Saltair used to be THE place to go, but how to get there, way west of Salt Lake City, out on Great Salt Lake?
Fortunately, none of those were necessary. Utah’s extensive system of streetcars and inter-urban rail could get you anywhere in a hurry. You’d go to the Salt Lake City train station, hop a convenient excursion car and ride out in the open air. The Salt Lake, Garfield & Western ran those cars out all the time.
The ride in the open air cars must have been thrilling, with the wind blowing, the smell of the salt as you got near the onion-domed pavilions for a day of swimming, dancing or arcade games.
But all things come to an end. The automobile killed the railroads, Saltair burned down for the third or fourth time and people went elsewhere for entertainment, or stayed home to watch that newfangled television thing. And what of the excursion cars?
Built in 1922, four survived to the modern era. Two were donated to the Sons of Utah Pioneers, which displayed them in a museum in Corinne, which is now no more. One went to the Heber Creeper and eventual doom. The other is in California.
The other two, in the usual roundabout way, are owned by the Utah State Railroad Museum right here in Ogden. They’ve been moldering slowly away on a siding way out in Business Depot Ogden, their orange paint peeling, their tongue-and-groove flooring slowly warping.
But perhaps not much longer. The Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society (R&LHS), which has been busily restoring DRG&W Engine 223 in its shop attached to Union Station, has won one grant for $5,000 from the Sally Langdon Barefoot Foundation, and hopes to use that as a matching grant for a requested $10,000 heritage grant from the National Railroad Historical Society.
The goal is to bring the cars from BDO to Union Station where they can be better watched and stabilized, at least. If the guys could find $30,000 somewhere they could do a pretty thorough restoration.
The Railroad Museum and R&LHS are fighting a constant uphill battle against time and the elements to preserve what Utah railroad history they can. Lack of funds means it is often a losing battle, but this project doesn’t seem to need a lot, as these things go. Compared to the estimated $3 million needed to get the DRG&W 223, it’s pocket change, almost.
So if you’ve got another $20,000 or $30,000 you don’t know what to do with, there’s a donation box down at Union Station. Meanwhile, hope they get that second grant.
Maybe someday you’ll be able to sit on one of the wooden benches in the cars (very close together, people were a lot smaller and thinner back then), admire the distinctive curlicue design of the wrought iron frames of the seats, and pretend you’re heading out to Saltair to float in the warm water, buy a bag of saltwater taffy and wash some cotton candy down with sasparilla.