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Evanston Roundhouse

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This page was last updated on May 12, 2019.

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Overview

The current roundhouse at Evanston, Wyoming, was completed in 1913. It was closed as a locomotive facility in 1927 when Union Pacific opened its roundhouse and shops at Ogden, Utah. The Evanston shops then were turned over to UP's Stores Department as a repair and manufacturing facility for all manner of items. The most notable was the manufacture of concrete fence posts, and the repair and refurbishment of baggage wagons seen at all Union Pacific passenger depots. The manufacture of UP's unique snow fences was also a major activity, with kits being loaded onto flat cars and shipped to points where the railroad needed to control snow drifts adjacent to its track.

The Evanston site had a large work force of mechanics that repaired such things as freight and passenger car brake wheels and hand brakes, as well as air brake components. There was also a large force of blacksmiths that manufactured, repaired and refurbished brake rods, grab irons, stirrup steps, and ladders.

From 1927 to 1971 the Evanston shops remained active as UP's "Reclamation Plant" until the Stores Department was centralized, and the outlying points were closed in 1971. The work being done at Evanston was transferred to the larger site at Cheyenne, and the Evanston site was decommissioned.

Union Pacific deeded the roundhouse building to the City of Evanston in 1971, and the railroad closed its Evanston Reclamation Plant on December 31, 1971.

"The City of Evanston became owner of the roundhouse site in 1972. The roundhouse site was leased to Wyoming Rail Car in 1972, and Wyoming Rail Car was sold to Lithcote in 1979. Union Tank Car used the site until 1997, when it moved to its new facility. And in 1997 the City began its restoration of historical buildings at the site." (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality)

"In 1974, the railroad deeded the land and facilities to the City of Evanston. At the same time local businessmen formed a corporation to develop the area surrounding the roundhouse. The same year, the plant was leased by the Wyoming Railway Car Corporation, as a contract shop for the repair of privately owned rail cars. In 1979, the Lithcote Company purchased Wyoming Railway Car Corporation." (Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office)

(Note about dates: Research has found that the greatest portion of the historical dates used in Wyoming DEQ and federal EPA reports came from personal interviews, with no citations for where the interviewees got their information from, other than personal memory. It should be noted that these reports generally cite each other, without completing actual research in historical documents. The same comment about reports citing each other applies to the historical data for the roundhouse, presented by various governmental web sites and volunteer organizations.)

The federal EPA web site says:

In 1912, the present Roundhouse and machine shop were constructed, the original roundhouse was demolished and the old machine shop was converted to a wood shop. Over the following 50 years, the remainder of the buildings on the site were constructed, with most constructed prior to 1920.

The following services were performed at the Complex: Repair and redistribution of railroad track tools; Manufacturing of concrete fence posts; and repair of railroad equipment such as locomotives (up to 1926) and freight cars, and parts such as wheels, axles, and gate valves. These repair and redistribution activities included welders, carpenters, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, machinists, plumbers, and general laborers. From 1926 to 1971 (when these activities ceased), the roundhouse site operated as Union Pacific's Evanston Reclamation, Repair and Manufacturing Plant.

In 1994, the city funded a preliminary environmental assessment and an architectural study to better understand potential restoration and reuse opportunities.

In 1998, Evanston received the funding it needed through a $200,000 EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant. An additional $200,000 in supplemental and greenspace funding was also provided by EPA. The assessments were completed in the summer of 2001 and identified asbestos, lead, benzene, and arsenic. Cleanup began on the Machine Shop in October 2002, at an estimated cost of $140,000.

With assessments and cleanup finished, the Machine Shop underwent a $2.5 million redevelopment and restoration that included extensive efforts to maintain its historical integrity. Since its opening in February 2004 as premier event space, the Machine Shop's 500 person capacity and large kitchen has greatly enhanced the City of Evanston's ability to host events and increase tourism.

The following comes from WyoHistory.org:

Evanston, the county seat of Uinta County, is located in the southwestern corner of the state in the Bear River Valley. Union Pacific Railroad Chief Engineer Grenville Dodge named the town for James Evans, who surveyed the eastern half of the railroad's route through Wyoming Territory and probably never set eyes on his namesake.

