While last month state officials couldn’t find any better explanation for the car bodies than people dumping them in there — as was and is fairly common — Hyrum resident Roger Dunn said he had a front-row seat to the actual process nearly 70 years ago.
The car bodies are bunched up in one area of the reservoir below a hill south of where Hyrum’s 200 West ends. Dunn, whose late father Clifford owned the property above, said that’s because in the early ‘50s officials put car bodies in the hillside to keep it from collapsing more than it already had — but the hill kept sloughing off, anyway.
“I think it was the next spring” after the car bodies were placed in the hillside, Dunn said, “and there was another big slide and it was just like a tidal wave. It just lifted those cars up and kind of come up from underneath as the hill slid, and it pushed the first bunch clear out into the dam.”
That event would have been in 1953, when he was 11, by Dunn’s best recollection.
As the Dunns watched the hillside slide away, at first it was state property and there wasn’t much they could do about it. As it encroached on their private property, however, it was still difficult to get officials — likely then from the water district and the Bureau of Reclamation — to do something about it.
“I can remember standing down there at the bottom of Dad’s lot as a kid with him and I don’t know who the people were,” Dunn said. “There was three or people that’d show up, and they’d get down there and have a confab and the finger-pointing and back-and-forth and the Texas two-step, and then ‘Yeah, we’ll decide what we’re gonna do.’”
Dunn, 79, lived at that property until he left for his mission and his Army service, and after he married he moved half a block away.
“So I’ve been here on, as my wife called it, ‘the dam hill’ my whole life,” Dunn said.
To his knowledge, the area below his father’s property was the only part of the reservoir officials tried to shore up with car bodies.
After the cars slid into the river, they planted black willows in the area to help stabilize the bank. While box elder trees have grown in the area since, Dunn said some of those willows are still there, and that’s the only place he’s aware of black willows along the reservoir’s whole shoreline.
“And that was simply trying to mitigate it from coming clear up,” Dunn said. “And it still may keep coming. It is dang near to the road now on 2nd West. And who’s to say what’s going to happen in 10 years or 20 years.”
Hyrum Lake State Park Ranger Chris Bradshaw said there are car bodies above those in the reservoir bed and even above, up into some that remain in the hillside.
“There’s still several cars that are well above the high water mark that go almost to that house that they’ve built up on the top,” Bradshaw said.
It’s not uncommon for the banks to slough off in places around the reservoir, he said.
“Big Toe, which was a historical cliff jumping spot, that slid last year to the point where they haven’t been jumping off of there,” Bradshaw said. “All around the reservoir slides at different times.”
That erosion just “is what it is,” Dunn said.
“Years ago, we played, we hunted over there on the south side, and you had a good 100, 150 yards of sagebrush and that you could hunt pheasants in,” Dunn said. “You look at it now, and that is basically gone.”
Infrastructure improvements — including pressurized irrigation replacing ditches, a sewer system replacing septic tanks, and stormwater improvements to help control runoff — have decreased the rate of erosion, Dunn believes, but it’s still a concern.
State officials told The Herald Journal last month that multiple agencies would have to get involved in determining whether to leave the car bodies there or whether extracting them would do more damage. Either way, Dunn said, the cars are the government’s responsibility, likely the Bureau of Reclamation and the water district.
“They’re responsible, because they’re the ones that put the cars in there,” Dunn said.
“I’m kind of concerned for the neighbors, because eventually they’re going to be faced with the same problem between 2nd West and the state park, because it is creeping up, and it is what it is.”