Salt Lake, Garfield & Western Railway

(Return To Interurbans Of Utah Index Page)

(Return To Salt Lake Garfield & Western Railway Index Page)

Taken from "Interurbans of Utah" by Ira Swett, pages 91-95

The fifteen-odd miles separating Salt Lake City from the Great Salt Lake was a logical location for a railroad. The Lake provided a natural recreation site, and man-made improvements made it an attraction for vacationists from earliest times. Boating, swimming, and (after the construction of the Pavilion) dancing and picnicking made the Lake the goal of thousands of pleasure seekers. As early as 1891 agitation for construction of a railroad to the Lake was widespread, and on September 25th of that year the Saltair Railway was incorporated. On May 31, 1892, its name was changed to "The Salt Lake & Los Angeles Railway" and construction began.

Straight as an arrow the 60-lb. iron of the SL&LA went west along the line of the Salt Lake base meridian. The shore of the lake was reached in 1893, 16.31 miles from Zion, and track was pushed out over the shallow waters of the lake another half mile to reach the famous Saltair Pavilion, built on 7,500 piles and covering nearly nine acres.

The roadbed of the steam line was nearly level, elevation not varying more than fifty feet from and to end. This flat land was once the floor of prehistoric Lake Bonneville. In what few low places there were, the track was elevated on dirt fills to avoid large ponds which were wont to form in the spring. Rails were laid with opposite joints, later relaid to staggered joints over part of the line.

To operate its trains, the SL&LA bought three little American-type steam locomotives plus a motley assortment of second-hand coaches (among which were some from the Michigan Central). Two combination cars carried generators for electric lights, and for the particular patron, two cars were even fitted up with revolving parlor car seats and lavatories. The management was loath to cross the tracks of the steam roads in Salt Lake City, and established its station about a half-mile west of the downtown district.

For many years the SL&LA continued to run its trains by steam. Spasmodically it tried to get a franchise to run into downtown Salt Lake as far as Main St. but each time the city fathers refused the application. SL&LA saw the rise of the interurbans all around it: first the Emigration Canyon, then Bamberger, SL&U and the UIC. It talked of going over to electric operation as early as 1913, but nothing came of the talk.

In 1916, however, the metamorphosis of the SL&LA began. On October 28th, 1916, another change of name occurred; the new name: "The Salt Lake, Garfield & Western Railway." The avowed objectives of the new company were to electrify the entire line, buy new and modern electric rolling stock, purchase the Saltair resort property, and to build a branch line to Garfield, Utah.

Electrification proceeded apace. The old rails were bonded, trolley wire strung, three substations built to supply DC current at a pressure of 1500 volts, and six interurban motor cars ordered from McGuire-Cummings. Overhead consisted of the single suspension type trolley wire, hung from a double line of poles. It was intended that the line be eventually double-tracked, hence the poles were set at the extreme edges of Saltair's 66-foot wide right-of-way. Double wire was used, one for each direction; this eliminated frogs and cut down on poles coming off of the wire. It was hoped to add ten steel trail cars similar to the motors, and perhaps one or two electric locomotives --- but finances ruled otherwise.

The first regular operation by electricity commenced on August 4, 1919 when the interurbans started running on a 15-minute headway. Freight continued to be hauled by the steam engines, and overflow crowds required the continued use of the steam coaches, but hauled by the motor cars. Quickly the new Saltair line caught on, and the public was not slow in putting its stamp of approval on the modernized service.

In April, 1918, the company's authorized and outstanding capital stock was increased from $300.000 to $750,000 for the purpose of purchasing the Saltair Beach Resort property. The company issued $390,000 in bonds for the following purposes: (1) To extend the line from Saltair to Garfield; (2) To electrify the entire system; (3) To equip the road with modern electrical rolling stock. These bonds were first publicly offered in December, 1916.

Continued excellent business caused the company in 1922 to construct in its shops the novel open-air trailers which have been a trademark of the Saltair line ever since. Thirteen of these were built, along with one closed trailer. These trailers seated about a hundred people each, and carried train lines permitting them to be sandwiched in between motor cars. For some reason, these open trailers were not equipped with lights, a fact which seemed to add considerably to their appeal on moonlit nights.

The ride from the Salt Lake station to Saltair was not fast, it was not scenic, it was not too comfortable. Why then did so many thousands flock to ride the cars from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year? The answer was the delights to be found at the Saltair terminus. There the great Pavilion provided dancing, picnicking and other treats; a roller coaster provided thrills sometimes amplified by its shakiness; the lake itself gave bathers almost effortless floating . The high saline content of the lake's waters caused the famous witticism that bottoms were hardly needed in boats! So the Saltair electric trains continued to haul their loads of pleasure seekers, year after year.

The extension to Garfield, 2.22 miles from Saltair was pushed through to completion to serve the copper smelters near the foot of the precipitous and awe-inspiring Oquirrh mountains. The company's original plan to extend to the mining town of Tooele was given up in 1923 when the Union Pacific and Western Pacific railroads refused permission to cross their main lines at grade. The Garfield line proved to be anything but a money maker. The cars ran with profitable loads only when meeting shift changes, and the expected freight revenues failed to materialize. So, in 1930, the few trains scheduled over this b ranch were pulled off. Shortly thereafter a fire destroyed a small trestle, ending all operations. Some of the trolley wire was thereupon stolen, and the company itself moved swiftly to pull down the remainder. So ended the Garfield branch.

