Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Brendel, Utah - Still Moving Around on the Map



Papa Joe's Stop & Go at Crescent Junction, Grand County, Utah on a cloudy afternoon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Brendel, Utah - Still Moving Around on the Map

In April 2012, I visited Crescent Junction (pop. 0), and Brendel, Utah (pop. 0). Although the derivation of the name Crescent Junction requires some research, today it designates the intersection of Interstate I-70 (Dinosaur Diamond Highway) and U.S. Highway 191. Although there is no obvious crescent at Crescent Junction, it is the main I-70 exit to Moab, Utah, which lies thirty-one miles to the south.

Since my previous visit in 2010, not much has changed in Crescent Junction. The big transformation in “town” since then is a fresh paint job on Papa Joe’s Stop & Go gas station and convenience store. I have never met Papa Joe, but his name appears on the only business at Crescent Junction. Unless someone is living in the back of the gas station, the permanent population of Crescent Junction remains zero. In my 2010 photo of the place, regular gas was a nostalgic $2.95 per gallon. According to another source, in 1946, a service station opened at that site. Based on the architecture of the Stop & Go, it appears that little has changed there except for signage and the price of fuel.

Moab UMTRA Project Crescent Junction Disposal Site directional signage - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By convention, most people assume that Crescent Junction and Brendel are one-in-the-same. Many sources, including some official government documents use Crescent Junction and Brendel interchangeably. In December 2010, I first wrote about this case of conflated identity.

Running east and west, and parallel to I-70 at that location is the current Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) Central Corridor between Grand Junction, Colorado and Ogden, Utah. Once owned by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway (D&RGWR), many current maps still identify that now defunct railroad as owning the tracks. Without its long association with the railroad, the nearby place called Brendel would have disappeared into history.

In 2010, I challenged the editors at Wikipedia to do their due diligence and identify Brendel and Crescent Junction as two different places. The Wikipedia 2012 entry for Crescent Junction uses the phrase “or Brendel” to identify the place. In Wikipedia, there is no separate entry for Brendel, itself. Wikipedia now indicates that Brendel appears on most railroad maps and that Crescent Junction appears on most highway maps. However, a Wikipedia reader might assume that both places are indeed the same.

Union Pacific Railroad "Central Corridor" rail line looking east from Brendel toward the Book Cliffs - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Geographically, Brendel can be difficult to pin down. Wikipedia says that “Brendel is the name of the rail siding and junction at the same location” as Crescent Junction. Different mapping authorities place Brendel in slightly different places, none of which physically overlaps with Crescent Junction. Both Bing.com Maps and MapQuest.com places Brendel where the UPRR Potash Branch line crosses the Old Cisco Highway (Frontage Road). Google Maps places "Brendel, Thompson, Grand, UT" on what they call “Railroad Road”, about two hundred feet north of the UPRR Central Corridor. In my DeLorme Utah Atlas, that same road is designated Floy Canyon Road. MapQuest.com erroneously calls the road "Foy Canyon" and Google Maps designates only the first hundred yards of Floy Canyon Road as “Railroad Road”, which seems dubious, at best.

In the early days, the railroads gave names only to landmarks or facilities that had something to do with railroad operations. In the D&RGWR route maps dating from 1899 to 1904, only “Little Grand” and “Solitude” stood between Thompson Springs and Green River. A 1930 route map deleted Little Grand and Solitude, replacing them with “Crescent” and “Floy”. From other sources, we know that the former construction camp of Little Grand later became Floy (Floy Station). Solitude, as it has in so many places, disappeared completely from later maps.

UPRR grade crossing at Brendel, Utah. Crescent-shaped Book Cliffs in the background gave nearby Crescent Junction its name - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Prior to 1930, U.S. Highway 50 followed a more southerly, crescent shaped route between Green River and Thompson Springs. Around 1930, realignment of U.S. 50 relocated the Moab turn-off farther north, at the current Crescent Junction. With the disappearance of Valley City, the longer route through there was no longer necessary. Although that crescent shaped route disappeared, the new intersection received the name, Crescent Junction. According to a 1990 book of Utah place names, "the name comes from the crescent-shaped configuration of the Book Cliffs near the junction".

Also in 1930, D&RGWR mapmakers put “Crescent” on an updated railroad route map. The main function of railroad route maps was to help passengers identify whistle stops and stations. With the advent of Crescent Junction, it was logical for the railroad to use “Crescent” for its whistle stop near there. The 1930 D&RGWR route map is the latest one published on the internet. After that, I do not know what happened to the railroad’s “Crescent” designation. The town of Crescent, Utah (near Salt Lake City), had appeared in a 1908 national directory of railroad stations. To avoid confusion between identical place names, it is likely that the D&RGWR later dropped the “Crescent” in Grand County, Utah. Perhaps it was then that the railroad designated the place as Brendel.
Downtown Brendel on a busy afternoon - Several tank cars stand idle on the railroad spur named Brendel, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
A 1940 U.S. Department of the Interior book lists “Brendel (Crescent), D. & R. G. W. R. R.” at an elevation of 4908 feet. A 1964 Interstate Commerce Commission Report indicates that the Texas-Zinc Minerals Corporation planned to ship copper ore concentrates in bulk from Mexican Hat to “Brendel, Utah, the railhead at or near Crescent Junction, Utah”. Apparently, Texas-Zinc prevailed, since a railroad spur still stands near the consensus location for Brendel, Utah.

From the scant documentary evidence above, we see that Crescent Junction was not an official place name until about 1930. By 1940, we see Brendel having its own place name, but with reference made to “Crescent”. By 1964, we see the clear distinction between Brendel, as the railhead and Crescent Junction as the highway intersection. With its “at or near” designation for Brendel, even the Interstate Commerce Commission equivocated. Union Pacific Railroad "Main Corridor" rail line, looking west from Brendel, toward Floy Station and a now vanished place called Solitude - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Who was Brendel? In all of my research about this, I found no historical reference to any such person in twentieth century Utah. The person or circumstances that inspired “Brendel” as the place name for this lonely railroad spur remain unknown. Unless someone can bring the mysterious “Brendel” into the light, that place shall remain an historical footnote to Crescent Junction. If any reader knows who Brendel was, please comment below or send an email. I would be happy to set the record straight, giving Brendel a firmer place in Utah history.