When Jim Lamont parks his bus in the UTA yard for the last time later this year, he will conclude a 100-year relationship between the Lamont family and the Salt Lake area's various transit companies.
The relationship gave three generations of Lamont men their life's work. It led two of them to the women they loved. The Lamont men, in turn, took a hand in the evolution of transit in the Salt Lake Valley.In an age of layoffs and frequent job changes, Lamont's relationship with UTA is an anomaly. He is the company's senior employee, recently celebrating his 42nd year with the organization.
But add to that the family's century-long pas de deux with UTA and its antecedents, and the tale becomes an epic.
Jim's grandfather, James H. Lamont signed on with the Salt Lake Railroad Co. in 1890, that golden dawn of the "gay '90s." The company had 41 cars, 84 mules, 30 employees and nine miles of track back then. In Salt Lake City, the progress of the '90s meant retiring the mule-drawn trolleys in favor of the electric trolley. James H. Lamont, newly arrived from Scotland, joined the company in time to bid the mules adieu. His brother signed on later, spending 40 years with the company.
James H. Lamont was an organizer and first president of the company's union.
In 1917, James' son, Robert, came aboard. The company's name had changed by then. Utah Light and Traction Co. cut the paychecks; but the work and the people remained the same, and the Lamont family's loyalty didn't waver. Two of Robert's brothers also worked for the company.
When Robert signed on, mass transit in the Salt Lake Valley was at its zenith. Utah Light and Traction had more than 1,000 employees - more than UTA has now - and its street car routes went out past Sandy, Jim said.
Robert met Lily Peck on his streetcar route. "She just started riding his streetcar and the first thing you know they fell in love," Jim said.
Utah Light and Traction kept a roof over the Lamonts even during the bleakest years of the Great Depression. "When President Roosevelt closed the banks, the employees got their pay in tokens and they had to go out and sell the tokens to get their money," Jim remembered. "But we always had food on the table. Some of our neighbors weren't doing so good."
Robert Lamont poured his life into Utah Light and Traction, working 51 years without missing a day and serving 17 years as the president of its union.
Robert's sons - Jim and two brothers - went to work for Dad's company and like his father and grandfather before him, Jim made transportation his life. He signed on as a mechanic for the Salt Lake City Lines in 1948, three years after the company retired its trolleys in favor of buses.
He later became a bus driver. "It's brought me out of my shell. I was always bashful, but I'm not the least bit afraid of meeting anyone any more."
Jim found his wife in 1956 when he walked up to the company's change window to buy a roll of nickels so he could make change for his passengers. Earleen Walker gave him the change.
"I just said to myself, `I think she's for me,' " Jim remembered.
The company's name changed again and this winter, Jim retires from UTA.
Lamonts saw Salt Lake's transportation evolve from mules to plans for a light-rail system.
"I'm the end of the line," Jim said. "Right now they don't believe in nepotism. You can't hire on if someone else in your family is working here. In the old days, that really didn't matter."
Is he sad? "I guess there is kind of a little feeling there, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. We've done our share. Let somebody else do it for awhile."
After 20 years of getting up at 3:15 a.m. five days a week, Jim would rather sleep in.