Friday, 25 September 2020

Carnival of Trains - The Rise and Fall of Saltair, Utah

 I was watching a low budget horror film the other day, Carnival of Souls, made in 1962 on a budget of just $34,000. Part of it was filmed in Kansas but a key element of the film was an abandoned resort at the end of a causeway in Utah.

The intriguing thing was what seemed to be an abandoned railway or perhaps interurban that seemed to run to the resort. In 1962 the track was still in place.

A little bit of research on line revealed that this was Saltair on the Great Salk Lake in Utah, USA.

The abandoned amusement park that is reached by a causeway clearly inspired the filmmaker, Herk Harvey, and the film grew out of its strange atmosphere. The location is revisited several times by the main protaganist in the film. Already abandoned in 1962 the whole place burned down just eight years later. At one time Saltair was the location of the world's largest dancefloor.

The resort opened in 1893 and, being owned by pragmatic Mormons it was advertised as a wholesome alternative to the more earthy parks further east, like Coney Island in New York. One of the main attractions was that the water was warm and salty, and it was impossible to sink! The first Saltair burned down in 1925.

Pavilion c1930 postcard

A second pavilion was quickly built, although it too suffered fire damage in 1931. In 1933 the lake began to recede, leaving Saltair somewhat high and dry, reducing its appeal to bathers. To make up for the loss of patronage due to the low water levels, a roller coaster was constructed, as well as a short railroad from the pavilion to the water using gasoline-powered speeders to carry patrons across the brine flat. Other things that slowly reduced Saltair's popularity were the growth of cinema, cars and eventually television, drawing visitors away. The pavilion closed during world war two, being left to the heat, cold and salt.

A third pavilion was built in 1981, but continued to be plagued by the familiar problems of flooding and receding waters. Nowadays it is used exclusively as a venue for rock concerts.

If you're still with me this is where the railway part comes in!

Even before the resort opened a railway company was incorporated on 6 September 1891 to tap the tourist market at Saltair Beach Resort. The Saltair Railway quickly changed its name to Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railroad in April 1892, then renamed the Salt Lake, Garfield and Western Railway. Passengers were carried to Saltair and freight to the mines around Garfield and the salt industry run by Morton Salt. The Saltair Resort was opened on 8 June 1893 and for many years this was the main source of passenger revenue. Electrification of the line commenced in 1916 and was completed in 1919.

At its peak the Saltair route carried 12-16 passenger car trains every 45 minutes.

                                                          Source via Flickr

Electric train at Saltair

                                 Surviving car 2007 Source Doug Anderson,

The resort finally closed permanently in 1959, at which point the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western ceased passenger operations. The first diesel locomotive on the line was purchased in 1951, and was a GE 44-tonner. In July 1954 the railroad leased a GE centercab diesel from U.S. Steel, and this marked the end of all electric operations on the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western. The SLGW continues to haul freight to this day along its 16 miles of track with additional sidings for railcar storage, transloading, railcar cleaning rail served warehousing and other rail-related services.

The line was unusual in that its main purpose was to serve a single, man made attraction. So the railway was vulnerable for this reason, its fortunes mirroring those of the attraction it was built to serve. The only similar set up I can think of, though I'm sure there are many more worldwide, was the line from Brighton to Devil's Dyke, in Sussex.

                                                1975 Source via Flickr 1975

A final note, perhaps in keeping with the whole bittersweet story. In 1963 the SLGW decided to run a final, open air train down the Saltair line, a way for locals and railfans to say goodbye to the line. In extreme contrast to the glory days between the wars, only about a dozen people showed up ...

To finish, on a brighter note!

          (Copyright James Belmont source -

A Salt Lake Garfield & Western passenger special rambles slowly through the salt grass near the Salt Lake International Airport. The SLGW ran passenger specials every fall when model train shows were held at the Utah State Fairpark. The SLGW is a family owned operation, and the owner Don Hogle was happy to let folks ride on the pilot of their 44 ton GE. It appears the kids are having a terrific time riding the D.S.5.


Photo references

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

First Generation DMUs

Maiden Newton 7.8.1973

Many of us grew up with these diesel units that were ubiquitous all over the UK. I grew up in the heart of Southern Electric territory (Littlehampton) so these were quite exotic to me! Heading west on a rover ticket I'd run into diesels at Hilsea, as the line west to Southampton wasn't electrified at that time. These were the then common 'Thumpers', which to me just looked like electric units with a big grill on the side! They also ran in threes which was a change from the twos and fours further east. Further west I'd hit Weymouth where the Western Region DMUs would mix with our Class 33 headed trains, splitting off in Dorchester to take the scenic route through Maiden Newton and Yeovil and on up to Castle Cary and Bristol.

Eastleigh 13.5.1973.

I gradually got to travel all over the UK and met these units in their various forms all over the place. We didn't really appreciate them at the time, but with their front windows (in most cases) it was a real treat to get a forward view. I particularly remember the Dawlish sea wall stretch, the Tamar Bridge and the run from Exeter to Okehampton with the forward view.

Leyland, 24.5.1985.

Doncaster 7.7.1986.

B405 Oxford 2.7.1986.

These units of course no longer run on the Network. many second generation ones have also vanished. The new units are smart and look good, but I've not travelled on any yet, I rarely travel on trains these days sadly, though hopefully that will change in the future.

So to celebrate the first generation units that were such a huge part of my early railway life I've started a Facebook group just for them. Please come and join us and, if you have pictures, memories etc, please share!

