Monday, September 25, 2017

Utah's Early Steam Legacy in Preservation

June 26, 2013; UP 618 on display/in-storage prior to the start of the current restoration effort.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how silent Utah's steam locomotives have been this year. We started off the year with a spectacular showing from UP 844 traveling the former Oregon Shortline Route, then across the Overland out of the state. However since then steam has been notably absent from Utah this year. The two standard gauge steamers at Promontory Summit in the Golden Spike Historic Site remain in operational condition, yet haven't been able to stretch their legs this year due to the need for track repairs at the site. At Heber, UP 618 ticks away slowly in its restoration. In much the same way a child feels the approach to Christmas every year is long and arduous, so to does the local railfan community feel about UP 618... every delay feels like an eternity has been added onto the restoration time; despite the likelihood 618 could return to steam within the next year or two.

However, history often puts things into perspective. In the 1960's there was several years were steam was completely silent in Utah other than the occasional visits from then numbered UP 8444. Yet those years of silence would define the efforts of rail preservation in Utah for years to come.

The decline of steam in Utah was shockingly fast, despite the state's bountiful coal production. The three westernmost mainlines through the state, the Western Pacific, the Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific's former Los Angeles & Salt Lake Route lines; dieselized in rapid succession. The high deserts of Utah, Nevada, and eastern California are among the driest places in the world. All three of the after-mentioned railroads ran through the desolate desert scenery, where water for steam locomotives was a premium commodity. Diesels were embraced with open arms by railroad managers, happy to finally rid their lines of the water guzzling steam engines. Some steam held on in the desert lines with one dispatcher claiming to have sent an 800-series UP Northern through Provo in 1957; and of course steam engines such as UP 618 still reserved for local duties until 1958, yet for all intents and purposes steam was all but dead on the Utah portions of the LASL, SP, and WP by the early 50's (Signor, p. 165)

July, 2017; Tintic Junction roundhouse abandoned foundation. The advent of diesel locomotives on the former Los Angeles & Salt Lake Route lines ushered in changes in how local branchlines were operated in Utah. The three stall engine house which once housed a fleet of unique Union Pacific Shay locomotives, was unneeded after new diesel era regulations put into place by 1949 allowed the Tintic branchlines to be switched by road crews (Signor, p.170). EMD SW1's and other earlier diesel switchers replaced the Shays, and eventually the branchlines they served vanished themselves. 

The railroad mainlines on the eastern end of Utah were a bit slower in taking on diesel engines, but not by much. The Utah Railway despite being a coal hauler, happily dumped their steam engines in favor of a fresh fleet of ALCO diesels with their first diesels coming online in 1952; and steam coming to an end on their line by '57. The DRGW had beat them to retiring their mainline steamers a year earlier, with steam gone from their Utah Division by 1954 (although their narrow gauge steam equipment further east in Colorado/New Mexico would survive for many more years forming the groundwork for the narrow gauge tourist railroads over there). The UP retained their steam engines in areas with more abundant water sources such as the former Oregon Shortline and the original Transcontinental Route longer than it had on the LA&SL, but when the era of UP steam finally wrapped up in the fall rushes of the late 50's; the grand finale of Big Boys pounding the rails was taking place in Wyoming on Sherman Hill, not in Utah were diesels had taken over traffic. The UP diesel facility built in Salt Lake City in that era, affirmed UP's commitment to the new method of motive power.

UP's steam swansong in Utah took place on small branchlines and heavily trafficked industrial areas. UP 618 itself is a representation of this twilight era; first working the OSL era branchlines in Logan, Utah; then ending up in the Provo Roundhouse to haul freight into the Geneva Steel plant. By 1958 though, the 618's mainline life came to an end, and it was stuffed onto display at the State Fairgrounds in Salt Lake City.

The last operating steam engine in regular revenue freight service was the Tooele Valley Railway #11. It seems there was no reason for it to last as long as it did other than its parent railroad being extremely frugal in its acquisition of new locomotives. A diesel locomotive was demonstrated on the line around 1948, a Baldwin DRS-6-4-1500 demonstrator #1501. But after its brief testing in Tooele was done, it was Kennecott who purchased it for use in their mine on the other side of the Oquirrh Range, with Tooele remaining under steam for another six years. In 1955 when the Tooele Valley finally went to purchase their first diesel, it was an EMD SW1200 which came to the shortline. The SW1200 bumped all the remaining steam of the shortline roster except for #11 within a year of arrival. The reason #11 survived past its fellow steamers? It had been shopped recently and the shortline needed a backup engine for the days the diesel was in the shop itself... So #11 stayed active, if only as a spare locomotive.

