Salt Lake as a Bedroom Community for Tooele

Not a typo. There was a time when it seemed that Salt Lake was the bedroom community for Tooele. A time when the traffic patterns on Hwy 36 were exactly the opposite as they are today. The reason for this anomaly was the Army Depot in Tooele.

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The rush hour was comprised of TEAD traffic. When the Army Depot was in full swing – the Vietnam era, the 60’s, Tooele could not supply all the workers needed at the Depot. As they were good jobs, 30 year jobs, workers came from as far away as Ogden and Lehi to work each day.

Starting time for the Depot was typically 8 AM, which meant that during the time between 6:30 and 7:45, pulling out onto Hwy 36 could be a big problem. Same held true around 4:30 to 5:15 – the shorter window denoting the fact that water runs faster downhill, the workers were on their way home and traffic was confined to that narrower window of time.

Picture the morning rush coming from Salt Lake toward Tooele on a two lane road with no dividers, passing lanes or stop lights to facilitate traffic. Mills Junction would funnel some of this traffic to Sheep Lane for vehicles to enter TEAD from that gate. The majority of the morning rush to Tooele would continue into town, splintering off at Utah Avenue or passing right on through to the Main Gate.

After work, the flow was reversed as workers commuted back to Salt Lake or other bedroom communities such as Bountiful, Layton and even Ogden. The race for home and family was on! Traffic streamed past the Hillcrest, (an aptly-named restaurant at the top of Main Street) or into town via Utah Avenue. Other traffic would go out the north gate heading toward Sheep Lane, Grantsville and even to Burmester to access the freeway for home.

I should emphasize that during the ‘60’s there were two stoplights in Tooele – one on Vine Street and one for Utah Avenue. Mills Junction had no such luxury as a stop light or turning lane. For many years it was easily one of the most dangerous places in Utah.

For locals not taking part in the rush, TEAD traffic was something to be mindful of and to plan your day around. Many times I heard the phrase “Got to miss TEAD traffic” or simply “miss the traffic”, followed by the ritualistic glance at your wrist in order to calculate the available time before the start of the daily relay.

To be ‘on base’ at such a time was frightful for non-workers, yet fascinating because one could witness the phenomenon known as the ‘TEAD weave’ or the ‘Depot weave’. At quitting time, every building on the depot disgorged its quota of workers. Being a military installation and all, there was practically zero instances of beating the clock or having a buddy clock you out. There were armed security guards manning the gates and checking vehicles.

Parking lot intersections on the depot were four and five cars deep waiting to turn onto the road to the gate. The phenomenon of the TEAD weave was actually patience and courtesy in acceptance of the fact that everyone had the same goal in mind – getting home. Each car would wait their turn, nod and wave and join the throng heading out the gate. Having an accident on a military installation was an especially unpleasant experience to be avoided at all costs.

The Army Depot was, at certain times, one of the largest employers in the state. It rivaled Kennecott, it always dwarfed ‘the smelter’, it was larger than most private enterprise jobs around. This showed its’ importance during the Cold War, Vietnam and post-Vietnam era. Funny thing about those workers back then, if it was deemed important to the nation it simply got done, no complaints.

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During the mid-70’s and early 80’s, the traffic flow from Salt Lake to Tooele increased again due to the opening of the Carr Fork Mine in the Oquirrih Mountains east of Tooele. This project added up to 600 jobs to Tooele, once again the shortfall of manpower was supplied by the fine folks of Tooele’s bedroom community – the Salt Lake Valley. This additional rush of vehicles on Hwy 36 was staggered somewhat by two factors. Anaconda operated the mine around the clock, staggering the glut of cars coming into Tooele away from the 7 o’clock rush the Depot already had dibs on. The second factor is that Droubay Road could be taken so that a portion of Hwy 36 could be avoided. The mine operated from 1976 thru 1983, with 1980 being the peak year for additional traffic.

I realize that hardly makes Salt Lake a bedroom community but it is fun to put it in that light. To a six year old farm-boy, it did seem as though Salt Lake served as Tooele’s bedroom community. I contributed to rush hour during the late 70’s and early 80’s as a commuter to Carr Fork. I became part of the reversal of the traffic flow during the late 90’s by commuting to Salt Lake on a regular basis.

The mine has long since closed. The Depot succumbed to the Force Realignment in 1995. I guess in closing that chapter of Tooele history there truly was a Realignment of traffic patterns in Tooele.  Drive Tooele Friendly!

 

 

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