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Union Pacific's Salt Lake City Roundhouse

This page was last updated on July 31, 2012.

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The 32-stall Salt Lake City roundhouse was completed in 1905 with just 20 stalls, as part of the new North Yard joint yard between the new San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake (completed in 1905, and changed to the Los Angeles & Salt Lake in 1916), and the Oregon Short Line Railroad, which had been operating trains through Salt Lake City since its predecessor Utah Central was completed in 1870.

SPLA&SL shared the original OSL roundhouse at Salt Lake City at North Temple and 400 West from mid 1903 until June 1905, when the new roundhouse was completed at 900 North and 500 West. The two roads continued to use the newer facility until 16 of the 32 stalls were were demolished in early 1950. The remaining 16 stalls were demolished in November 1951, and work on a new diesel shop began in December 1951. There are a few photos of the bright orange steel girders being erected with the last roundhouse stalls still standing at the outside edges of the building site.

The joint Salt Lake City terminal consisted of the large roundhouse, an adjacent powerhouse (completed in 1918), and a large, 500-ton coaling trestle. During 1914 the terminal was servicing 53 steam locomotives, including 36 for OSL and 17 for SPLA&SL. The compressors in the powerhouse were changed from steam driven to electric motor driven in 1924. At the same time, seven 105-foot stalls were added to the roundhouse, and a pneumatic sanding system was added to the coaling trestle. A new powerhouse was added in 1944.

Prior to the completion of the new joint facility in 1905, Oregon Short Line's mechanical work was done at the original Utah Central roundhouse near its depot west of downtown Salt Lake City. Located on the southwest corner of today's 400 West and North Temple streets, the original Utah Central 12-stall brick roundhouse was completed in December 1880, and itself was a joint facility of the original Utah Central Railroad, and the Utah Southern Railroad. The two roads were combined as the Utah Central Railway in 1881, and were included in the consolidation of Utah and Idaho railroads in 1889 with the creation of the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern. The major shops for OSL&UN were in Pocatello, but Salt Lake City remained as the second largest shop for locomotive, passenger car and freight car maintenance. When OSL&UN was reorganized as the independent Oregon Short Line Railroad in March 1897, company management announced that Pocatello would remain as the largest shop, but that Salt Lake City would have its foundry expanded to take the work that was previously being done by Union Pacific in Omaha. The "car shops, paint shops, and general repair departments will also be enlarged to meet the requirements of an independent system." (Salt Lake Tribune, March 2, 1897)

As early as October 1897, OSL saw the need for a larger mechanical facility to maintain its locomotives and rolling stock. The area was growing, and the amount of railroad activity was increasing, which meant more trains and more locomotives. There were discussions of moving the shops to the northern limits of Salt Lake City, along the mainline to Ogden. But negotiations with property owners and Salt Lake City itself fell through, and the project was put on hold.

In March 1901, the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was organized to build between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Although there were issues between SPLA&SL and OSL over the route in southern Nevada, the two roads agreed that a joint facility in Salt Lake City would be best for both companies, if the details could be worked out. Previously, OSL had tried to locate in the northern part of Salt Lake City. In the years since, OSL had been buying property as it became available, and had acquired a large portion of what was needed. There were several holdouts for some of the needed parcels, so in July 1901, OSL went to court under eminent domain to have the remainder of the needed property condemned. The San Pedro road had already announced that it would be building its terminal in North Salt Lake City, and had been buying land in the vicinity, so the OSL legal action was in response to the San Pedro action, wanting to beat the new road to some of the needed property.

By early 1904, the two railroads had settled their differences in southern Nevada, and OSL had completed its Leamington cutoff, which had its route west from Salt Lake City to Lakepoint on the south shore of Great Salt Lake, then south through Tooele and Rush valleys to a connection with the existing mainline at Lynndyl. Just six months before, in July 1903, OSL and the San Pedro road had settled on the ownership arrangements of the entire line between Salt Lake City and the new construction being completed in southern Nevada, with SPLA&SL taking ownership of the route in return for OSL taking an one-half ownership in the San Pedro road. The new cooperation meant that work could proceed on the new Salt Lake City joint terminal. In March 1904, local newspapers told of work commencing in the form of surveyors pounding stakes, carpenters laying forms for foundations, and trackmen laying new spurs and side tracks, all in the vicinity of the new shops being built at what was then known as Eighth North and Fourth West, now known as 900 North and 500 West. A steam shovel was in place, and large construction tents had been erected. A new roundhouse was to be the first structure to be completed, since the San Pedro had an immediate need for a place for its own steam locomotives. By September 1904, there were over 300 men working on the new yard tracks and shop buildings. The Deseret News newspaper of December 31, 1904 carried photographs showing the partially completed 20-stall brick roundhouse, along with numerous yard tracks in place but not yet ballasted and aligned. That same news item mentioned that there were to be 31 parallel tracks, 12 of which would be at least 8000 feet in length.