After electrification, freight continued to be hauled by the steam locomotives until 1926, when the company decided to have its passenger motors do the work. Two of these motors, working in multiple unit, were discovered to be able to move 40-car freights over the billiard-table-level track. It was not until March, 1946, that the company got its first and only electric locomotive---the 401, formerly SL&U's 104.

Freight hauled by the Saltair line came from several sources. The chief item hauled was, of course, salt --- from the large plant of the Royal Crystal Salt Company whose huge drying vats line the right-of-way for several miles. Another revenue source is the Salt Lake Airport, to which during World War II the company hauled long trains of Pullmans behind a brace of McGuire-Cummings motors. A cement plant, a power plant, and the Saltair resort itself are the other patrons. At one time the company hauled livestock, unloaded from island stock ranches to cars at a cattle chute near the Pavilion. A vital item of freight is the carrying of fresh water to the Pavilion; old steam road tenders have been fitted up for the purpose. At Salt Lake City, Saltair connects with the Union Pacific. Western Pacific, and the Denver & Rio Grande Western; it connects with Bamberger via the Union Pacific.

The location of Saltair's passenger station at North Temple & Tenth West Streets ---a half mile from the downtown district --- required the use of streetcars or autos to reach the beach trains. An effort was made to induce Saltair to join as an equal partner with Bamberger and SL&U in the Salt Lake Terminal Company, but the difficulty with the City in obtaining a franchise to extend into the area, coupled with the fact that the Terminal train yard was incapable of handling anything longer than a six-car train, resulted in decision to remain on the west side of the steam road tracks. With trains up to sixteen cars long, Saltair's reluctance to operate across busy steam road trackage and around sharp curves on city streets may well be appreciated. At any rate, the lure of the Saltair resort caused no demonstrable decline in patronage due to the out-of-the-way location of the station.

While the resort traffic to the Pavilion provided about two-thirds of Saltair's revenues, its freight business was much more consistent. It can be said in all truth the as the level of the Great Salt Lake went , so went Saltair's passenger business. In 1939, the water level of the lake had so receded that a mile-long temporary railway on which operated a gasoline-powered hand car and its diminutive trailer was required to get the resort's few patrons to water of bathing depth. Naturally, passenger business fell drastically. Then the lake began coming back, at the rate of five inches annually. By the mid-Forties, Saltair was again doing a respectable passenger business.

Saltair was rarely bothered by snow. A flanger fitted to motor 503 was able to keep the line in operation.

Saltair's motor cars were able to run on 525 volts as well as 1500; this was due to the company's desire to run into the heart of Salt Lake City over the streetcar company's tracks. Only when Saltair's own power system failed was it necessary to use the 525 volts. On one occasion it had to operate half its line with 525 volts and the other half on the usual 1500 volts. Power was purchased.

The pleasant early evening ride at sunset was a joy that local citizens thrilled to. The setting sun over the Great Salt Lake and the jagged mountains in the background created a perfect setting, while behind lay the massive Wasatch Mountains with the never failing beacon light looking down over tree covered Salt Lake City and its copper domed capitol building. At night, late dancing couples enjoyed the cool air and starlit skies from the unlighted open cars which put the "Tunnel of Love" to shame.

In spite of the extremely low fares charged, Saltair cars continued to be run by two-man crews.

History was made when the president of the Southern Pacific ran his private car over the line, and again when a solid string of Pullmans from the east made its terminus at Saltair Beach.

Electric trains before World War II operated on an hourly schedule through the summer. On busy days as many as 16 cars were operated in one train. During the war, however, only two trains made the entire round trip all year around, operating for the convenience of the Royal Crystal Salt workers and watchmen at the Pavilion. When traffic picked up after the war, trains again operated hourly between 1:00 PM and 11:00 PM, with a morning train at 9:00. Returning, trains left the Pavilion on the half-hour. Trains were turned on the wye track at the Pavilion when necessary, but the stub terminal at Salt Lake City sometimes made use of a second motor necessary. Fare charged throughout was 25 cents for the round trip, with Mondays being bargain days: 10 cents for the round trip.

In spite of these extremely reasonable rates, Saltair did not make money. With the passing of the years, the physical plant ran down and maintenance of cars and track was deferred. Thus the conversion to diesel power was attractive to Saltair officials. With the purchase of two diesel locomotives and a diesel passenger car in 1951, the way was clear for abandonment of electric operation. This came about on August 1, 1951, when the last car sparked its lonely way out to Saltair and back.

Two of the motor cars were kept for use as trailers behind the diesel locomotives, as were several of the open trailers. The remainder of the Saltair rolling stock was scrapped.

Saltair still operates passenger service, the last of Utah's once great interurbans to do so. Although no longer an electric railway, the visitor to Salt Lake City can recapture much of the flavor of the Saltair line by riding the diesel trains; they still roll out to the great Pavilion, and if one is fortunate enough to ride an open trailer or one of the de-motorized McGuire cars, the illusion of returning to yesteryear may be almost convincing.