Train Geeks | Urban Living

Train Geeks

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In this era of Uber, Lyft, Trax, Frontrunner, taxis, Subaru, Audi, Lexus (and on and on), it's hard to imagine that 100 years ago, we were getting to school or work via horse, wagon or buggy. Throughout Utah, you can drive past remnants of modes of transportation from the 1800s that aren't on display at This Is the Place Monument, such as tiny garages that were once carriage houses, carriage blocks and hitching posts. There are several sandstone blocks along South Temple, as well as in the Avenues, Centerville and Provo, that were originally placed at the edge of the street to help buggy or wagon passengers step out of their vehicles.

In 1870, the travel world in the western U.S. exploded when a little narrow-gage rail line was completed between Denver and Salt Lake City. Imagine if you had previously hired a fast coach and a team of horses to get from one city to another, and if they changed horse teams several times a day at different stops, you might be able to log 100 miles per day. You'd certainly pay a high price for the adventure, and it would take you about five days to travel one way between Salt Lake City and Denver. By the late 1800s, trains were moving faster, about 50-80 mph. Thus, the Denver-to-Salt Lake trip would only take maybe 10 hours instead of five days. When you ended your journey, you would get off at the Rio Grande Depot at 300 South and Rio Grande Street (550 West). The depot was built in 1910 for only $750,000. Initially, trains were used primarily for shipping minerals and supplies between the two states, but more and more passengers were arriving in Utah to work in the copper mine, start a business or move to the West Coast.

When I lived above my office at the Dakota Lofts, I could see the red neon sign atop the building with the classic Rio Grande logo. About once a month, one of the letters would fizzle out and the sign would read "Ri Grande," "Rio Grane" or "Rio rande." I guess the sign was just too old to repair and it's now been permanently removed. A new one will go up sometime this fall. The cool thing is that the sign will be much more visible from I-15 and might attract tourists to see the landmark building.

It might sound simple to erect another neon sign that says "Rio Grande," but because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, a whole slew of folks had to chime in on the design, including the Historic Landmarks Commission, the Redevelopment Agency, Preservation Utah, the Pioneer Park Coalition, the Downtown Alliance and even the owners of the Rio Grande Café. With that many lofty opinions, it better be a great sign, yes?

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