OGDEN — The anniversary of the “Wedding of the Rails” wasn’t the only instance of two groups coming together in Ogden this week.
Among the thousands of people and many events that have descended upon Ogden for the Golden Spike’s sesquicentennial, it’s fitting that to accompany the Spike 150 event, two historical train societies held their conventions together for the first time.
Members of the Union Pacific Historical Society and the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society held their yearly conventions in downtown Ogden, the convention beginning Thursday and continuing into Saturday.
With holding their national conventions together, the groups are seeing a larger number of attendees in recent memory, according to David Coscia, the convention’s planner for the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society.
Coscia said that over 500 people registered to attend the convention, with typically 100-200 attending from his organization in other years. The joint convention was held at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center on Washington Boulevard.
The convention featured a number of presentations regarding the historical significance of both railways, including the roles that Ogden played in those bits of history.
Dozens of vendors filled a convention center ballroom with nearly every piece of historical hardware one could collect from trains.
“If you can find it and salvage it, any aspect of a train is a collectible,” Coscia said.
Vendors sold train lights, old Chinaware, and many other pieces of memorabilia from a bygone era. Others, like Ed Hall, president of the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society, sell coveted model trains.
Hall went into detail while talking about a model of the AC7, a steam engine that was used by Southern Pacific from 1910 to 1950. He explained that the cab of this model was made to be in the front, so the engine could safely travel through tunnels.
The train’s exhaust was in the rear, made so to ensure that the leftover gas emitted by the train would expel safely behind the train crew so they couldn’t choke on the exhaust. The AC7 would often travel through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, sometimes going through tunnels over a mile in length.
Today, a model of the AC7 would retail for about $2,000, Hall said.
On another end of the room sat Jean-Guy Dube, an architectural historian. An architect by trade, Dube creates blueprints and 3D models for train depots from years past.
Dube spoke Thursday on the history of Ogden’s train depots, including the current Union Station’s three predecessors. He explains that the current Union Station, which houses the Utah State Railroad Museum, was designed by John and Donald Parkinson, a father-son team of architects.
Ogden’s current Union Station was opened in 1924 after a fire had destroyed most of the old structure, which was later torn down. Following the completion of the new station, an Italian-renaissance styled building, the Parkinsons would go on to design the Union Station for Los Angeles, a station Dube says was known as America’s last great train station.
The Parkinsons would also later be commissioned to build other iconic buildings in Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Los Angeles City Hall, Dube said.
“Almost all passenger trains coming from either the east or west coasts passed through Ogden, so a lot of people have experienced this depot,” Dube said. “Because it was a junction point for both Southern Pacific and Union Pacific, so many people passed through Ogden, especially through the railway station.
Other historical anecdotes were discussed Saturday.
During John Ott’s talk about the “Iron Horses of Promontory,” he revisited the history of the trains that made the Wedding of the Rails possible, the historic Jupiter and the Union Pacific No. 119. Ott talked about the odd colorways of trains in the 1800s, and the characters behind the many locomotive companies of the day.
Ott, who illustrates trains in his spare time, displayed dozens of modern 3D models depicting the trains as they were, instead of how they appeared in the black and white and sepia-toned photos of the 1800s.
Out of the over 500 people who attended the convention, many were from out of state, even from different continents. Coscia said he knew of a few convention-goers that had traveled from Europe just to attend the Spike 150 and joint-convention festivities.
Dube, a resident of California himself, said this is the second time he’s visited Ogden and the state railroad museum, the other visit included driving through a snowstorm and later getting locked out of the museum. This time the warmer weather has made his visit has been much more enjoyable, though the historical significance is still just as poignant now as it was then.
“With Ogden being a junction point for these two large railroads for so many years, and the fact that it’s been so well preserved, it’s a wonderful glimpse back to the heyday of passenger trains,” Dube said.