OGDEN — Ogden City and the Utah Division of State History are grappling over ownership of a 137-year-old steam locomotive that a determined band of volunteers has been painstakingly restoring since 1992.
The city even issued a stop-work order to the volunteers in October, said Steve Jones, president of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society’s Golden Spike Chapter.
After further discussions, the city allowed the volunteers to keep working on the locomotive while the apparent ownership tangle is resolved, Jones said.
Union Station Manager Damen Burnham and Kevin Fayles, assistant director of the Division of State History, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ownership issues.
The object of the conflict is Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad locomotive No. 223, which was built in 1881 and then suffered decades of neglect after being taken out of service in 1940. It was a work locomotive, hauling lumber and mined minerals.
The railroad donated the locomotive to Salt Lake City in 1952 (it had been on display there since 1941). The city in turn donated it to the state in 1979.
According to the Utah State Railroad Museum at Ogden Union Station, 223 is the sole surviving engine built by the Grant Locomotive Works in Colorado. It was built to operate on narrow-gauge tracks, which became less-used after most railroads adopted standard-gauge tracks.
After sitting unattended in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park, exposed to the elements for 40 years, the locomotive was moved to languish another 10 years behind the Rio Grande terminal in Salt Lake.
“No maintenance, no protection, no nothing,” Jones said.
In 1992, news accounts at the time said, the history division gave the locomotive to the Railroad Museum and moved it to Union Station to be restored. That’s when the Golden Spike Chapter was created, Jones said.
In the 26 years since, a few dozen volunteer craftsmen, engineers and others have toiled on the historic locomotive. They are invested in the idea of restoring a part of Western railroad history for the education and enjoyment of the community, not just train junkies.
So why is there an ownership hassle now?
“Evidently when it was brought up here for restoration, the i’s were not dotted and the t’s were not crossed,” Jones said in an email explaining the situation to the Golden Spike Chapter’s parent national society. “No one has a paper trail documenting the change of ownership.”
He said the chapter is trying to stake out its territory.
“I have asked Ogden City that as part of the agreement being negotiated between Ogden and the state that the Golden Spike Chapter ... be formally named as the conservator for 223,” his email said. “That simply documents the role we have been performing since 223 started its trip from SLC to Ogden many years ago.”
Jones, the 67-year-old owner of an Ogden software development company, said the volunteers work three hours every Saturday on 223. They recently finished rebuilding the wooden cab and they reconstructed the engine’s attached tender car “from the wheels up.”
The work is taking so long because the workforce is all volunteer and materials cost so much.
Jay Hudson of Ogden, another volunteer, said the group plans to exhibit the tender car at Union Station during the 150th anniversary celebration of the joining of the transcontinental rails in May 2019.
The group says it may need to seek outside expertise for reconstruction of the locomotive boiler, perhaps $300,000. The anniversary open house will be a fundraising opportunity, Jones said.
“If the boiler ends up in the same situation as the tender, that we need to start over and build a new one, it will be very, very expensive,” Jones said. “We can’t do that all with good-will volunteers.”
There’s no fixed timetable for completing the locomotive project.
“I’ll probably be dead before it’s done,” Hudson said.
“Some people call this a hobby, a bunch of old guys telling stories or occasionally doing some work,” Hudson said. “But the guy who started this (Maynard Morris) was a nuclear engineer, and we have all the different talents it takes to do this kind of work.
“We even have a guy who takes photos who played with the Benny Goodman band.”
Jones and John Barrett, a retired industrial mechanical engineer, gave visitors a tour of the project Saturday. The rusted boiler and the disintegrating original tender car sit just outside the Union Station train shop.
The locomotive’s wheels and related hardware take up a large area inside the shop. Barrett pointed out several places where welders have repaired cracked and damaged places.
The restored tender car, beautifully painted and lettered, dominates the far south end of the shop.
Jones pointed out the platform at the front of the car where the tender’s fireman would work, moving coal and water to the locomotive.
Barrett and Jones said the group’s needs boil down to two things: Money and people. The more of both, the faster the project may be finished.
The chapter has collected $2,200 of a desired $50,000 through a GoFundMe page, and the open house next spring may provide another boost.
Jones said they hope to restore the locomotive to full operation. Union Station has no narrow-gauge track, so either some would have to be added for demonstrations of the locomotive or it would need to be shipped somewhere else.
In any case, the locomotive and its volunteer guardians represent a spark of history that is being lost.
“The mechanical era is almost gone,” Barrett said.