumber Co. became a major provider of railroad ties, mine props, cord wood, etc. to the railroad, and others users.  In Hilliard, Wyoming  a series of kilns were constructed, as also in Piedmont a bit further to the east, where cord wood was turned into charcoal for the railroad, and iron smelters in Utah and elsewhere. The Company hatched what was hoped would be a more efficient transportation method.   A 36 mile long wood flume  as you see below was constructed to Hilliard from the Gold Hill area of the Uintas west of the present Mirror Lake Scenic Byway. 

The flume was V shaped about 36″ x 36″ built with heavy 3″x12″ planks.  As it went down the mountain maintaining a consistent downward angle that kept the water flowing at 15 miles per hour, it at times went through cuts dug through the rocky terrain, and at times was held up by a trestle one report says as high as 16 feet,  and at its end in Hilliard was 30 feet high  with the train passing underneath it with passengers incredulous  describing it  as an “engineering marvel.”  as you see below.

 80 tons of square iron spikes were used in the construction that in the beginning was known as “Sloan’s Folly,” but the engineering feat was successful for 7 years and perhaps more.  The water would move the wood products along about 15 miles per hour, making it to Hilliard in about 2 hours. 
For background information you can go to my other reports, such as:

The High Uinta’s TIE HACK HEROES

Trip #2-2009 Hot On the Trail of the Tie Hacks

Trip #3a REPORT–Search for the Howe Feeder Flume and BEARTOWN


The Hilliard Flume began in a tie hacker town called Mill City on the slopes of Gold Hill in the Western High Uintas.  It was a town of up to 500 people as described below:
My objective on Thursday, September 16, 2010  was to find remnants and ruins of the flume and Mill City.  My search would begin where last year I found a cut made for the flume and in that area  search for traces of it and continue up the mountain and hopefully find the ruins of the  Mill City ghost town.

The Google Earth view seen below will indicate where I was to travel–from Springville, Utah up through Heber, Kamas and then on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway onto the northwestern slope of the Uintas.

It was a beautiful drive with the vibrant colors of autumn all around me.

The Provo River Falls was a bit different than normal, with low water, but always gorgeous.


Foxtrails along the highway were long gone at the lower elevations, but were impressive up over 10,000 feet with a beautiful reddish/purple  hue.

As usual I had to pull in to the Highline Trailhead parking lot to use the facilities and check the register for late season backpackers.
I was pleased to find the name of my young backpacking friend, Nick Edwards, who I had met at Ryder Lake back a few years.  On September 15th he went adventuring over through the Four Lakes Basin, up and over Cyclone Pass and on to remote Thompson Lake.
The Forest Service sort of goofed this year by not having a register at this most famous of High Uinta trailheads.  Apparently backpackers provided  an assortment of pages from notebooks, etc. to sign in.
From there you continue north dropping down and 45 miles from Kamas (and about 100 from Springville) you come to the turnoff road to the west. 
A 100 yards or so up this nicely graded road you come to the sign you see below describing the Hilliard Flume.

About 3 miles up the Whitney Rd. you come to a turnoff to the south. 
The road is narrower, but still passable if the weather is dry.

You continue south for about 2 miles and Gold Hill comes into view.

Then you come to a fork in the road and veer off to the east side of Gold Hill.  The road quickly becomes a bit tough, and eventually I parked and continued on foot.

The creek you see below had very little water, and I began wondering where they had found enough water for the flume.  Was there greater water flow 150 years ago?  Did they only operate the flume in the early months of summer when the runoff was high?  I will have to do more research to learn the details of this fascinating period of western history.

After an hour or so of hiking I noticed off to my left some glittering of broken glass.  Up the road a bit a very faint side road led me towards the area.

I began finding very deteriorated ruins of cabins, but made from planks, rather than logs.
I was undoubtedly finding an old camp, but from what period?  The Hilliard Flume was from the 1873-1884 period.  The next tie hacker period was from 1912 to about 1935.
Among other things I was looking for nails, mainly square nails which would clearly indicate the Hilliard Flume period, as explained in my report on the Howe Feeder Flume.   Soon I found nails  like you see below  called “wire nails” that began being produced  around 1910 and is basically the modern type of nail used today.
Square nails  were used to put together the flume, such as you see below  found when I discovered remnants of the Howe Feeder Flume on the Main Fork of Stillwater Fork.  As mentioned, 80 tons of such square nails were used to put together the Hilliard and Howe Flumes.  These were called “cut nails” production of which began  around 1700 and continued until around 1910 when mass production of wire nails began. 

Prior to the square or cut nail, nails were hand forged square nails, but tapered on all four sides.  Cut nails were actually machine produced by a shearing process and only tapered on two sides.  In pre-1850 America nails were so scarce and expensive that people would even burn down dilapidated buildings, and sift the ashes for the nails. Pulling them would have damaged them.

A bit further along I found galvanized nails as you see below.  It would be natural to assume that these nails were even more modern, but actually the galvanization of nails, to prevent corrosion, began in 1742 in France, but in very crude form galvanized nails have been found dating back to 3000 B.C, and later the Romans hand forged and galvanized nails as did the first pilgrims in America in the 1600’s.  

