Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Most Important Mountain Peak in Utah?

    Farnsworth Peak, center, is the most important summit in the Oquirrh Range.

The most lonely outpost in Salt Lake County is Farnsworth Peak.
Situated in the Oquirrh Mountains, west of Salt Lake City, this 9,054-foot peak is perhaps the most important peak in Utah and yet also perhaps the hardest to reach, because of locked gates and private land issues.
Farnsworth Peak houses the transmitters for several TV stations and a fleet of FM radio stations. 
It is manned year-round, 24/7 to ensure all equipment operates properly.
Indeed, it is entertainment/news central for the Wasatch Front.
A steep, windy, 12-mile dirt road provides access to the peak and it crosses private land, owned by Kennecott.
The public at large is not permitted there. Authorized visitors are allowed, but otherwise there's no hunting, driving, hiking or biking. Two locked gates regulate access.
"Oquirrh" is a Goshute Indian word, and one of its meanings is said to be "shining mountain" - a definition that has come to be quite appropriate in modern times: Several of the peaks bristle with shiny metal towers. All of Utah's major television station transmitters and many of its FM radio broadcast antennas sit atop the Oquirrh peaks, high above the valley floors in locations just about ideal for beaming signals along the populous Wasatch Front.

The view from Farnsworth is simply spectacular. Not only is most of the Salt Lake Valley visible, but so are Grantsville and Tooele to the west, the Great Salt Lake and Ogden to the north, and Utah Lake and Timpanogos to the southeast.

That line-of-sight perspective is precisely why the Oquirrhs offer the best broadcast transmitter sites for the Wasatch Front. The Wasatch summits wouldn't serve the purpose nearly as well. Peaks and ridges and the lay of the range in general would likely block reception north and south, to the Ogden and Provo areas.
Signals from Farnsworth reach to the Idaho border on the north and to Nephi on the south. Translator stations relay the signals even farther.

Farnsworth Peak was originally known as Coon Peak, in honor of Abraham Coon, a Mormon pioneer who arrived in Utah in 1850. He was a farmer, stock raiser and cooper who also served as the Salt Lake County road supervisor for eight years. Coon died in Salt Lake City in 1886.

Today the peak is named in honor of Philo T. Farnsworth, a Utah native born at Indian Creek, near Beaver, and the inventor of television. On Sept. 7, 1927, he slipped a glass slide into place inside a transmitting set and television was born.Shortly after Farnsworth died in 1971 at age 64, Arch L. Madsen, then the president of Bonneville International, the parent company of KSL-TV, began a campaign to rename the peak in the inventor's honor.

However, the renamed mountain peak - with its numerous TV and radio transmitters - provides an eternal monument to the father of TV. Coon Canyon, the main road access to Farnsworth, continues to bear the name of Abraham Coon.

KSL-TV began its broadcast operations on the peak in November 1952. During the first four winters, engineers had to snowshoe in. Noel Clark, an early engineer, once took eight hours to snowshoe to the mountaintop.

Alternate modes of transportation to the peak were examined. After a mine shaft through the mountain was ruled out, KSL decided to construct a long tramway up the mountain in 1953, going from Lake Point on the northwest side. 
The 6-mile tram traversed some deep canyons and was said to make for an extremely thrilling 45-minute ride.

Wind gusts, however, sometimes made it more than thrilling - even dangerous. Some passengers suffered broken bones and ribs when sudden gusts struck while the tram was suspended, 1,300 feet in the air, along the unsupported 5,000-foot-long stretch over Big Canyon. The force tossed people like rag dolls against the side of the aluminum cable car, causing injuries.

In 1962, the cable broke over Thanksgiving weekend. No one was hurt and the cable was soon spliced. However, regulations for trams soon became quite strict and such things as splices were no longer allowed. KSL stopped using the tram in 1983, and much of it has now been disassembled. Some support pillars are visible on the mountain's west side, but the tram's summit warehouse is to be removed in the near future.

The first radio station to arrive on Farnsworth Peak was KSL-FM (now KSFI), in November 1957. A Secret Service transmitter was put into operation there in 1972. 
--Note that Farnsworth Peak  isn't the only mountaintop with broadcast facilities in the Oquirrhs. There are many two-way radio towers on Kessler Peak, just to the north. A jeep trail leads from Farnsworth to that 8,820-foot summit. (Farnsworth is the third peak from the north in the Oquirrhs. The northernmost is 7,758 feet above sea level.)

South of Little Farnsworth (only slightly below Farnsworth), is Nelson Peak - the highest point in the Oquirrhs at 9,359 feet, with its own transmitter equipment.
Curving around to the southeast is Mount Vision. At 8,466 feet above sea level, this peak sports another transmitter.
Where are the AM radio station transmitters, you might ask? AM transmitters do not need the height and line of sight so conducive to the FM band. AM radio waves follow the ground and do especially well when broadcast near sources of water.
UPDATE for 2018: There are a dozen TV transmitters atop Farnsworth Peak now (counting low power stations) -- and about 75 percent of all Salt Lake FM radio stations have transmitters on Farnsworth Peak too.

-Note that authors Lynn Arave and Ray Boren got permission to visit Farnsworth Peak.
-Distilled/revised from a story originally published in the Deseret News, Oct. 7, 1994, by Lynn Arave and Ray Boren.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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