Evanston's first structure and business enterprise was a tent saloon erected by Harvey Booth in November 1868 as the UP tracks reached the point where they turned westward from the Bear River Valley toward Echo Canyon and Utah. But the town's real life began in late 1870 when the railroad chose Evanston as the locomotive service and crew division point between Ogden, Utah, and Green River, Wyo.

Dodge platted the town in December 1870, orienting its main streets to the railroad tracks rather than to compass points. All the streets in Evanston's core run northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast.

In 1871, the UP constructed a 20-stall stone roundhouse just northwest of the center of town, to service locomotives. In addition to train crews and roundhouse workers, the railroad also employed section crews who lived in camps along the tracks and were responsible for maintaining and repairing six-mile stretches, or sections, of the tracks and rights of way.

In 1912 and 1913, the Union Pacific constructed a 65,000-square-foot, 28-stall brick roundhouse to accommodate its larger steam locomotives. On its 27-acre complex northwest of downtown, the company also built a 17,000-square-foot brick machine shop and several ancillary buildings, including a brick power house with generators to supply electricity to the complex and a wooden office building. For nearly 60 years, the lives of Evanston's residents were governed by the rhythms of the steam whistle at the roundhouse complex, which sounded daily at 7 a.m., noon and 4 p.m.

The first significant economic shock to Evanston came suddenly in 1925, when UP executives announced that they planned to eliminate Evanston as a locomotive service and crew change point. The news was devastating to a community where a quarter of the population depended on a UP paycheck. A delegation of determined city officials and businessmen traveled to Omaha to plead with railroad administrators to reconsider their decision. Surprisingly, the company did so.

In 1926, the roundhouse complex reopened as the Evanston Reclamation, Repair and Manufacturing Plant. At its peak during the war years, the Reclamation Plant employed more than 200 people, a significant number for a town of 3,600 residents. In the 1950s, however, employment slowly dropped as Union Pacific's maintenance activities became more centralized. By 1971, when the plant finally closed, the labor force had dwindled to about 50.

Timeline

1868
Evanston's first structure and business enterprise was a tent saloon erected by Harvey Booth in November 1868 as the UP tracks reached the point where they turned westward from the Bear River Valley toward Echo Canyon and Utah. But the town's real life began in late 1870 when the railroad chose Evanston as the locomotive service and crew division point between Ogden, Utah, and Green River, Wyo. Grenville Dodge platted the town in December 1870, orienting its main streets to the railroad tracks rather than to compass points. All the streets in Evanston's core run northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast.

1871
UP constructed a 20-stall stone roundhouse just northwest of the center of town, to service locomotives. In addition to train crews and roundhouse workers, the railroad also employed section crews who lived in camps along the tracks and were responsible for maintaining and repairing six-mile stretches, or sections, of the tracks and rights of way.

July 4, 1871
The Union Pacific roundhouse and shop complex was completed on July 4, 1871. With the completion, Evanston became the major maintenance facility for the U.P. Division between Green River, Wyoming and Ogden, Utah.

In 1912-1913 new, larger facilities were built. A new roundhouse was erected, consisting of 27 stalls, each 100 feet deep, along with a steam heating plant, electric lights, and a new turntable.

1913
The following comes from Union Pacific's 1913 Annual Report:

At Evanston, Wyoming: New brick engine house consisting of twenty-five 96-foot and three 114-foot stalls, equipped with boiler washout system; standard drop pits including jacks; steam heat and electric lights.

At Evanston, Wyoming: New brick power house, 50 x 82 feet, equipped with three 250 H.P. Sterling boilers, induced draft System; hot water heaters and feed pumps.

At Evanston, Wyoming: New 100-foot Pony Truss turntable with electric tractor, installed at Evanston, Wyoming.

At Evanston, Wyoming: New conveyor type locomotive coaling station serving three tracks, all steel fireproof construction, with a capacity of 300 tons; also equipped for handling cinders and sand.

