Sunday, October 16, 2016

Where Did the Western Pacific Go?

National Train Day 2013, Ogden. This photo shows locomotives representing the various Class One railroads of Utah, but one historical Class One railroad is missing from this collection...

3/25/16, Marshall, Utah; the abandoned Warner Branch was part of WP's system in Utah's West Desert. The WP mainline and several other branchlines are still in use as part of the Union Pacific system, although most of the Warner Branch pictured here has been abandoned.

During the heyday of rail transport, Utah was crossed by four famed Class One railroads; the Union Pacific, the Southern Pacific, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific. At the Utah State Railroad Museum there is a display meant to represent this era. The Union Pacific is well covered with an FEF class steamer, a 0-6-0 switcher, a DDA40X, and a Gas Turbine. The Southern Pacific has two locomotives on site, a older GP model, and a SD45. The Denver and Rio Grande is represented by a SD40T-2 which was the last unpatched DRGW diesel to run on home rails; and a narrow gauge 2-8-0 (DRGW 223) currently under restoration.

8/1/2011, Portola, California; the WP 805-A is a FP7A. The P in the designation denotes it is equipped with the heating units necessary for passenger service. The WP used different variations of paint schemes to help easily identify if a unit was an FP7A or the similar F7A. Locomotives such as this pulled the California Zephyr between Oakland and Salt Lake City.

8/1/2011, Portola, California; WP 917-D a F7A unit was used for freight service on the Western Pacific. This locomotive has probably made many countless trips between Oakland, California and Salt Lake City during its lifetime. It is now preserved at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, where this photograph was taken.

There is a noted absence in this collection, the Western Pacific. Not a single one of the units in the Ogden Museum display came from that railroad. Not a single boxcar or other piece of rolling stock is present (compare that to the several DRGW and SP cabooses on property). Inside the museum display there are a few WP timetables and other souvenirs, but not enough to really memorialize the railroad.

8/1/2011, Portola, California; part of the extensive preserved collection of WP equipment in California includes these classic freight units which are maintained with meticulously clean paint. WP 2001 on the far end of this photo is a GP20 and the first EMD unit to be turbocharged during production. Many of these GP units worked freights over the WP mainline and branchlines throughout California, Nevada, and Utah.

A trip to Utah's other railroad preservation sites doesn't yield any better results. The Heber Valley Railroad has a large amount of UP equipment, and their ex-military units are painted in honor of the DRGW. Yet there is not a single piece of WP equipment at Heber, with perhaps only a few old timetables on display inside the station lobby. The Tooele Valley Railroad Museum fares only slightly better, with a few WP photos on the walls. Between the photos of the Tooele Valley Railway and the Union Pacific, those few Western Pacific photos are sort of a "blink and you might miss it" type of phenomenon.

8/1/2011, Portola, California; a preserved WP rail speeder.

The most glaring lack of the Western Pacific is at one of Utah's preserved railway stations, the Rio Grande depot in downtown Salt Lake. The neighborhood is known as the "Rio Grande District," people refer to the station as the "Rio Grande Depot," and people go inside to eat at the "Rio Grande Cafe." It is often ignored that the Rio Grande shared their depot with the Western Pacific, in fact it was at this depot that the most famous train to travel either the DRGW or the WP was interchanged, the original California Zephyr. When Amtrak took over WP passenger operations while the DRGW ran their swansong passenger train, the Rio Grande Zephyr; it seems the Grande had the neon Western Pacific signage removed from the building. There remains little evidence in the present day to show that the depot was once used by the Western Pacific.

8/1/2011, Portola, California; the extensive collection of WP artifacts seen in California makes the lack of WP units in Utah pale in comparison.

What makes this lack of Western Pacific history preserved in Utah strange is that the Western Pacific is a rather well preserved railroad, although the majority of the preservation work is almost exclusive to California. The Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola has a large collection of WP units. The California State Railroad Museum also has a WP unit, and so does the Niles Canyon Railroad. Several Sacramento Northern units (a subsidiary of the WP) and a WP 4-6-0 are preserved at the Western Railway Museum (which also interestingly enough houses other Utah railroad related relics from the Bamberger, the Salt Lake Garfield and Western, and the Kennecott mine). There was even a brief time at the Disneyland Resort where a replica of the Western Pacific hauling California Zephyr was on static display. Even one Western Pacific GP unit made it to preservation outside of California at Elko, Nevada along with an ex-Sacramento Northern NW2 engine in Boulder Nevada (more on that engine later...).

So how did Utah get so shorthanded?

Part of it can be that in railfan culture, the Western Pacific is seen as a "California Railroad." Although the Southern Pacific has a similar reputation, and the Denver and Rio Grande is similarly viewed as a "Colorado Railroad," it seems the WP was been affected by this type of view far more-so than the other mentioned railroads. The reasons for this narrow view are two-fold, the scenery along the WP route in California is world famous. The area surrounding the WP route in the Feather River Canyon in Plumas County is dense forest, with sharp ravines and long bridges built to span obstacles. The Keddie Wye, a large two pronged bridge on this route, is world famous as an unique engineering achievement.