About twice every year the SW1200 in Tooele was coupled onto a local train and taken into Salt Lake City for an inspection at the Union Pacific shops. During the brief time it was out of town, steam would again run on the Tooele Valley as #11 tended to the line's needs much the same way it and its sister engines had done for over 40 years before the diesel. However when the diesel returned from its regular inspections, #11 returned to its stable; only fired up in extreme cases on the shortline with occasional heavy traffic or when the diesel misbehaved mechanically. Deferred repairs on #11 meant that Utah steam was dying, slowly; as the Tooele Valley ran the steamer into its twilight years. Finally in 1962 the fires in #11 were dropped after the engine struggled up the line in a ceremonial final run. Within a few years, the engine was sitting in a park surrounded by a small chain link fence, a hand-me-down SW900 having taken its place on the Tooele Valley.

June 2, 1979. A photo showing the state Tooele Valley #11 was in post retirement from 1964 to 1982. The location is the city park next to the city pool and across the road from the high school. In 1982, the engine was moved to its current location in the Tooele Valley Railway Museum. Norm Metcalf photo (Matt Liverani collection). Used with permission.

From 1962, until the beginning of the Golden Spike Historical Site and the Wasatch Mountain Railway (Heber Creeper); steam was as absent in Utah as it is now. Again the drought of steam locomotives was briefly punctured by Union Pacific's steam program; with UP #844/8444 making a few trips into Utah during the formative years of the UP steam group. On one instance, the FEF-3 in May 1961 after having finished an excursion trip, was called to provide helper service to a train departing Ogden and heading up Weber Canyon. 844 rode the train as a helper to Wahsatch. Railfan Gordon Glattenberg who witnessed the sight of 844 providing helper service was amazed at the lack of a crowd it had drawn, "I had not seen another railfan! In fact, no one else had even glanced at the train!"(Crossroads of the West, p.16). It is commonly believed that this was the last steam helper move between Ogden and Green River.

It was the beginning of steam preservation at Heber and Promontory which once again brought steam locomotives back to Utah on a regular basis.

The Heber operations can trace their origins a group of Utah railfans who owned the Rayonier 110 a logging 2-6-6-2T from Washington State, and were looking for a place to restore and run it. Their attention was drawn to the Heber Branch of the DRGW, and they began an effort to acquire the line to start a tourist railroad. After a legal battle for ownership of the line concluded, a group of railfans, Heber businessmen, and the NRHS had secured the preservation of the line from Bridal Veil Falls to Heber City by 1970. During the process of securing the line, the Heber group had to find a more suitable steam engine than the 110, one which could be restored to operation easily and could operate their expected trains.

March, 2016. To paraphrase a line written by Mark Bassett the director of the Nevada Northern Railway and his wife Joan, in regards to the engines at their railroad, "There is no reason for these pieces of equipment to have survived to the present day other than serendipitous luck."* The same could be said of many old locomotives across the country, Tooele Valley Railway #11 included. Avoiding Heber's attempt to acquire it in the 1960's meant the spotlight was instead granted to UP 618 saving that engine of a possible demise. By escaping further attempts to obtain the engine for Heber throughout the 1970's; #11 ultimately had the chance to return to display next to the Tooele Valley's depot and company HQ which was converted into a local museum. Furthermore, by remaining in Tooele it escaped the tumultuous scattering of the Heber Creeper steam collection during the liquidation of the collection during the 1990's. Sure the weather and elements have played their toll on #11 as the early Heber volunteers warned, but perhaps luck is still in the engines future. It should be worth mentioning Nevada Northern #97 a sister engine to TOV #11, did not share the same luck of some of its other NN brethren or its relative in Tooele; likely having been scrapped to feed the smelting/milling operations in McGill.

Not surprisingly, the Heber group went after the most recently retired steamer in the state, Tooele Valley #11. #11 had only spent five years on display in a public park when the Wasatch Mountain Railway group approached the city about obtaining the engine. To paraphrase the way my late grandfather described it, "the Mayor (of Tooele) was ready to sell it, with equipment ready to move it; but then the people in town found out about it and kicked up quite the fuss."** Although the Heber group reminded the people of Tooele that steam engines displayed in parks outdoors were often subject to deterioration due to the elements, the town was vehement that they believed #11 belonged in its hometown and not in Heber. Considering many in town owed their jobs to the smelter at the end of the Tooele Valley line, and with friends and family members having worked on the shortline railroad; it is no surprise they fiercely defended #11 staying in its hometown. Having been completely rejected by Tooele, the Wasatch Mountain Railway shifted its attention to other steam engines in the state.