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Devil's Dyke

Growing up in Littlehampton my nan's house faced a bus stop where some buses carried intriguing detination board for 'Devil's Dyke'. It seemed an impossibly romantic place but sadly well beyond our financial resources in the 1960s to visit! So I never made that bus trip which in the summer would have been on an open topped bus.

Later I discovered that Devil's Dyke also once had a railway running to it. This was even more tantalising. In the 70s I finally got to visit the Dyke, following the old railway up into the Downs after alighting at Aldrington Halt.

There were remains of the route throughout, once I got out of the suburban part. The Dyke itself was a bleak place, even on a summer's day, devoid of people or anything else apart from the farm that barred entry to the still existing Dyke station platform.

Delving into the history of the railway and the Dyke gave a fascinating insight into just how different Edwardian Sussex had been! For the Dyke Railway brought visitors up from Brighton and beyond to a whole range of attractions set hundreds of feet above the glittering coastline to the south.

The railway was opened on 1 September 1887' leaving the Portsmouth-Brighton line at what later became Aldrington Halt, climbing through the suburbs and on to the Downs. This was the only railway to climb the South Downs properly, other routes to the west tunneling through them instead. The route was approximately 3.5 miles long with an average gradient of 1 in 45.

The line's glory years were in Edwardian times (1901 to 1910), the First World War followed by an increase in motoring (no doubt including the precursor to that 31 bus that went past my nan's!) affected railway numbers, with the line closing completely on 31 December 1938.

As well as the railway there were two other unusual transport attractions at the top. There was a funicular railway down to Poynings which was 840 feet long with a gauge of 3 feet. It was called the Steep Grade Railway. This line opened on 24 July 1897. This was the only inland funicular passenger line in Sussex. It didn't last long, closing around ten years later.

There were many attractions at the Dyke including a hotel, amusements and a switchback railway (roller coaster). Many speculate that the Steep Grade Railway was closed because it was siphoning off trade from the Dyke's attractions to shops and pubs down in Poynings.

Another rail-like attraction was the Aerial Cableway, which spanned the Dyke itself. It was designed and built by William Brewer in 1894, it was made from 1,200 feet of cable, suspended  230 feet above the valley floor on cast metal supports.

It had two cars, each carrying just four passengers, which were pulled across the Dyke by a cable worked by an oil engine.


Like the Steep Grade Railway its popularity was short-lived, opening on the 13th October 1894 and carrying its last passengers around 1909.

The Dyke Railway is an unusual example of a railway that depended purely on an ephemeral, once fashionable, desire for entertainment in strange places from our ancestors. The whole set up burned brightly for a few decades before all returning to dust and the normal bleak beauty of the high South Downs.



Saturday, 25 April 2020

Bishops Waltham branch

1962 (Copyright Jim Lake).


1953 (Copyright John Aston)

A reminder (2015) (Sourced via Google)

Branch railmotor at Botley 1906

Durley Halt - a rare photo!

On our regular trips to Winchester to visit relatives in the 1960s and 1970s we normally went via Bishops Waltham, and there was an intriguing pair of old level crossing gates by a roundabout near the town centre.

Research revealed that these were a remnant of the branch line from Botley, on the Fareham to Eastleigh line, to Bishops Waltham. This line opened on 31 December 1863, closed early to passengers on 31 December 1932, and completely in 1962.

Following the course of the River Hamble for much of its route it was single track throughout and lightly engineered with just a few underbridges. There was a small halt at Durley (see pic above) which only opened in 1910 and only saw light traffic.

There were other rail proposals in the Bishops Waltham area which never saw the light of day (or at least not yet!) including a line to Petersfield and another to Alton. A further, later,  proposal was a route to Droxford on the Meon Valley route from Fareham to Alton.

Passenger and freight traffic was generally light, except in the strawberry season when there would be many special trains carrying the fruit to the markets in London.

Railmotors were used for a short time but lacked flexibility as they couldn't pull additional coaches.

A short section of line still exists at the Botley end. I remember walking this in about 1970, it was a real surprise to find it there. It was about 400 metres of so and overgrown with small trees in places! This section has since been restored as a siding for Foster Yeoman aggregate trains, and has even been doubled in recent times. The rest of the route beyond is basically intact but very overgrown in places.

There was a scheme to build a narrow gauge line along most of the route in 1964, but this didn't reach an advanced stage.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Mold 2.4.1985

(All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Mold station closed to passengers on 30 April 1962 and to freight on 5 May 1964. The line itself stayed open for freight for longer, operating to a chemical factory north of the station and beyond to a government installation at Rhydymwyn.

The last freight trains to run through Mold operated in March 1983. These photos were taken in 1985 when the tracks were still in situ, and were lifted in the summer of the same year, The station site was redeveloped as a supermatrket in the 1990s.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Hastings at Knockholt 1986

All pics 1.4.1986 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing

Knockholt is a small station in Kent, with a busy service. Back in 1986 it was an excellent spot to photograph a whole range of services and trains.

Top amongst these were the so-called 'Hastings' units which ran, on diesel power of course, from London Cannon Street down to Hastings via Tunbridge Wells and Battle. These were unique units, that were narrower than normal stock due to space restrictions on the Tonbridge-Hastings route. 

These would soon become history as the Tonbridge to Hastings line was electrified. This was their swansong. A few individual coaches also formed part of the 'Tadpole' units used on a few other routes.