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Hiding in Plain Sight!

By Tony Edmondson

Back in Spring of 2015, WAPC (Weiser Architectural Preservation Committee) got a call from the Folke family who live on Eaton Road adjacent to the UPRR crossing.  They reported having an old “garden shed” in their backyard they wanted to donate so they could provide a play area for their young children.  Through the years, we’ve been contacted by folks seeking help with historic homes, barns, schools, even grange halls, but a garden shed?  Then they shared the rest of the story. 

It seems they were advised when purchasing their property, that the “garden shed” in their backyard was originally a little train depot located directly adjacent to the UPPR tracks near the Eaton Road rail crossing.  When UPRR decided to abandon and remove this structure sometime between the 1950’s-80’s, a previous owner of their home was happy to take it off their hands, turning it into the garden shed now being offered for preservation. 

Though we knew Eaton had long been an enclave community on the Weiser Flat, none of us were familiar with a Oregon Short Line or UPRR train station there or anywhere in the county other than in downtown Weiser.  We graciously accepted their generous offer and set about getting it moved timely so they could get on with their garden rehab.  Then came the question of how to move it and to where?  Tim Smedley volunteered his slide off truck and a group of us quickly assembled at the site to get it loaded.  Even after sitting on rocks and dirt for all those years, the building was in remarkably good and original condition, though the interior benches had long ago been removed.  We applied some temporary bracing and then winched that little gem up onto the truck bed.  To our amazement, it remained intact!  Then came the next challenge.  

We’d contacted the Friends of the Weiser River Trail and they agreed to letting us “temporarily” store the building at their trail head at the end of East Main Street in Weiser.  It seemed like an appropriate potential home if permanently sited next to the old rail bed.  Getting it there was a bit challenging.  We picked an early Sunday morning and breathed a sigh of relief that it didn’t collapse as we successfully crested the Eaton tracks.   Sitting atop that tall truck necessitated us scoping out a route with the fewest utility lines crossing overhead.  Fortunately, Highway 70 had only a few lines with clearance issues that were gingerly addressed as we passed under.  We eventually reached the trailhead and once again, breathed a sigh of relief as it was unloaded still intact! 

  A couple of men standing next to a house that is falling apart

Description automatically generated with low confidence

While the depot began its far too long hibernation at the new site, research got underway, and we soon uncovered a historic photo of a twin station located at Crystal in the Sunnyside region south of Weiser.  Negotiations began with FWRT for how the building might be reused.  Months turned into years before they succeeded in obtaining a grant for restoration.  Unfortunately, volunteers came and went the work never got underway. 

Early in 2022, WAPC reached out to FWRT and offered to get things moving again.  We contacted the Idaho Heritage Trust.  They provided an architectural historian who inspected the building and prepared a report with recommendations for its correct restoration.  We met with FWRT officials and determined a specific site, and Ray Laan agreed to take on the restoration project over the winter.  Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts and a winter which started far too early disrupted our plans, so a revised plan has been developed.  The site will be prepared this season onto which the building will be moved and restored later in the year.  In the meantime, some exciting discoveries have been made about the history of our little building and its “two” other mates which once graced the rails in Washington County.

It seems that besides Eaton and Crystal, Jonathan crossing once had an identical building, both of which were likely removed at the time Eaton became a garden shed.  We’re hoping someone who reads this story might recognize a similar “garden shed” lurking in a yard or pasture, or perhaps has photos, insights, or stories that will shed additional light on these unique little buildings and their role in local culture.  In the meantime, here’s some additional information we’ve learned you might find interesting.

On a referral from the Idaho State Historical Society, we contacted Thornton Waite, a train enthusiast in Idaho Falls who has written several books and articles about the history of rail in Idaho.  He generously shared the following:

“I didn’t know about those depots at Eaton and Crystal and am glad you have one. Basically, the UP had what was called a “Common Standard” design, so that small depots such as the ones at Eaton and Crystal could be built to the same design, saving the expense and time to design one at each place”.

“The building at Eaton was 10′ x 12′ (as you are aware) and was built in 1911 at a cost of $224. The platform, gravel, etc., cost another $211, and a mail crane, to pick up mail on the fly, cost $24. Jonathan, between Weiser and Eaton, had a similar structure, built a couple years later”.

“The only trains which stopped there were the “local” milk runs, which stopped at every station. Timetables from the 1930s and 1940s showed the long-distance trains would stop for passengers traveling beyond points further down the line – i.e., not local passenger travel. The last timetables in the 1960s did not show the station stops. I can get you copies of the appropriate page if you want to pursue this in more detail (he has since sent us the information).  “It was not usual to have small buildings such as this on the main line, and they tended to be used as shelters for passengers on the branch lines”. 

He closes his comments with:

“The Weiser depot is wonderful – just like the ones at Caldwell, Ontario, and Payette, as you are aware, and the one at Brigham City, Utah. I have written up a short article on the depots if you are interested”.

This brings our story to the present.  We know little more whether similar “whistle stop” depots were located along the UPRR line across southern Idaho.  A 1920’s UPRR map shows our three site names with little dots, along with a host of others across the Treasure Valley and points east.  They include names now likely forgotten by all except those with ties to those localities.  If you are interested in helping us further research the story of our little “gem”, assisting with its restoration, or would like to participate in other projects and community preservation, we’d welcome you to join WAPC.  Memberships are affordable and opportunities to be involved unlimited.  Visit our website at www.Weiserhistory.org   Our 2023 activities calendar is currently being developed.  Among other things tentatively under negotiation are another walking tour of our downtown and the Caldwell Model Train Club setting up in our depot for public viewing sometime later this season.  

Of course, if you know of other potentially historic buildings or sites around the county which need further documentation, preservation, or would like professional or local consultation on a historic project, feel free to give one of our members a call or text to 208-550-7797 or email is at tojo@ruralnetwork.net.  

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