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Standard Deviations: For $5,000, you ought to get to keep the train

By Mark Saal standard-Examiner - | Apr 28, 2019

For decades, the small Wyoming town of Evanston meant just one thing to many of us in Northern Utah.


As a 13-year-old, back in the early 1970s, I remember when our Boy Scout leaders would stop their Chevy Suburbans — overloaded with gear and teenagers — in Evanston to “get gas” on our way to or from a troop hike or camp. Those leaders would then conveniently look the other way as a dozen Scouts spent every last penny of their allowance on firecrackers and bottle rockets to sneak back into Utah.

Then, as a young sports reporter, from time to time I covered the horse races at Wyoming Downs. Whenever friends would hear I was going to Evanston for the day, they’d ask me to stop and buy some “real” fireworks for their upcoming Fourth of July/Pioneer Day celebrations.

In later years, my wife and I had extended family move to Evanston, and we’d often go up there to visit — sometimes for the fireworks.

I reckon I’ve made the 78-mile trip between Ogden and Evanston at least a few dozen times in the last half-century. But add up the cost of all those trips, put together, and it turns out to be only a tiny fraction of what folks will be spending next month, just to catch one ride to the extreme southwest corner of Wyoming.

On Sunday, May 12, in honor of the upcoming sesquicentennial celebration of the May 10, 1869, completion of the transcontinental railroad, Union Pacific and Utah’s Spike 150 commission will offer the public a chance to ride in a “Heritage Fleet” railroad car from Ogden to Evanston. The cars will be pulled by two of the most famous steam locomotives in history — Big Boy No. 4014, and Living Legend No. 844.

And the price tag for this historic ride? A mere $5,000. Per passenger.

Yes, you read that correctly, people. It’s a five, with three big fat zeros behind it. Although, in fairness, there is a $2,000 discount if you’re willing to forego a seat in the coveted dome car and sit in one of the other carriages. (Personally? I’m waiting for them to release the $50 tickets that get you standing room in a packed cattle car.)

Organizers say the train ride is a chance for passengers to get “a glimpse into rail travel of the past.” But for that kind of money, I believe I’ll skip the glimpse and just try to imagine it.

The hefty ticket includes a tour at Ogden’s Union Station, a discussion by Union Pacific representatives, a behind-the-scenes tour of U.P.’s Heritage Fleet passenger cars, a commemorative photograph and photo opportunities, VIP parking, a catered breakfast, a three-hour train ride with whistle stops in Morgan and Echo, a boxed lunch in Evanston, and chartered bus service for the return trip to Ogden. The locomotives continue on to Cheyenne.

So, when you think about it, your $5,000 really does provide you with quite a few perks.

Still, the bottom line is you’re paying thousands of dollars for a trip to Evanston. You’ve got to be a pretty big rail fan to think that seems like a deal.

Organizers say the steam-engine train ride is available to “about 80 passengers,” and rumor has it that all of the $5,000 tickets are gone and only a few of the $3,000 tickets are left.

Which finally answers, once and for all, the burning question, “How many people in this world have more money than sense?” (Survey says: About 80 of them.)

Don’t get me wrong: To a certain degree I understand the appeal. After all, it’s a fundraiser, so it’s for a good cause. Plus which, if you’re a die-hard railroad fan it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I suppose there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t bat an eye about dropping five grand on a six-hour train/bus ride that drops you off right where it picked you up.

Still, $5,000 for a train ride to Evanston — and a bus ride back? You’d better hope your family members don’t get hold of this information when it comes time for the commitment hearing.

Of course, the nice thing is, for those who can’t afford a $5,000 train ride to nowhere there are plenty of other things going on during the transcontinental railroad Sesquicentennial celebration. Things that are either free or a relative steal compared to a train ticket.

Among the events surrounding the May 10 date will be movies, lectures, performances, parties, re-enactments, broadcasts, conferences, pageants, dances, auto tours, bike rides, exhibits, displays, home tours, open houses, shooting competitions and much, much more. For a complete list of events, visit https://spike150.org/events.

And finally, while a select few will be riding the train to Evanston on Sunday, May 12, you could save yourself $3,000 to $5,000 and drive up on your own. The Evanston Chamber of Commerce and the Uinta County Museum Foundation are hosting a free “Old Fashioned Mother’s Day Picnic with the Steam Engines” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. that day in the town’s Historic Depot Square. The event will feature vendors and old-fashioned activities for the entire family.

And as long as you’re up there, would you mind getting me some fireworks?


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