To anybody who regularly drives the stretch of Interstate 80 between Magna and Lake Point, the “Saltair Train” was a familiar site. Like the cinder block shell of the substation she stood near, the old passenger coach was badly blighted and covered with graffiti. But Salt Lake Garfield & Western Railroad Car 502 was more than just a popular tag site or a hipster backdrop for bridal photographers– it was the last vestige of the original Saltair resort.
Yes, the original Saltair. There have been 3. The first, a grand resort pavilion, was built in 1893 and destroyed by fire in 1925. “Saltair II” was built roughly to the same scale and on the same site– at the end of mile-long long trestle, about 2 miles east of the current pavilion (Saltair III) at the freeway exit. Saltair II itself was destroyed by fire in 1971. When your grandmother reminisces about dancing the night away at Saltair, she’s talking about its second incarnation.
And she probably remembers riding to it on a train– quite possibly 502. Some cars on the Salt Lake Garfield & Western line were open-air. 502 was a closed coach, and it carried happy passengers back and forth to Saltair for at least 30 years.
Saturday afternoon I was the last person to climb aboard the old rail car. My visit wasn’t planned; I spotted the cranes on a flight into Salt Lake International Airport and quickly drove to the site. A few moments later it was hoisted onto a semi truck bound for a Grantsville salvage yard, where it will be dismantled for scrap metal today. It’s a sad end for this storied relic.
502 was one of six “steel passenger motor cars” built by McGuire-Cunmings Manufacturing Co. in 1918 and shipped to Salt Lake City the following year. Cars 501 and 502 were rebuilt in 1950 as trailer cars and were given flat arch roofs. The other cars were scrapped in 1953. 501 was displayed at the new Saltair pavilion (the one at the exit) in the 1980’s, and was scrapped in 2006. 502 was stored near the power substation at the old site. It remained in decent shape well into the 1990’s, but has been the victim of severe vandalism and arson since.
Here’s an early, undated photo of Car 502 with its Saltair marking:
Here’s 502 in 1975:
I stood with landowner Ian Morehouse as the car two cranes lifted 502 onto the salvage truck Saturday afternoon. Video below:
Morehouse, who also owns Saltair III, tried unsuccessfully to have car 501 preserved back in 2006. He cited the tricky logistics and prohibitive cost of moving the car as primary reasons for nobody claiming it. It might be said that the real demise of 502 came with the arson fire circa 2009. Morehouse estimated that 80% of the car’s wooden structure was destroyed in the fire, making it restoration costly and near impossible. He said it was a combination of recent pressure from Salt Lake County to clean up the site and the increased legal liability with the constant stream of visitors that prompted him to sell the car to the salvage company.
I’m not aware of any plans to demolish the nearby substation ruins, which lie on state lands.
For the record, I also made efforts to have 502 preserved about two years ago, before the land was purchased by Morehouse. A few organizations showed interest, but none had space to store it or money to move it. The salvage crew let me snap a few photos of 502 before the old coach made its final departure from Saltair.
UPDATE: Commenter Gilbert below has created a Flickr group to aggregate images of 502. If you’ve taken photos out there, head over and add to the pool.
Here are several previous pieces I’ve written on Saltair:
Ghost towns? How about a ghost resort?
Old Saltair: Ruins are all that remain of “Coney Island of the West”
Saltair in flames: Video documents the ruin of famous Utah resort
Saltair’s spooky side shines in “Carnival of Souls”
Lakeside beach resort makes for a delightful summer outing