Work on the new roundhouse continued, and on June 5, 1905, all of the locomotives being worked on in the old roundhouse were removed to the new roundhouse. On June 8, work commenced on the demolition of the old structure. The Deseret News of June 9, 1905 told of the old roundhouse, and the changes, "When the old roundhouse was first erected on Third West between South and North Temple streets great astonishment was expressed by the wise railroad men and others at the size of the big doors leading to each stall. Today, the old roundhouse is regarded as a prehistoric freak and when a new Compound went inside, about half of the Vanderbilt tender was wont to stick out of the doors." One feature of the new roundhouse that was noted was that the service pits were concrete, with rails set into the concrete, an great improvement over the previous method of wooden timbers, which were a fire hazard due to hot coals and the accumulation of oil in the timbers.

In 1942, Salt Lake City was one of the first yards to receive diesel yard switchers. The roundhouse was modified in that same year to accommodate servicing for the new units, by the addition of wooden work platforms and a overhead monorail crane system that would allow maintenance on the diesel engines. Also in 1942, a new double track mainline was located to allow passenger trains to avoid the congestion of the freight yard by passing to the east of the roundhouse. The double track mainline was moved slightly to accommodate the new diesel shop, and remains in service today.

Although the South-Central District was fully dieselized in September 1948, but there were still substantial numbers of steam locomotives being serviced. In a letter asking that the roundhouse roof be repaired as soon as possible, the mechanical superintendent for Salt Lake, A. R. Nelson, pointed out that the proposed retirement of stalls 9 through 24 (deemed the most unsafe part of the structure following a recent inspection) must be delayed due to the large numbers of steam locomotives still being worked on. He stated that they were servicing 22 to 24 steam locomotives per day, as well as having five steam locomotives and one diesel switcher being held for extended repairs. Stalls 20 to 23 served as the drop pit for the change-out of steam locomotive axles and diesel locomotive traction motors. As mentioned, a freak wind storm stripped the roundhouse's roof in 1949, but the roof had already been inspected and declared unsafe. Temporary repairs were made, which included removal of the distinctive clerestories. Many proposals were made to repair the roof and its underlying framing, or to completely demolish the building. One proposal had stalls 5 through 20 being converted to the railroad's Dining Car and Hotel (DC&H) system-wide laundry. The new DC&H laundry was completed in July 1951 in nearby Ogden, Utah, thirty-five miles to the north.

In August 1948, the Utah Division Engineer completed a report that the Salt Lake City roundhouse was in very poor condition. Numerous structural beams and posts were found to be cracked and improperly repaired. The roof joists were found to be in very bad condition. The roof sheeting was soft, split and shredded. There were no smoke jacks. Instead, ventilation was accomplished with rooftop clerestories. But over the years, clerestories for six stalls had been removed as part of roof repairs. The overall condition of the entire roof was found to be inadequate to support a heavy snow load.

The report recommended that the roof for stalls 5 through 20, and stall 32 be removed and renewed. A total of 22 posts needed to be "stubbed" to allow them to carry the structural load. All of the clerestories needed to be repaired, or completely removed to allow no break in the roof surface.

On September 9, 1948, the Utah Division superintendent recommended that the stalls 9 through 24 be retired due to the needed repairs. But on September 23rd, the request was not approved due to the large numbers of steam locomotives being repaired. At the time, 22 to 24 steam locomotives were being serviced and repaired every day in the roundhouse. Five steam locomotive and one diesel yard engine were being held for repairs, and needed to occupy a stall in the roundhouse. A request was made to close the openings in stalls 14 through 18 where roof repairs had been started, and minor repairs be made to allow full use of the roundhouse until more diesel locomotives become available. In addition to the need for space for the repair of locomotives, consideration was being given to relocate the Dining Car & Hotel Department's laundry from its current site in Ogden, to stalls 9 through 24 of the Salt Lake roundhouse. The drop pits in the Salt Lake roundhouse were in stalls 20 through 23, and were needed for the removal of steam locomotive driving wheels, and diesel locomotive traction motors.

