Way We Were: A runaway train and escaping visions | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: A runaway train and escaping visions

David Hampshire
Park City Museum Researcher
One of the railroad cars intended to be used as lodging burned in the Silver King Coalition Building fire.
Park City Museum & Historical Society, Leland Jerome Paxton Collection

Last week’s Way We Were told the story of a 1970s plan to redevelop the area around the old Union Pacific Depot and to convert as many as 50 vintage railroad cars into lodging. Unfortunately, on Sept. 18, 1979, as workers were moving four of the cars, three of them broke loose and started trundling down the railroad track out of town. This is the rest of the story.

Although the workers could do nothing to impede the rolling cars, there was still hope. Parked about 200 yards down the track were four old Amtrak cars — moved off the depot site — that stood a chance of holding up the runaway train.

“However, by the time the three cars reached Amtrak, they had gathered enough momentum that their weight broke loose the other four cars,” The Park Record reported on Sept. 20, 1979, “and as the helpless workmen stared on, the outward bound (train), now seven cars long, made its way out of the yard to points unknown. Past Mawhinney Motor, past the (City) Park, and on towards Mt. Air Market it rolled with the silver Amtrak cars flashing bright in the afternoon sun.”

At a curve near what is now Iron Horse Drive, witnesses reported a “deafening scream of steel on steel … with sparks flying out from the wheels,” The Park Record said. “Finally, the cars hit a piece of track which had been partially removed by Union Pacific to prevent such an accident and one by one the cars flew helter-skelter off the road bed” behind the building now occupied by the Kimball Art Center.

At Anderson Lumber (now The Yard), which was still getting deliveries by rail, employee Willy Gurski described the derailment: “It sounded like a herd of horses coming down the track,” he told The Newspaper. “I saw the cars rolling (past) and then there was a big puff of smoke.”

The following day, regulars at the Alamo (now the No Name) Saloon held a mock memorial service for the derailed cars. In their honor, some wags composed new verses to the 1940s tune, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” made popular by Glenn Miller. Someone was heard to remark, “Well, we finally got those old things out of town.”

Well, not quite. Within a week the track had been repaired and the battered cars were set back on the rails.

Fast forward to March 1981. Utah businessmen Ladd Christensen and Blaine Huntsman revealed that they had bought the old Union Pacific Depot and about 8.5 acres of surrounding property. Christensen said they planned to remove all the rail cars “that are not appropriately restored.”

On July 20, 1981, the Silver King Coalition Building, the beloved symbol of the Park City mining era, burned in a ferocious fire. The intense heat melted the windows and blistered the paint on two of the remaining railroad cars parked nearby. It was the end of the line for the Great Train Fantasy.

People still mourn the loss of the stately Coalition Building. But the railroad cars? Not so much.

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