OGDEN — Ushered out of the Union Station shops, volunteers who have been restoring an 1881 locomotive are taking a philosophical view amid a batch of legal uncertainties.
“The one thing that is a little bit concerning, but at this point is not a red flag, is that we have been asked not to go into the restoration building until there’s an occupancy agreement,” said Steve Jones of Ogden, president of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society’s Golden Spike Chapter.
Group members have been working since 1992 to restore Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad locomotive No. 223, an 1881 engine that sat rusting in the open for 50 years in Salt Lake City.
But after the Union Station Foundation relinquished control of the historic station several months ago, Ogden City has been looking into all facets of the operation.
That includes what’s happening with 223.
“The world has changed,” Jones said Friday. “We have a much more litigious society than when this project first started. Back then it was probably fine to do things on a handshake. Now, if something goes wrong, someone needs to make sure everything is covered.”
At a meeting last week, city officials told chapter members a proposed agreement would be drafted that addresses restoration of the locomotive and chapter members’ access to the shops, and the engine itself, Jones said.
“If it’s a simple document saying it’s status quo, no big deal,” he said. “If it ends up being a document that treats us like we were a commercial or for-profit entity, it could end up being an issue we have to dig into.”
Tom Christopulos, the city’s community and economic development director, said by email officials have been working to determine ownership of the locomotive, address relationships with volunteer groups, and chart the historic station’s future.
“We have challenges and need to consider fairness, use of space and liability to the city,” Christopulos said. “We also have to determine how assets will be managed. And how to maintain relationships with those who (do) volunteer work on these assets.”
Jones said he sees the city taking “baby steps” to determine ownership of the locomotive, formalize a relationship with his chapter, and work toward long-term plans for the station.
The chapter’s members are sanguine about being shut out of the shops.
“Everyone is pretty much hopefully optimistic and taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said. “Until we see what the city is proposing, we really don’t know.”
Beyond the derailed restoration project, the city and state are working to resolve the question: Who owns locomotive 223?
“We think that we have determined who has the rights to 223, through the Division of State History,” Christopulos said. “We need formal transfer of title.”
After Union Station was named site of the Utah State Railroad Museum, the state agency agreed that the locomotive could be moved to Ogden for restoration. But documentation of that move has not been found.
“The city is trying to get a document from the state that says it’s OK to proceed with restoration,” Jones said. “That’s what we intended by bringing it up here in the first place.”
Kevin Fayles, assistant director of the Division of State History, said there’s “no squabble” about the locomotive.
“We’re just trying to find the paperwork,” he said.
At the State Archives, “The robot that gets records is out of order,” Fayles said.
“We’re just trying to find these records of 27 some years ago and see if we can transfer ownership if it is requested,” he said.
“Ultimately we would like to support the conservation of the locomotive,” Christopulos said.
Jones’s group has been restoring the locomotive bit by bit. It recently rebuilt the wooden cab and the tender car that carried fuel and water for the locomotive.
But a lot of work remains, including rebuilding of the boiler, which would cost about $300,000. The group has been raising funds and trying to recruit additional skilled volunteers.
“With the long-term goal of renovating and restoring Union Station, there will be some needed changes in traditional and informal arrangements that have been made in the past,” Christopulos said. “And while no one particularly likes change, we hope that those involved will understand the need for the community to provide an environment in which multiple entities and interests can be supported.”