Storm Unearths Wreck of Century-Old Boat in Utah’s Great Salt Lake

The vessel may belong to a fleet used to construct and maintain a railroad causeway that crosses the briny body of water

Great Salt Lake shipwreck
A storm on the Great Salt Lake in Utah exposed the wreckage of what may be a 100-year-old boat. Great Salt Lake State Park & Marina

Last weekend, a storm struck Utah’s Great Salt Lake with winds exceeding 50 miles per hour, exposing the rusted wreckage of what may be a century-old boat, reports Spencer Burt for local broadcast station Fox 13.

Great Salt Lake State Park posted a photo of the wreck on its social media pages, stating that the steel boat—now visible along the body of water’s south shore—likely dates to the turn of the 20th century. The park also noted that people have boated on the lake since the mid-1880s.

Park manager Dave Shearer tells Nate Carlisle of the Salt Lake Tribune that the storm’s strong winds drove waves to the south of the lake’s shores, washing away sands that had previously covered the wreckage.

The lake’s decreasing water levels also helped uncover what remains of the boat’s corroded hull, writes Erin Cox in a separate Fox 13 story. This decline, long thought to be the product of climate change, actually stems from the diversion of freshwater streams feeding the lake for consumption as drinking water to the tune of around 870 billion gallons each year, reported Sarah Derouin for Science magazine in 2017.

As Shearer tells the Salt Lake Tribune, the vessel is a steel hold boat with wooden planking. It may have been part of a fleet used by the Southern Pacific Railroad to construct or maintain a causeway across the lake in the early 1900s.

“It looks like this is about a 30- to 40-foot-long boat, which matches the description of the boats the Southern Pacific was using,” says Shearer.

What Makes Great Salt Lake So Great?

The railroad’s fleet of boats was one of the only options for sending supplies to a certain section of the Transcontinental Railroad, according to Fox 13. Between 1862 and 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies raced to construct the track, starting from Sacramento, California, and Omaha, Nebraska, respectively, and meeting in Promontory, Utah. The causeway—constructed some 35 years later—bypassed Promontory, shortening the route by more than 40 miles.

“They were taking a lot of logs up to the railroad causeway, or to the railroad,” explains Shearer to Fox 13. “At the same time, they were taking stuff from the railroad back to the mining camps.”

Shearer tells local broadcast station KUTV CBS 2 that the Great Salt Lake is “littered with shipwrecks from the past 150 years.” He personally knows the locations of at least 20 wrecks.

In 2014, low water levels revealed the remains of a vessel that may have been used by Mormon leader Brigham Young to transport cattle to Antelope Island in 1854, reported Brett Prettyman for the Salt Lake Tribune at the time. The lake’s six-foot dip also exposed the wreck of what Shearer identified as the W.E. Marsh No. 4. Part of the Southern Pacific Railroad fleet, it was last seen afloat in 1936.

The newly unearthed vessel may be too damaged to identify, according to KUTV CBS 2, but Shearer tells Fox 13 that he plans to scour old newspapers in hopes of uncovering more information on the wreck’s origins.

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