The first American company to galvanize nails was established in the early 1800’s but they were “cut” or “square” nails, not wire nails as you see above. Said company still exists today–The Tremont Galvanized Nail Co.   The wire galvanized nails you see above  had to be from the 1900’s and not from the Hilliard Flume era. 
 I then came to what I saw from across the creek, apparently a garbage dump–that have archeologists salavating.

Below I’ll insert photos of the least deteriorated artifacts found here.  All apparently from the 1900’s.

This is the most common brand of peanut butter up to 1950. 

In  the camp area, I then found a wood burning stove you see below similar to what I also found among the ruins of the Steel Creek Commisary, a tie hacker site near the Hewinta Guard Station on the West Fork of Smith Fork  from the 1912-1935 period.

Nearby I found what seemed to be an old outhouse hole you see below.

This area was about 1 mile from the end of the road included on maps and Google Earth.  I concluded that I was way too far  up the canyon for the location of the Mill City Ghost town.  I turned around and headed down the canyon that had become quite narrow, with almost no water at all in the creek.

A few hundred yards above where I had parked, due to the rough road, there was a side road.

This road only continued for a few hundred yards, but in one section showed a very old system of making it passable, as you see in the photo below.

From where I had parked  the canyon widened some, and I began working my way down, crossing back and forth across the canyon to not overlook anything that wasn’t natural.  My first finding was a very old pile of logs mostly rotted away, seen below.
Then I began finding ruins of very old cabins.
The one below seems to most likely be a loading platform.  The flume would have passed  right in front.
There was a very clear path, but  at times  mostly hidden by vegetation as you see below.
A couple of hundred yards away I found another loading platform next to the flume path.
Here is one of the stretches where the flume path was very distinct.  After the flume fell into disuse, the wood was cannibalized  here in the Uintas and all the way to Hilliard by ranchers and others and used for ranch buildings and firewood.  I searched carefully hoping to find some remnants as I had done with the Howe Feeder Flume, but there was nothing.  I was at least hoping to find some nails, but no luck.  Undoubtedly they are there, but careful excavation as done by archeologists would be necessary–and eventually I’ll do some of that.
Another loading platform looking north.
Below looking west you see the same platform in relation to the creek below and the road.
Below we have crossed to the road side where the meadow ends and the canyon narrows some.

As mentioned the creek certainly doesn’t have enough water to supply what the flume needed to function.  This is one of the mysteries I have to solve.

Here we see the remnants of what was a dam across the creek.

Another few hundred yards down the canyon the stream bed widened creating again meadows with abundant willows, and I noticed a log structure over on the side where the flume path was.

This again appears to be another loading platform.  Below is the same structure, but photographed last year at about the same time, but apparently a wetter year with greener vegetation.

A very deteriorated cabin in the same area.  100 yards downstream I came to what appeared to be another dam you see in the two photos below.

Off to the  side of this damned up area, we find the cut that I found last year, seen below, looking out into what would have been the pond area.

A view of the same cut this year is seen  below.

Below we are out in the meadow looking into the cut.
Below we are following the cut down the canyon.
The cut then enters a segment of greater vegetation. 
We are now downstream looking up into the vegetation clogged cut.
From this point the flume path begins leaving the roadway, and veers off down a side canyon.  Below you see the Google Earth view of my explorations described here.  You see my SPOT tracker icons.  

Below is  seen the area of my explorations, then the path of the flume down to where it crosses the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway just a bit above the Gold Hill Road.  You can also see the Area of the Howe Feeder Flume, and its path down to where it joins the Hilliard Flume.

I have to conclude that while I made some very important finds, I didn’t really find what must have been the site of the Mills City Ghost town.  I decided I had to do more research, both in the Utah Historical Society, and the Wyoming equivalent, and then make another exploratory trip. 

 I did some preliminary investigation Googling  “Mill City ghost town” and “Hilliard Flume”  and found myself in the first two positions! I’m the expert?   Apparently we are dealing with history that is not too well known.  But, down the list I did find a site that pinpoints where the Mill City ghost town was.  I”ll insert the Google Earth view below and then comment.

The road you see crossing the image is the Whitney Road.  The Mirror Lake Byway is to the right out of the picture. The red balloon pinpoints what this site calls the Mill City Ghost Town.  In the image below said balloon would be in the upper left hand corner.  Gold Hill is way down in the lower middle.  There is no way that the Hilliard Flume could have originated at the red balloon.  So on the October 2-3 weekend, with warm weather predicted I will go again into this area, seek out the balloon ghost town site, then likely back to Gold Hill and do more searching and hope to be able to follow the path of the flume all the way down to the highway.  I will also search for and photograph several other tie hacker sites I haven’t visited yet, and report.

I will of course use my SPOT TRACKER–in fact I’ll program it right now so you will be able to track me on the weekend using the following link:  SPOT TRACKER   I won’t have a satellite phone, but will try a call to KSL OUTDOORS Saturday morning with a normal cell phone as I drive up into the Uintas.



  1. Cool photos & story Cordell! 🙂 Hope you solve the mystery of where all the water went…must be global warming? Stay safe & have fun!

  2. I have enjoyed your entry and photos. I love the Uintas and the history they share with us through the "leftovers" from bygone years. Safe travels and thanks for your efforts in trying to unlock secrets of the past.

    Mike Hampton

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