So long, Saltair Train: Iconic rail car makes final departure from Saltair

18 Feb

SLG&W Car 502 (the “Saltair Train”) is loaded onto a salvage truck on February 18, 2012 (photo by Clint Thomsen)

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.

SLG&W Cars 501 and 502 at the old Saltair Site. 502 is on the left. Date unknown, Source: Grandma

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:

Source: via Flickr

Here’s 502 in 1975:


In 1995:

Source: Doug Anderson,

And 2007:


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.

Photo by Clint Thomsen

Photo by Clint Thomsen

Photo by Clint Thomsen

Photo by Clint Thomsen

Sad day.

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


Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Great Salt Lake, Saltair



33 responses to “So long, Saltair Train: Iconic rail car makes final departure from Saltair

  1. Michelle Powell

    February 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    That makes me sad. 😦 Such a big part of history, and it’s just carted away for scraps. Also, all those dishes that are sitting out there in the sand…..what a waste. There needs to be some kind of museum or monument for them. Saltair was SUCH a big part of Utah’s history. My Great Grandma rode that train, maybe even that exact train car, out to Saltair many times in the late 1890s, early 1900s. 😦 It feels like losing an old friend or a part of me. 😦

  2. Mark Workman

    February 19, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    What a shame! I’ve seen hundreds of photos of that old train car. I’m such a nostagic guy and hate it when old relics like this are discarded.

  3. dave

    February 20, 2012 at 12:27 am

    That was my very first “Love Train”. How sad.

  4. Michael Slade

    February 20, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Thank you for documenting this. It is the end of an era.

  5. Josh

    February 20, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Typical!!! What a shame indeed!! Welcome to Utah!!

    Let’s just remove all traces of real history and replace it with some plastic version that has been sanitized and approved by the powers that be…


    And for F’s sake… It even had a name!!!!

    What about the old powerplant? Is that still there? Is it safe???

    • GoldenBabe

      October 21, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      The Powerplant was recently renovated and made into a museum. With no mention of Telsa or Westinghouse I might add.

  6. rustlingleafdesign

    February 20, 2012 at 4:00 am

    this is so sad.

  7. Tyler

    February 20, 2012 at 7:58 am

    I’m looking forward to your follow-up story. Way to be there to get the scoop on this. Many people will have questions in the weeks to come.

    I echo Josh’s question. Are they going to demolish the old building located by the train they just hauled off?

  8. bonnevillemariner

    February 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Michelle: I hear you. I’d love for everything to be recovered and protected. Until such time when somebody with the money or clout can get that ball roling, Saltair’s best friend is a rising shoreline.

    Mark: Are you talking old photos or more recent? Seems like I used to see tripods out there on a nightly basis. I didn’t like that these photogs were trespassing, but now I’m glad there are thousands of wedding photos with 502 as a backdrop.

    Dave: TMI.

    Josh: The power substation is still there, and I don’t see anything with it’s infrastructure that is dangerous. But I wouldn’t exactly call it safe. It’s interesting to take a peek at during the day, but I’d stick clear of it after sunset. The property line runs between the building and the train site, with the building on State land. I don’t think there are any plans to take it down.

    Tyler: The follow-up story will be posted this afternoon. It will include a very specific history of the car, as well as some historic photos. I may get something in to the Transcript Bulletin as well. A travel hiccup threw me for a loop this weekend, so I haven’t been in much of a position to compile this in a timely manner. I’ll give a heads up on Twitter and Facebook once the update is posted.

    For the record, the landowner assured me that he had made efforts to have the train preserved. I also worked with the previous land owner two years ago to try to get it donated to a museum or other conservation org. No luck. Most everybody considered it beyond restoration, and nobody who was interested could come up with space for it or cash to move it.

  9. Carol Neve

    February 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I am so sad to hear of the demise of the train car. I can’t believe that something could not be done to stop it. Wether it was on private property or not. It need not be one entity to take part. It seems to me that a trade or technical program at one of the colleges could not of had a better group project for restoration given to them. The history, design, arts and metals of all kinds could of all worked together. Shame on the Church and Corporations that could of all made donations to help preserve a piece of Utah history.

  10. Kurt Williams

    February 21, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Great work Clint, I’m glad you were there to document it and thanks for sharing with ExpeditionUtah. Sad to see it gone!

  11. Gilbert Rattenbury

    February 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you Clint for this great article. Living in Germany I have never seen this rail car in reality, only virtually, and so far as I can tell, there was no scenery like this anywhere else in the world, and I don’t mean the world between New York & San Francisco but the whole world accessible to the public.
    I created a Group on Flickr (Saltair Rail Car) 11 months ago, to bring together images & photographers from this location. My familiarity, though remote, had grown to the point where I was starting to recognize the site from untagged images only showing a square yard of features. The rail car stood in the same place for the last 30 years of its 94. Now it has disappeared forever. I can appreciate the shock locally.
    Your article with many facts I was only vaguely aware of, the background for the decision to scrap, the final shots and the video make a sad but grand closure.
    I will be posting a link from the Flickr group to your article and hope it will remain available for a long time.