June 26, 2013; UP 618 watches on as people mill around the coaches for the diesel powered train to Vivian Park which had departed Heber earlier that day. Before the fire in 618 was dropped in 2010 it went on a steam photo freight where Trains editor Jim Wrinn described, "To see the engine... and its immaculate paint job, you wouldn't think that it is ready for (restoration) work, but to listen to the running gear slap, you know it is one tired engine." Speaking of luck as mentioned in the previous caption, UP 618 not only escaped an untimely disposal at the fairgrounds thanks to the efforts of the early volunteers at Heber, but also was the only steam engine from the original Heber Creeper-era of the line to remain on the property after the other steam engines were liquidated and sold off. 

Meanwhile at the Utah State Fairground, the fairgrounds management was looking to get rid of UP 618. Some rumors suggest that they considered that if they wouldn't be able to find a new home for the engine, that they would instead dig a trench next to its display stand and use a bulldozer to shove the engine into a shallow grave! The NRHS and Wasatch Mountain Railway about a year after their rejection in Tooele; had made plans to rescue the UP 618 and make it the flagship locomotive of the new tourist line in Heber. Union Pacific helped bring 618 out of the fairpark and back to the rails; and by November 1970 the engine was in the SLG&W yards. By December the locomotive was back in its old stomping grounds in Provo. After 12 years of retirement, the Heber crew (by modern standards a rather unorthodox, risky, and now likely illegal move) straight away steamed up the UP 618 on the DRGW Heber Branch on December 5th, and by December 7th the engine was pulling a train of preserved equipment up the branch.  DRGW MOW workers began work on pulling up the rails behind the steamer on the 5th, isolating Heber from the national rail system (EDIT: Although some rails were removed in 1970, the DRGW had them replaced and interchanged with Heber one last time in 1971 before abandoning the line completely). Fortunately the 618 didn't blow up on its inaugural run. Even more amazing it made its first tourist run a month later on January 9, 1971. With a crowd waiting to board the train including the state governor, the train derailed on a frozen crossing in Provo Canyon. "The governor instead became witness to the inaugural rerailing." (Crossroads of the West, p. 80) 618 was sidelined again in 1976, returning again in 1986-1990, and then making its longest running excursion career from 1995-2009 with a steam special in 2010 before the current restoration work on the engine began around 2013-2014.

While many other steam engines would eventually join UP 618 at Heber (and an equal amount having left due to bankruptcy and reorganization which affected the railroad in the 80's-early 90's); the Rayonier 110 which was the incentive to start the tourist line at Heber, sat on the deadline now seen as "unfit" for restoration. After the bankruptcies forced the 110 out of Heber and to the railroad Museum in Boulder City, Nevada; it was bought by the Black Hills Central Railroad which runs in the tourist heavy country around Mt. Rushmore. The locomotive which was seen as "unfit" for restoration, now runs regular tourist trains as the only articulated logging steam locomotive still in operation in the United States. The beautiful restoration work done by the Black Hills on the 110 has not gone unnoticed, and the articulated engine graced the cover of the 2015 edition of Trains Magazine's guidebook to tourist and historic railroads.

September, 2015. Markings on the firebox of the UP 119 replica in service at Promontory Summit, used in modern day ultrasound methods of safety checking steam locomotives.

Across the state, at Promontory Summit in 1969; railroad enthusiasts and the National Park Service prepared a special celebration for the 100 year anniversary of the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad. For the occasion two static ex-Virginia and Truckee locomotives used in Hollywood films were acquired the Inyo and the Dalton; which were both dressed up in faux-decorations to make them appear like the long gone UP 119 and CPPR 60 "Jupiter" locomotives. As display pieces the two engines were toured around the country on flatcars during 1969. Then the two engines were displayed in Promontory as part of the new historic site. I could find no evidence suggesting the engines were operational during their time in Utah.

The need for operating replicas at the historic site spurred the National Parks Service to commission the construction of two new steam locomotives to replace the two aging V&T engines. The NPS began looking towards Hollywood for talent who could produce two authentic replicas. The group selected to assemble the two locomotives was the O'Connor Engineering firm. Chad O'Connor the founder of the firm was a mechanical engineer by trade, train enthusiast by hobby in southern California whose homemade camera tripod system he used for railfanning was discovered by fellow railfan and Hollywood legend Walt Disney. Walt encountered Chad trackside while railfanning Southern Pacific's Daylight streamlined train (Broggie, p.149-150). With Walt requesting Chad's camera mounting system for use in his films, O'Connor Engineering was soon founded to build and distribute Chad's "railfan's camera mount" to the filmmaking industry. 

September, 2015. CPRR #60 Jupiter replica in steam at Promontory Summit during one of the National Historic Site's regular steam demonstrations. Originally painted red under direction of Ward Kimball, further historical research has lead the site to switch the colors to a more accurate blue primary color.

