Way We Were: The great train fantasy
Park City Museum researcher
“Big Plans for Main Street,” The (Park City) Newspaper’s lead headline blared on March 2, 1977. Five area businessmen — three from Salt Lake and two from Park City — were proposing an ambitious project that included converting the old Union Pacific train depot and the abandoned Silver King Coalition ore-loading station into commercial space and installing a chairlift from that building to the top of the Payday run at Park City Resort.
“Plans also call for the placement of antique railroad cars between the Coalition Building and the depot to serve as lodging,” the story continued. At that time the old train tracks east of Park Avenue still ran north from the depot toward the Union Pacific main line in Echo Canyon.
The five businessmen were Wally Wright, Jack Sweeney, John Prince, Bill Coleman and Harry Reed. Wright had just converted a cluster of old brick streetcar barns in Salt Lake City into the Trolley Square shopping center. He was also a partner with Sweeney and Prince in a plan to bring the Alpine Slide to the Park City Resort.
By June 1977, the city haad given the five developers the green light to begin work, and by September the first 11 railroad cars had arrived.
“The anachronistic wailing of a locomotive whistle was heard in … Park City Thursday as hotel rooms disguised as railroad cars were pushed into town,” The Newspaper (a short-lived rival to The Park Record) reported on Sept. 14.
“Now sporting broken windows and abused exteriors, the rail relics are scheduled for facelift and internal operations which will transform them into comfortable hotel accommodations,” the story continued. “This frog-to-prince act is part of the Depot Project under way at the north end of Main Street. … Plans call for an eventual 50 cars, most of which will contain two living units.”
However, by November, Park City Councilwoman Eleanor Bennett said she had received “many, many” complaints about the condition of the cars stored in the depot area.
Another year went by. In November 1978, Steve Lloyd, a resident of nearby Easy Street, wrote a letter to The Park Record urging the developers to get rid of “those hideous train cars. … Either develop them now or move them out.”
Finally, 10 months later, there were signs of progress. On Sept. 13, 1979, The Park Record reported that “a string of faithfully restored turn-of-the-century railroad cars have replaced the Amtrak carriages which have sat for years on the tracks within the project area.”
The following week, workers were using a tow truck and a front-end loader to pull four of the railroad cars about 100 yards to a new site next to the depot when three of the cars broke loose from the lead car. Instantly, they started to roll downhill.
“Workers desperately tried to stop the moving cars by throwing debris onto the track,” The Park Record recounted on Sept. 20, “but it was useless. ‘There was no stopping them once they got moving,’ said one workman.”
In The Newspaper that day, the lead headline smirked, “Rolling Stock Becomes Just That.”
To be continued next week.
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The Park City lodging industry in recent weeks experienced an uptick in projected occupancy numbers during the dates of the Sundance Film Festival, but the figures remain depressed from a typical year during the largest special event on the city’s calendar.