When Wendover, Utah was incorporated on 25 October 1950 with 149 qualified electors and a population of more than 400, it was a far cry from the watering stop established by the Western Pacific Railroad in 1907. One hundred twenty miles into the Great Salt Lake Desert from Salt Lake City, Wendover became a service and supply point for the railroad; it may have been named for a surveyor employed by the railroad, Charles Wendover.
The city lies on an ancient beach of Lake Bonneville, and is snuggled against the Toana Range, which rises 5,000 feet up from the desert floor. To the northwest is the 10,000-foot Pilot Range; and the 12,000 foot Goshute and Deep Creek Ranges lie to the south.
In 1845 Captain John C. Fremont passed north of Wendover surveying the country. After crossing the salt desert, his party stopped at the springs of Pilot Mountain, the beacon mountain he named, then continued west over the Pequop and Toana Ranges.
In order to operate their steam engines, the Western Pacific had piped water twenty-three miles from Pilot Springs northwest of Wendover. When the company began operating diesel-powered engines, they sold the water and two sections of ground to the town of Wendover for $90,000. To make the water fit for culinary use, the city is now in the process of providing two filter ponds. Also, by widening the piping system, more water will be available for business development here and also over the Utah-Nevada state line in West Wendover.
Another source of water for the city is Johnson's Springs, thirty-two miles away, which was sold to Wendover City 9 July 1976. This water belonged to Wendover Air Force Base, and part of the base, itself, was transferred to the city 15 August 1977, soon after it had been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Wendover became a city of the third class 25 March 1982 with a population of 1,099. By 1990 the population reached 1,626 and the town covered 8.5 square miles. The air base today is undergoing civilian development for commercial flights in support of the gambling industry, which boomed in the 1980s on the Nevada side.
Wendover City is famous for the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats, the 26,000 acres of salt flats where would land speed records have been made; it is also where the crew of the Enola Gay trained before dropping the atom bomb on Japan in 1945.
West Wendover and east Wendover now share a Junior and Senior High School on the Utah side and an elementary school in Nevada; the Tooele, Utah, and Elko, Nevada school districts paying each other tuition for the students. They also share local law enforcement, as police officers can make arrests on either side of the state line. In addition the fighting of fires is a shared concern. The Utah side provides support business like gas stations, lodging and grocery stores for the gambling resort businesses in Nevada. All proposals to date to legislate casino gambling on the Utah side have died quick deaths.
Water is the key to Wendover; the Nevada side especially has a limited supply. Wendover is also a supply center for ranchers, who range thousands of head of sheep and cattle within a fifty mile radius. Aside from the tourism, employment has been provided for over seventy-five years by the potash industry. In 1988 Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation sold its plant to Reilly Wendover, which produces 100,000 tons of fertilizer annually.
The city's elevation is 4,230 feet, and the mean monthly temperature of Wendover ranges from a maximum of 79 F. in July to a minimum of 27 F. in January, with an annual precipitation of approximately five inches. High summer temperatures and frequent wind create a large evaporation rate.
A number of religious denominations are represented in Wendover: Catholic, Baptist, Christian Fellowship, and a Mormon ward. An eighty-five foot concrete and steel sculpture "Metaphor --Tree of Utah--by Karl Momen welcomes Wasatch Front visitors approaching the city twenty-six miles away.
In 1971, after a public hearing, a design for a section of Interstate 80 was approved which, beginning at the state line and extending east, bypassed Wendover on the north. In 1990, under mayor "Ab" Smith, a ten-acre parcel of land was set aside as the town's first cemetery. The Bonneville Speedway Museum tells the story of the Salt Flats with historic cars; and Danger Cave, two miles northeast of town in the Silver Island Range, is a major archaeological site that once was home to various prehistoric desert cultures.
The community is served by the Salt Flat News, Wendover Relay and High Desert Advocate newspapers. Wendover was the site of the completion of the first transcontinental telephone line in 1914, and in 1942 an all-weather telephone cable was joined at Wendover.
See: Amy Miller and Orrin Miller, eds., History of Tooele County, Vol. II (1990).
Ouida N. Blanthorn