In the mid 1970's O'Connor's love for trains lead to his firm receiving the contract to recreate the two historic Golden Spike locomotives. Without any original blueprints the firm had to use old photos and engineering guides to recreate the engines to the best of their ability. As O'Connor Engineering finished up their work on the two new locomotives, the Inyo and Dayton were repatriated to the Nevada State Railroad Museum collection in 1978. On May 10, 1979 the two new engines were commissioned on the 110th anniversary of the Golden Spike. Their stunning red paint was a choice of Ward Kimball, a Disney animator and famous railroad preservationist. Ward also contributed to the paintings on various parts of the locomotives. For nearly 40 years these two engines have operated without much pause in the State of Utah, with the NPS using the off-season winter months to maintain and shop the locomotives; this year's break being one of the few noticeable absences ever in the sites history.

September, 2015. The UP 119 replica with its clean lines runs light around the Golden Spike Historic Site on a demonstration run. This coal burning engine was based on the Rogers built original. Both of the replicas were originally made to burn fuel oils, but later converted to their original fuels (coal and wood).

In conclusion, it should be noted that much of Utah's modern day steam preservation is the result of a single generation many years ago, who answered the lack of steam locomotives in the state with their own efforts to restore and preserve what they had available. The fact UP 119, CPPR 60, and UP 618 are still the stars of Utah's steam railroading scene is a testament to that legacy. While we all have missed this year the sound of their whistles blowing through the air, as their stacks chuff along the clanking of their running gear; we are waiting anxiously for their return.

-Jacob Lyman

Currently Operational Steam Engines in the State of Utah:
UP 119 replica, CPPR 60 "Jupiter" replica (both stored operational, awaiting track repairs at site).

Current Steam Engine restoration projects in the State of Utah:
UP 618 (Heber), Great Western 75 (Heber), DRGW 223 (R&LHS Golden Spike Chapter).

Static Steam Engine Displays in Utah
Tooele Valley Railway #11 (Tooele), Columbia Steel #300 (ongoing cosmetic restoration, Heber), UP 833 (Ogden), UP 4436 (Ogden).

It is worth mentioning that Steam Locomotive Information also includes the two steam locomotives used at the Lagoon amusement park and the static locomotive there. Since those three locomotives are 24" Gauge, I don't personally consider them among the "steam engines in the state" because to include them also would require the admission of all the hobbyist locomotives in similar and smaller gauges used in backyard railroads to the list too. I really don't want to track down every backyard live steamer in the state and try and list it here. While we definitely admire the backyard hobby people who run their own steamers, their work would be better admired another time.

*The direct quotation of Mark and J. Joan Bassett is as follows, "The surviving locomotives and ore, freight, and passenger cars all share one trait - serendipitous luck. There is no reason why they should have survived, but they did." (Images of Rail: Nevada Northern Railway, p.118)

**My grandfather was prone to telling most of his stories with a strong opinion and a bit of exaggeration; so I haven't seen any other source other than his word suggesting Heber had actually brought moving equipment to Tooele to move #11 right away. However I haven't seen anything to disprove the notion either. My grandfather thanks to his job at Anaconda/ARCO in the 1980's had inside connections with old friends who relayed interesting behind the scenes stuff to him. For example one of the claims my grandfather made shortly before his death was that from his friends still in the mining industry; he had heard Kennecott/Rio Tinto's new Molybdenum mill at their smelter site was built and had yet to have been really used due to the market price of "Molly" falling shortly after completion. That and the landslide which hampered production at Bingham meant the new mill was sitting empty and unused. I took his word with a grain of salt, but sure enough in the summer of 2017 I drove past the Molybdenum mill and realized it was being demolished! Just as my grandfather had said, it was a wasted investment which wasn't used, and he died before he could see Kennecott biting the bullet and demolishing the failed $270 million dollar project. As such, I take a good portion of the claims he made as highly valid unless proven otherwise.

It is worth mentioning I have only been around UP 618 once when it was operating, as a young kid in the summer of 1997! It has been a long time indeed since I have last seen it.

The Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad Company: Union Pacific's Historic Salt Lake Route (First edition); John R. Signor.

Walt Disney's Railroad Story; Michael Broggie.

Crossroads of the West: A Photographic Look at Fifty Years of Railroading in Utah; Blair Kooistra, James Belmont, Dave Gayer.
Heber Valley Historic Equipment
Tooele Valley Ry. Locomotives

National Park Service History on the Jupiter and UP 119 locomotives:

Trains Magazine newswire article on UP 618's freight charter run in 2010:

UP 618 preparation for first steam up after retirement, December 1970:

O'Connor Engineering Website with video film about the construction of the Golden Spike engines:

UP 618 builder's plate.

No comments:

Post a Comment