Southern Utah News Articles
Trails and roads - 'Bowman's' Hump
I have been asked many times since the road construction project north of Kanab was announced, about the story of “Bowman’s Hump.” This information can be found in the 1960 and 1970 editions of the History of Kane County and is quoted from these books. I thought the information interesting as it explained the story of “Bowman’s Hump.” The road grade built over that hump is still referred to as “Bowman’s Hump.” A portion of the original road can still be seen and is being preserved.
In the early days the hump was a problem for Model T cars. They were not equipped with a fuel pump. The fuel system was operated by gravity feed. When climbing the “hump,” the fuel tank was higher than the carburetor, which required the driver to back up the hill to solve this problem.
Another part of the history of roads, and probably the most important of all, has to do with the road over the sand between Kanab and Long Valley.
At the time, the State Road Commission granted the appropriation of $40,000 for a road from Kanab to the north (some say the appropriation was $50,000 and that $10,000 was used for a preliminary survey which resulted in a statement by the Salt Lake investigator that a road could not be built over sand). It required all day to traverse the 20 miles between Kanab and the communities in Long Valley, where half of the population of the county resided. The road by way of Johnson and Alton was 75 miles long and not usable in the winter because of heavy snowfalls.
A good road was very essential to the rapidly growing communities of Kane County. It would not only facilitate the increasing volume of freight coming into the region each year, and insure better mail service, but would induce more travel to interesting scenic attractions of this part of the country, and give an additional incentive to people looking for new places of residence.
Everyone wanted the road. But there was difference of opinion as to the route it should take. At long last, about 1918, the dream of 50 years’ duration seemed likely to be fulfilled with this appropriation, which W. W. Seegmiller, then a Utah Senator, helped to obtain. This difference of opinion developed into a bitter controversy, which threatened to prevent the realization of that longtime dream.
The ranchers and farmers along the Johnson-Alton route maintained the route would serve the business needs of the community better and that it was the natural way for a road to go. They claimed it would be impossible to build an adequate road over the sand and ‘it would only be used by conference-goers anyway.’ The other argument was that the road should be built where it would serve the greatest number of people, and that would be the road via Long Valley.
A heated election made Willis Little, John Brown and Fred G. Carroll county commissioners. This only intensified the controversy, as the commissioners were divided. Willis Little strongly favored the Alton route and Fred Carroll of Orderville was just as strong for the other way. It was finally decided that the road should go over the sand. The defeated faction did not give up easily however, and the commissioners asked that the newly organized State Road Commission send an engineer from Salt Lake City to investigate the situation.
In the meantime, Henry Bowman (a very prominent Kanab citizen who had considerable experience in connection with railroad building in Mexico) studied the stretch of sand, which seemed to be the main point in the controversy. He contended that the sand was the best foundation to be had for a road, and offered to contract the job for $40,000. His experience in Mexico had made him an excellent estimator of grades, etc. In fact, officials of the Mexico Northwest Railroad Company had said he was the best estimator they had ever had.
The commission finally voted, two to one, to build the road over the sand and to give the contract to Bowman for the $40,000 appropriated. Later, $10,000 was diverted to other purposes, but Bowman still agreed to build the road for what was left. This was to include bridges over the Virgin River and Kanab Creek, grading, etc.
He immediately started to lay out the job and began work. It seems it was about this time that Houston Clark, an engineer sent by the State Road Commission, arrived. As one researcher states, ‘he fell into the hands of the opposition, who persuaded him that the Johnson-Alton route was the only feasible one.’
By this time, one member of the county commission had changed his opinion and with the other who had always favored that route, wrote to the state commission and had them fire Bowman. A notice was placed in the post office, stating anyone who worked for Bowman would receive no pay.
However, Henry Bowman went on with the job, ignoring what had happened. The people in Long Valley stood staunchly by him and worked untiringly on the project. According to Othello C. Bowman, his father called the commissioner who had gone on the other side of the controversy, and went over with him the entire history of the situation and threatened to publish all the details of it, including the commissioner’s change of attitude, unless he would retract what he had written to the State Commission which had resulted in their firing Bowman. He willingly signed a letter of retraction, which was sent to the State Commission, and Mr. Bowman was reinstated.
Fred Carroll and the loyal workers from the Valley had been the mainstay of Bowman during the period after he was fired until after he was reinstated. Bowman also had the support of many in Kanab who stood by him and worked as he did, side by side with those who did the heaviest work. One man who was especially helpful was John Cram.
To build the road over the forbidding stretch of sand was a Herculean job. It required hauling clay from a clay knoll and a layer of gravel from a hill near Mt. Carmel. Teams of horses did the work. Those who hauled the gravel got so much a load. They used ‘dump-planks,’ a forerunner of the amazing electrical equipment used in road building today.
“Bowman’s Hump” is a name given to a ledge projecting out over the route near the Kanab Dam. Since there was no money for blasting the ledge away, the road was made to go over it. This was the difficult part of the job. It required a 12 foot wide road be built, with a 10 percent grade over the hill, projecting over the dam, a spot that was dreaded by motorists later on. Hauling the shale or gravel from Mt. Carmel hill was not easy. The material was loaded by shovels and hauled on a one way road, with what they called ‘turnouts’ at every quarter or half mile where cars could pass.
Somewhat of a controversial statement connected with this account of the road is: ‘For this project, the state appropriated $60,000, some of which was used to improve the road through Johnson Canyon.’ Perhaps that helped smooth matters so everyone came to be grateful for this road built in 1921 and 1922, which was the beginning of what was to become part of modern day Highway 89.
Other improvements were added to its efficiency as time passed. It was re-graveled, “Bowman’s Hump” was eliminated, the road was straightened, and finally an oil surface was put on. It was a thrill for people who had spent all day going over the sand in bygone days to skim over the 20-odd miles in a few moments. Perhaps no one had a greater thrill than Henry E. Bowman did when his son drove him over it some years before his death.