Buried trash at UTA construction site uncovers glimpse of 19th century rail travel
Finding a pile of trash on your property may not seem like reason for excitement. But discovery of one buried at the downtown Salt Lake City site of a new Utah Transit Authority bus maintenance facility is delighting archeologists.
“Sort of like a movie theater, once the movie was over, the crew went in and cleaned out all the trash and these items were deposited. That’s really unique,” he said. “I can’t think of any other similar discovery in the United States of what a passenger experience would have been like on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in the 19th century.”
“Several of the bottles were still corked and had contents in them, what looks like whiskey or other hard liquor in the bottles, which is kind of a cool time capsule in itself,” Merritt said.
He adds that it’s impossible to say whether the artifacts will be the only ones found on the construction.
“In this area we’re just learning about this really cool railroad history. What was it like to ride in a passenger train dining car in the 19th century? What were they drinking and eating? This kind of discovery is our only window into the past,” Merritt said.
He praised the construction crews who made the discovery.
“The operators on the ground are experienced. They’re highly skilled. They know what doesn’t feel right when they’re digging with a back hoe,” Merritt said. “Some of these guys can feel a historic bottle while it’s still in the ground.”
Merritt added, “You do wonder what other surprises might be encountered. Every time we scrape with a backhoe or a bulldozer, we’re learning something more about our state’s past.”
Five years ago when UTA announced plans for the facility to handle its growing fleet of clean-air vehicles, it projected it would be completed by 2019 and cost $52.5 million. Now, partway through, costs have grown to an estimated $95 million, up 81%.
And completion now is not expected until early 2023.
Officials have blamed that on a rise in the cost of materials, some unpleasant surprises such as the inability to use as planned a historic building on the site and changing needs including adding facilities to handle new electric buses.