OGDEN — Think Dale Spaulding is excited about the upcoming 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad?
“Beyond my toenails,” he gushes.
So pumped is Spaulding about the sesquicentennial celebration that he plans to close up his shop (a train-related business, by the way) and take rail-loving friends and family on a road trip to see one of the most famous steam engines of the West.
“A steam locomotive is almost like a living, breathing animal,” Spaulding said in explaining the appeal. “You can hear them breathing, and the steam makes them seem alive.”
According to the Union Pacific website, the massive Big Boy No. 4014 steam locomotive — the world’s only operating Big Boy — will be participating in “The Great Race to Ogden,” traveling from the UP Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Ogden from May 4-8.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 8, the locomotive will leave Evanston, Wyoming, arriving a few hours later in Ogden.
“So me and my motley crew are going to go up to Evanston early on that day and follow it down to Ogden,” Spaulding said. “We’ll just drive alongside it.”
Well, them and every other train enthusiast in the country. Spaulding says the route will likely be crowded with rail fans that day as Big Boy makes its run to Ogden.
“We’re going to be driving the Utah Highway Patrol nuts,” he said. “We will not be alone in this process, I guarantee. It’ll be like that cattle drive from Morgan on I-84 — only it’ll be a bunch of cars and vans. It’s going to be sheer craziness for awhile.”
Big Boy? Try ‘Wasatch’
According to Union Pacific promotional materials, 25 Big Boy locomotives were built exclusively for the railroad, with the first delivered in 1941. Their massive size was legendary — 132 feet long and weighing 1.2 million pounds — and they primarily operated between Ogden and Cheyenne.
Spaulding says the Big Boy locomotive has a special significance to Ogden. He said Union Pacific wanted a single engine that could haul a 150-car train out of Ogden and get it through the Wasatch Mountains to Green River, Wyoming.
“So they went back to the drawing board and came up with a massive locomotive, created for Ogden,” Spaulding said. “Union Pacific was going to call it a ‘Wasatch’ class, but what happened was a workman there in Schenectady, New York — where the ALCO (American Locomotive Company) plant was — scribbled “Big Boy” in chalk on the side of the cylinder because he’d never seen one that big. And the name stuck, and the ‘Wasatch’ got lost.”
844 and 4014, nose-to-nose
Also working its way to Junction City in “The Great Race to Ogden” will be the Living Legend No. 844, the last steam locomotive delivered to Union Pacific. The two engines will be featured in a celebratory event in Ogden, with the festivities streamed live at 10:30 a.m. May 9 on the Union Pacific Facebook page.
Spaulding says he’d love to see the 844 and 4014 nose-to nose, but he’s not sure he wants to brave the expected crowds in downtown Ogden.
“I understand there’s not a hotel room from Brigham City to Provo that weekend,” he said.
After the two locomotives are on display in Ogden through the May 10 sesquicentennial celebration, they’ll then participate in “The Great Race from Ogden,” double-heading (defined as using two locomotives at the front of a train, each operated individually by its own crew) back to Evanston and eventually the steam shop in Cheyenne.
So on May 12, Spaulding and his “motley crew” plan to repeat the process, again closing up shop and following the two engines on their eastbound trip back home.
“My wife is not a train person, so she probably won’t go,” Spaulding said. “But the grandkids and my boy and the helpers here at the store, we’ll all be heading out.”
A Wonderful World
Ah, the store. Spaulding is the longtime owner of Wonderful World of Trains, a model train shop at 3061 Washington Blvd., in Ogden. In honor of the sesquicentennial, Spaulding has been hard at work building a model train museum in a small shed behind the shop. He’s calling it the Toots Toy Train Museum; as of press time the grand opening was scheduled for Saturday, May 4.
“At this museum, everybody gets to run the trains,” he said. “I’m hoping to introduce as many kids as I can to the fun that can be had — to let them know there’s life beyond the iPad.”
Spaulding said the museum pieces come from his own personal model train collection, but it represents only about 10 percent of all that he owns. He hopes to raise money for an even bigger museum in the future.
