OGDEN — With the clock ticking, a local group of train enthusiasts are hoping Ogden City will work with them to avoid a potentially “embarrassing situation.”
As the sesquicentennial of the completion of the transcontinental railroad rapidly approaches — the anniversary is May 10 — the city and the Ogden Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society are revisiting an issue regarding the usage of Ogden’s Union Station and a historic locomotive housed there.
Since the early 1990s, the Ogden Golden Spike chapter has been working in a small shop at the northwest corner of the station to restore a narrow gauge C-16 Denver & Rio Grande Western locomotive — one of only two existing locomotives made by Grant Locomotive Works, a locomotive manufacturer that operated from 1867 to 1895.
The antique, numbered 223, was retired from traditional use in 1941 and donated to Salt Lake City. It stood for years in the city’s Pioneer Park. In the 1980s, after years accumulating rust from being outside in the elements, the machine was moved to the Salt Lake City Union Station on Rio Grande Street.
In 1991, No. 223 was moved to Ogden, and soon after, the group of local train enthusiasts came together to restore the old hulk and get it running again.
But the work abruptly stopped late last year. After the city regained control of the Union Station in 2017 (for years it had been run by the Union Station Foundation), it took a microscope to all facets of the operation. In late 2018, access to the shop was cut off to chapter members as the city sorted out legal and liability issues related to the locomotive and the restoration work.
In the months since access was closed off, an agreement between the city and the restoration team has not been reached.
Steve Jones, president of the Ogden Golden Spike chapter, addressed the Ogden City Council and administration earlier this week, letting the entities know what kind of bind his organization was in. Jones said an earlier attempt at compromise from the city did not work for his group, saying the city’s proposal was “something that could not possibly be successful to implement.”
So the chapter retained an attorney (using money previously tabbed for the restoration) to come up with an alternate proposal to the city’s, one that Jones said “reflected the way we’ve been working for almost 30 years.”
But that deal didn’t work for the city.
“At this point were at an impasse,” Jones said. “And we’re heading for a very embarrassing situation.”
Jones said as part of upcoming Spike 150 celebrations, representatives from 12 other historical locomotive chapters around the country are planning to come to Ogden.
“And we can’t even show them the progress we’ve made,” Jones said.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said he appreciates and respects the work the group has done, “but where it’s a public facility, we do have guidelines we need to work within.”
Caldwell also said negotiations have slowed because the restoration group’s attorney has requested the city only communicate with him.
“That kind of limits what we can do from that point forward,” Caldwell said. “It takes some of the flexibility out of it.”
A meeting between Ogden and the chapter’s legal representative was held Wednesday and while no immediate action has occurred, Caldwell said the city wants to continue the dialogue, hopefully to get the group back into the station.
“We still think you are an important group down there,” Caldwell told Jones Tuesday. “I’m certain there is something we can do with that.”