    • bonnevillemariner

      February 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Gilbert, thanks for commenting. Great idea on the Flickr group! I’ll add the link to my post.

  12. Anne G. Snow

    February 21, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    It was in the late 20’s, all during the ’30s when Saltair, BlackRock and Sunset Beaches were my parents favorite places to take us kids for a salty swim, where you could not drown, but also could not splash if you were kind enough to protect other swimmers’ eyes. Then in the 40’s when I was old enough to date, it was the favorite place to dance to name bands and always get a thrill by riding on the BIG Roller Coaster…even bigger than the one at Lagoon. Who has a picture of this big Roller Coaster?

    My husband’s Aunt and Uncle met on the train, danced together at Saltair and make a romantic interest in a special story chapter I wrote to enhance a book I wrote about those days, when the Train was the way to travel to this popular resort.

    • bonnevillemariner

      February 21, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      Anne, it’s great to hear from somebody who experienced Saltair (both I and II) back in the day. I’d love to read your book. My grandpa used to work at the Giant Racer roller coaster. He would straighten the rails by riding the coaster over and over again.

      • Anne G. Snow

        February 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm

        Your grandpa must have been a fun loving guy, interested in the safety of all the adventurous patrons. Send me you address and I will send you a book.

  13. Anne G. Snow

    February 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    The big two-story dance pavilion was in a beautiful building, built on poles right over the waterfront. There were Victorian, festive domed towers on all four corners and a big dome centered over a beautiful arch on the front. I remember the big GIANT RACER, even more exciting than the popular one at Lagoon, which was a big drawing card for high school and college students. Who has a picture of the Giant Racer? Those were the days of name dance bands and excitement at this favorite place to dance.

  14. Anne G. Snow

    February 21, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Read my previous comment and reply. We need room for more comments.

    • Whit

      February 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      My grandmother met her husband out at Saltair, and probably road that train. Irma Snow (son of Edward H.) Any relation??

      • Whit

        February 22, 2012 at 8:21 pm

        That should have said “daughter of”…oops.

      • Marilee

        March 3, 2017 at 1:41 am

        What a pluerase to find someone who thinks through the issues

  15. derrick

    March 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Out of curiosity, did you get the name of the salvage company?


  16. derrick

    March 29, 2012 at 9:22 pm


  17. Tanner Cutler

    May 22, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Earlier this week I drove up to Saltair to check it out, only to find out that both the train and the power station were both gone. Me, a 20 year old guy with no real connection to Saltair started crying. The Great Saltair is my favorite piece of history. I have spent the past three years collecting post cards and whatever else I can in hopes of some day having an entire collection of Saltair-related products. My collection is small, but I cherish every 70 year old post card I have.

    It is sad to see these last two remnants of Saltair leave. I wish I were a millionaire, then I would do everything I could to restore and rebuild the Saltair.

    • bonnevillemariner

      May 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Tanner, I hear you. I grew up visiting Saltair III, but my connections to the original Saltair are limited to my grandparents’ experiences. Still, it occupies a huge spot in my heart and mind. I’m working on a post about the substation building.

  18. Papa Bear

    October 19, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I just found your blog. Sad to see it go. Amazed that the Ogden RR Museum did not get involved.

  19. Sylvia Joy Noon

    October 28, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I had a Modeling photoshoot in 502 before it was moved couple years prior. It was cool and looked cool from the road. Yes one of my scarier shoots in heels but indeed agree it somehow should be preserved.

  20. Sheila Asay Davies-Baddley

    September 30, 2016 at 7:54 am

    I remember riding the oprn air train from SLC just off North Temple to saltair the summer of 1957. I was 10 years old. That was a great memory.

  21. Robert Alm

    September 24, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    My family rode the Saltair train a few times out to Saltair back in 1957 and 1958. We rode the roller coaster just before it was destroyed. It was a great coaster, way bigger than the one at lagoon. I specifically remember the last 1/2 mile or so as the train crossed a “trestle” over the water out to the pavillion. Too bad there are not more photos of such things! Yah, I was only 8 years old, but I remember it well!

  22. gwhitton

    February 18, 2023 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you for this blog post. At the time I shot my photo back in January 2012, I didn’t have a lot of information on this train car, other than speculation that it was associated with the old Saltair. This fills in the pieces. And forunately I made that spur of the moment trip to the Great Salt Lake on a beautiful January day, or I would have missed out.


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