The other factor which contributed to the WP being viewed as a "California Railroad" can be attributed to the population centers near the route. The WP routes in California passed through large cities such as Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco. Railfans who wanted to chase the WP in its canyon routes could easily drive up from Sacramento and railfan the area (they could also visit the nearby SP Donner Summit route, making the area a magnet for railfans looking for some good mountain scenery).

8/1/2011, Portola, California;WP 725 a GP9 unit; was repainted into UP colors after the merger, but its working life as a UP locomotive was short. It ended up on the Iowa Interstate railroad before it was brought to Portola for preservation.

Utah didn't fare well in those two aspects. The Utah portions of the WP passed only through Tooele and Salt Lake counties. The area surrounding the track is desolate desert, in some cases far away from civilization. Beyond the Garfield and Tooele areas, the rest of the WP was viewed towards the Nevada border as "inaccessible." Once in Salt Lake City, the WP hardly fared better. The moment the WP track hit Grant Tower it was no longer considered WP property, but was instead track that legally belonged to the Rio Grande. The WP ran through borrowed space in Rio Grande's Roper Yard. Local railfans often ignored the WP, focusing instead on the far more enticing UP route through Echo Canyon, or the spectacular DRGW route over Soldier Summit.

When the WP was merged into the Union Pacific in 1982 and 1983, there weren't many historical societies which might have been interested in preserving the railroad. The Utah State Railroad Museum wouldn't be founded for another few years. The Tooele Valley Railroad Museum was just barely starting and was focused on the immediate task of preserving the remaining Tooele Valley Railway rolling stock.

The only group in the area that could have taken in Western Pacific equipment was the Heber Creeper (The name was shared by several successive organizations including the Wasatch Mountain Railroad, Heber Creeper Inc, and the Timpanogos Preservation Society). In fact an ex-WP unit did make it to Heber for a time, Sacramento Northern 607 in 1983 (the Sacramento Northern was a regional railroad in California wholly owned by the WP). But the Heber Creeper of this era was financially unstable, and only a few years later the Heber Creeper name fell and the railroad was reorganized as the Heber Valley Railroad in 1990 (which began operation in 1992, with excursions running by 1993). In 1993, the SN 607 was sold to the Nevada State Railroad Museum (Boulder Nevada), where it continues to operate as Nevada Southern Railway 1000 (SN 607 wasn't the only ex-Heber Creeper locomotive to end up in Boulder, Pacific Lumber 35 and UP 6246 are also ex-Heber Creeper equipment that are now on display in Boulder).

So Utah was left without any preserved pieces of WP history in the state.

 8/1/2011, Portola, California; The author posing for a photo inside the cab of an old WP GP unit. No I didn't get to drive it, although this museum famously offers a rent a locomotive program. Maybe someday on a future trip. ;)

We are fortunate though for the work of the California preservation groups that took so much of the old WP under their wings. Without them we might have lost much of the WP to the scrapper's torch. However it is upsetting that so much of the preserved WP is such a long trip for a Utah based railfan.

Could something cause the lack of WP units preserved in Utah to change in the future? It seems at present unlikely. The rail display at Union Station is near capacity, and probably could not accept anymore pieces of equipment. The Tooele Valley Railroad Museum doesn't have any additional capacity. Perhaps the Heber Valley Railway could try and get a piece of WP history in their collection, but between their two 2-8-0 engines under restoration, a 0-6-0 in dire need of a cosmetic restoration, an ex-UP NW2 being rebuilt, and the ex-UP GP now in restoration there too, it seems Heber won't be able to take on many more acquisitions anytime in the near future. Of course, if interest for a piece of WP history ever came to these groups, they could possibly make a trade deal to acquire one of the many WP units currently in California.

Some plans have been considered which might turn this forlorn ALCO S-1 ex-military unit on display at Ogden's Union Station into a representative of the Western Pacific.

Another option to bring some representation of the WP into Utah involves using a locomotive currently owned by the Utah State Railroad Museum. USAF 7277 is an ALCO S-1, a model which was operated by the Western Pacific too. Dan Kuhn a local rail historian (who was highly involved in the acquisition of DRGW 5371) suggested that this unit could be painted in WP colors, to recreate the units once used as switchers at Wendover. While this wouldn't be the most authentic preservation of a unit, it would be the fastest route to getting WP history recognized in Utah.

Utah Railway 3002 might look like another G&W owned locomotive on the Utah Railway; but it started out its life as a Western Pacific locomotive, and is the only ex-WP unit currently working in Utah.

If interest for an authentic WP unit to be preserved in Utah ever surfaced, maybe the search wouldn't have to extend beyond the state borders. The Utah Railway currently rosters an ex-WP GP40 (Utah Railway 3002, ex WP 3525), which is currently working freight service. Perhaps a museum in Utah could petition for the acquisition of this ex-WP unit once it is retired in the far off future. Under this scenario once Utah Railway decides to stop using the unit, this locomotive could be restored to its original WP appearance, and become Utah's first WP unit in preservation. Until then, the Utah Railway 3002 could be perhaps viewed as the WP's sole ambassador in Utah, even if it is dressed in Utah Railway/G&W paint! ;)

Until the current status quo involving WP history in Utah changes, we will have to just wait patiently for the WP name to resurface in Utah; and let our imaginations suffice in the interim.

Until Next Time,
-Jacob Lyman

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