Describing himself as “an old farm boy from Hooper,” Spaulding has had a lifelong love affair with trains.
“I always liked to see the big trains as a kid,” he recalls.
In those days, when you lived out west in Hooper, there were only two ways to get to the big city of Ogden, according to Spaulding — either over 33rd Street, which was a level crossing (“You had to cross 14 tracks, as I remember,” he says), or over 24th Street.
“Either way was gangbusters for those of us who loved trains,” he said.
Although the 24th Street crossing gave you a bird’s-eye view, and there were always plenty of trains to look at, 33rd Street was the route Spaulding loved the best.
“It was up close and personal with the trains,” he said.
Catching train fever
When his cousins got older and got their first electric trains, Spaulding said his uncle gave him their old wind-up trains.
“I got to play with those wind-up trains, and that was my first introduction to model trains,” he said.
Even from the beginning, Spaulding played with the trains a little differently than most kids.
“I’d be at my grandma’s house and set up the trains,” he said, “but instead of making a loop, I’d set the tracks side-by-side, the way I saw them on 33rd Street.”
Spaulding says his grandmother would often take old oil cans, cut the ends out of them, and make tunnels for his toy trains.
Spaulding played with those wind-up trains until he was 6 years old. That year — it was 1955, as he recalls — his father showed him a mail-order catalog.
“It was Sears or Montgomery Ward or something like that,” Spaulding said, “and my dad said, ‘Do you like these trains here? Which one do you like?’”
Sure enough, come Christmas time Spaulding got his first Lionel electric train.
“On Christmas we had a nice, pretty, stained plywood table in the front room, with a stack of track, a stack of train boxes, and a transformer,” he said. “My deal for Christmas was that I had to figure out how to put it all together.”
Spaulding has been putting them together ever since.
Sometime that following year, Spaulding’s mother took him to the George A. Lowe Hardware Co., which featured a large working Lionel Train display.
“It was great fun to watch, and mind-boggling for a kids,” he remembers. “My mom used to drag me from one dress store or shoe store to another, and that would get old quick for a 6-year-old. But once we found out about the model train display at George A. Lowe’s, she could just park me there and go and do her shopping.”
A store is born
A 1967 Roy High School graduate, Spaulding served a mission in Australia for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He came home, got engaged at Easter and was married by August.
Spaulding had a little model railroad store in the basement of his house when he got married. But then, when the oil embargo hit in 1973, he decided it would be easier to move the store to Ogden rather than having people come all the way out to Hooper just to buy a train.
Spaulding’s model train store started out in downtown Ogden, but it was eventually displaced when the Ogden City Mall was built. In 1981, Spaulding purchased an old house at 3061 Washington Blvd. His Wonderful World of Trains store has been there ever since.
“We’ve been through everything there,” he said. “We’ve been held up, broke in to — run down the list, it’s probably happened to us.”
They even had a fire in 1992 that took the store out of play for about a year.
But business has been good, Spaulding says, and every year it picks up just a little bit more.
Something about a train
Even in today’s high-tech world, Spaulding said trains — both the real and toy ones — still hold a fascination for people.
“There’s still something very intriguing about putting a train set together, the challenge in doing it and making it work,” he said. “It’s quite an accomplishment. And the real-estate negotiations with the rest of the family — the wife — that’s the toughest part of the deal.”
Spaulding said one of the attractions of toy trains is that it gives you something extremely big and powerful that you can control in a much smaller size, at home.
“You may be working for somebody else all your life, and you might enjoy that work, or you might not,” he said. “But there’s something about being able to be your own boss and realize, ‘Hey, it’s my railroad. I can run it any way I want.’”
As the celebration for the transcontinental railroad sesquicentennial nears, Spaulding said Ogden just wouldn’t be Ogden as we know it today if not for the railroad. He calls the transcontinental railroad a boom for the nation, and a boom for the city.
“Because it was a hub out West, Ogden was as important as Chicago was as a hub back East,” he said. “The old saying was true, ‘You couldn’t get anywhere without coming through Ogden, Utah.’”