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What remains of KSL’s old tramway may be removed from Oquirrh range

By Carter Williams | Posted - Jul. 2, 2020 at 7:02 p.m.

Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for's Historic section.

ERDA, Tooele County — If you’re listening to the radio or watching anything from broadcast TV along the Wasatch Front, there’s a good chance that at least some of your ability is facilitated by towers at Farnsworth Peak. The peak has been a communications and broadcast center for decades.

But getting to Farnsworth Peak can be difficult. In fact, helicopters are sometimes the best route to the top even to this day. But did you know that there was once a tram to get up there? The tram has long since been defunct, and what remains of it could soon be removed as a part of a proposal from the Bureau of Land Management.

A ride to the top

While KSL’s radio station has existed for nearly a century, KSL TV first aired in 1949. Newspaper reports show that in July 1952, the Federal Communications Commission granted KSL TV’s request to build a transmitter atop what was then called Coon Peak after Mormon pioneer Abraham Coon. Those reports noted that moving its transmitter to the peak allowed residents in Ogden and Logan, which at the time were the second and fourth-largest cities in the state, to have access to KSL TV for the first time.

Reports from the time also mentioned that the television station planned to use an overhead tramway to get people and supplies to and from the top. Before it existed, skiing was one way to the top, and helicopters were also used on occasion.

A report in the July 13, 1952, edition of the Ogden Standard-Examiner stated that KSL’s tramway equipment was previously used at a mine in Hailey, Idaho.

The cost of the plan to build a tramway to the top of the peak was estimated at $300,000, which would be a little more than $2.5 million today when adjusting for inflation.

Passengers first rode the tramway up Farnsworth Peak in 1957, according to research by writer Clint Thomsen. The tram had seven towers that were built on slopes and ridges between a building at Lake Point and another at the summit. Although, the ride wasn’t for the faint of heart.

"Its 3-mile route climbed about 4,700 feet up ridiculously steep slopes and across deep canyons, taking an unprecedented 30-degree turn from the sixth tower to the top," Thomsen wrote. "The 5,000-foot stretch between towers 4 and 5 over Big Canyon constituted the longest unsupported span in the world, besting the Glen Canyon Bridge by 1,000 feet. … Many passengers found the 45-minute gondola trip to the summit at least a little unnerving."

On Nov. 19, 1962, a nightmare scenario happened on the tram. Gray Meyer and Alan Larsen, a pair of federal aviation workers, were riding in the gondola when the cable broke and the tram car plummeted as much as 100 feet before it stopped 30 to 50 feet from the ground, according to a report in the Deseret News the following day.

A KSL employee at the peak of the mountain raced through 14 inches of snow in snowshoes to reach the scene before he climbed a tree and tossed the pair a rope. After dangling above the mountainside for three hours, Meyer and Larsen tied the rope to the tram car and used that to get down.

"It happened pretty fast. We dropped about 100 feet and then bounced up and down six or seven times," Larsen told the Deseret News after he was rescued. "I guess I’m real lucky I’m still here."

Alan Larsen, left, and Gray Meyer, right, were stranded on the tramway to Farnsworth Peak for three hours after the cable broke on Monday, Nov. 19, 1962. They were both rescued with the help of a KSL worker who raced from the peak down to the scene. (Photo: Deseret News Archives)

Another employee running the tramway was also hurt when the cable broke and knocked over a wooden beam onto him. That was one of the most notable instances about the tram during its service time.

Tram service was eventually halted in 1984.

Possible removal of the remaining pieces

Many years later, there’s still a skeleton left of the old tramway. All the internal equipment such as the tram cables is gone, but most of the towers remain standing on the mountainside to this day. The base building also stands but has been severely damaged by fire and vandalism, Allison Ginn, BLM’s acting field manager, wrote in a report of the area.

That could change, though. The federal agency that owns the majority of land in the area is seeking public input for non-motorized trails in the Lake Mountains in Utah County, the Rose and Yellow Fork canyons in Salt Lake County and the North Oquirrh Management Area in Tooele. The management area includes where the tram once ran.

In the report, Ginn wrote that the agency may look into consulting with the Utah State Historic Preservation Office and others to look into ways to remove what’s left "in order to protect human safety."

It’s unclear if and when that might happen; however, the agency is accepting public input about the overall project through July 16. Anyone seeking to submit public feedback can do so online on the BLM’s website.

Carter Williams

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