A heavy wind storm on the night of June 8, 1949 blew off 18,000 square feet of the roundhouse's roofing. The storm exposed large portions of the underlying sheathing, and there was immediate concern that the poor condition of the roof structure and sheathing might lead to a workman being injured by falling debris. It was recommended that the clerestories be completely removed due to their overall poor condition. A strong request was made on June 10th for immediate roof repairs, or a determination as to which roundhouse stalls could be used to accomplish needed repairs to several diesel yard locomotives.

On August 16, 1949, a recommendation was made to condemn the roof above stalls 1 through 20 of the roundhouse. Any further damage from wind or snow would make the areas under the roof unsafe for workmen. Work had started to repair and renew the roof above stalls 21 through 32.

A formal work order was issued on December 29, 1949 to retire stalls 5 through 20 of the Salt Lake City roundhouse, along with 2949 feet of radial tracks. It was noted that the roundhouse was the property of Oregon Short Line Railroad, operated by Union Pacific Railroad. "This 16-stall section of enginehouse is not required for terminal operation and retirement is recommended. The remaining stalls and facilities are sufficient for turning diesel and steam power. This property is withdrawn from transportation service effective with the date of issue hereof." A credit to accounts in the amount of $151,118 was taken for property retired. There were brick fire walls between stalls 4 and 5, and between stalls 20 and 21, and these walls were to remain in place. The work order included the following notations concerning added value from previous improvements.

Stalls 5 through 20 of the roundhouse were formally retired in late December 1949, and that 16-stall portion of the structure was demolished. The remaining stalls, numbers 1 to 4, and 21 to 32, were retained to service the few remaining road steam locomotives, and the growing numbers of diesel switchers and diesel road locomotives. During early and mid 1951, as work on the new diesel shop progressed, the remaining portions of the roundhouse were demolished, with the last stalls still standing as the orange-primer painted steel structure of the new shop rose slowly skyward.

As work progressed with the new diesel shop building itself, the existing turntable was relocated. The terminal's 100-foot girder and lattice design turntable was retained, but relocated from its original position just south of the new shop building, to the shop's northwest side. This original pin-connected turntable was later replaced by the retired turntable from Lynndyl, Utah, a division point 116 miles south of Salt Lake City.

The work order for the retirement of stalls 5 through 20 of the Salt Lake City roundhouse was formally completed and closed on November 1, 1951. The work order had included the complete removal of the roundhouse structure and all radial tracks, and the salvage of any and all reusable materials.

The remaining portions of the Salt Lake City roundhouse, stalls 1 through 5, and stalls 21 through 32, were demolished and all materials removed in December 1951. This included the entire machine shop section, inspection pits, and foundations.

Also in December 1951, work started on the new Salt Lake City diesel shop.

Union Pacific's new Salt Lake City shops were opened in early August 1955, replacing the existing 32-stall brick roundhouse built in 1905. After 1950, UP no longer had any capability at Salt Lake City for anything other than minor running repairs to either diesel locomotives or steam locomotives. There was a large roundhouse in Ogden, just 35 miles to the north. Sixteen of the 32 stalls of the Salt Lake City roundhouse were retired in December 1949, and demolished throughout 1950. Drop pits were located in stalls 20 through 23. Work platforms and a small overhead crane for diesel yard locomotives and passenger locomotives had been installed in stalls 30 to 32 in 1942. The last stalls, 1 through 4 at the west side, and stalls 21 through 32 at the east side, were demolished in late 1951 to clear the site for construction of the new diesel shop, which began in December 1951.

All operations south and west of Salt Lake City were fully dieselized in 1948. Retired shop crewmen said that after the roundhouse was demolished in 1951, any steam locomotives that came into town only came down from Ogden, and only very rarely due to a power shortage at Ogden to power the twice-daily OSL transfer from UP's Ogden yard to the LA&SL yard in Salt Lake City. In November 1956, with the arrival of an 800-class 4-8-4 on a train from Ogden, one employee went home and got his camera because he had not seen an 800-class locomotive for a long, long time. His photograph also showed a 4-6-6-4 Challenger, so the 3700s may have been more common as power for the OSL transfer. The 3700s were assigned to helper service east out of Ogden in 1952, and remained in Ogden until they went east in in late 1958.