August 12, 1913
The contractor doing the block paving in the new North Platte roundhouse had been delayed because he had been kept at Evanston longer than anticipated. (North Platte Tribune, August 12, 1913)

1918
"At Evanston, Wyoming: New brick machine shop 100 x 150 feet with necessary tools and machinery." (UP 1918 Annual Report)

"At Evanston, Wyoming: Coal and ash handling machinery installed in present power house." (UP 1918 Annual Report)

November 10, 1926
"The Union Pacific has opened its shops in Evanston, Wyo. They have been closed since last spring." (Salt Lake Telegram, November 10, 1926)

February 2, 1927
With the planned opening of the new roundhouse in Ogden in mid year 1927, in early February 1927 announced that the Evanston shops would no longer repair locomotives, and would instead become a Stores Department shop and manufacturing point. The manufacture of concrete fence posts was specifically mentioned. (Ogden Standard Examiner, February 2, 1927)

The locomotive work previously performed at Evanston was moved to Ogden and to Green River.

(Read more about the roundhouses at Ogden, Utah)

1937
"Other property retired (because of changed operating conditions): Fuel station and appurtenances at Evanston, Wyoming." (UP 1937 Annual Report)

1939
"Other property retired (because of changed operating conditions): Certain shop and enginehouse appurtenances (including some machinery and tools) at Evanston, Wyoming." (UP 1939 Annual Report)

1941
"At Evanston, Wyoming: Constructed coal chute of 200 tons capacity with sand facilities, to expedite train movements." (UP 1941 Annual Report)

March 1959
The large concrete coaling station at Evanston was demolished.

(View photos of the Evanston coal chute being demolished in March 1959)

In 1971, changes to the way Union Pacific repaired its rail cars took away the need for the reclamation plant at Evanston, and it was closed as a Union Pacific facility.

November 1971
"Evanston Reclamation Plant Closes -- Union Pacific will transfer the functions of the Evanston, Wyoming reclamation plant and store to Cheyenne. Transfer allowances and other protective benefits are being worked out for the employees of the Evanston plant and store who will be affected." (UP INFO magazine, November 1971)

December 31, 1971
Union Pacific closed its Evanston Reclamation Plant.

1972
Union Pacific donated the roundhouse building, and surrounding support buildings, to the City of Evanston.

1974
In a move to support economic development, Union Pacific donated the surrounding 26 acres, and the railroad tracks situated on the land, to the City of Evanston. This would allow Evanston to lease the entire facility (buildings and tracks) to Wyoming Rail Car Corp.

The following comes from Evanston Wyoming: Boom-Bust-Politics By Dennis J Ottley; 2019; Izzard Ink Publishing:

In January of 1974, Colonel Oliver Shiflet officially opened up the Wyoming Railway Car Company with a ten year renewable lease agreement with the Greater Evanston Development Company, and started out hiring approximately 30 employees. Most of those employees had worked at the U.P. plant prior to it shutting down and were well experienced. Dave Weise, former superintendent of the plant, was hired by Shiflet as a consultant. The headlines of the January 31st issue of the Uinta County Herald read "Wyo. Railway Car Co. Began Operations."

Opening up the plant at this time was a good economic move for Evanston. The city was still in a depressed mode because of the railroad engine crews moving out, but seemed to be gaining population. Anything we could get to come to Evanston that would create additional employment would be a great help to our community, and things were starting to look better.

Shortly after the plant opened, the Union Pacific Railroad Company made an announcement that they would donate all of the railroad tracks within the 26 acres to the city as well. They were originally going to pull all the tracks out, but they decided that the new Wyoming Railway Car Company would have a need for them.

The resolution was made previously to allow the Greater Evanston Development Company to lease the premises from the city and in turn they would sub-lease to the Wyoming Railway Car Company for a period of 10 years with the option to extend. When that resolution was passed, the city also titled all of the loose equipment that the U.P. gave to the city to the G.E.D.C. This was to allow the development company to raise enough money to assist other industries and businesses to apply for the Small Business Administration 502 loan. That loose equipment was sold to the Wyoming Railway Car Company for $7,000.00. The development company used this money to help other businesses and companies that wanted to use the S.B.A 502 program.

1983
Wyoming Rail Car Corporation was sold to Lithecote Company. Lithcote Company filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State on January 5, 1983.

August 5, 1987
Lithecote Company merged with Union Tank Car Company. Lithecote became inactive in Wyoming on April 29, 1988, and Union Tank Car filed in Wyoming on May 9, 1988.

(Union Tank Car Company had been incorporated in Delaware on September 23, 1980, and had been doing business in Wyoming at a different location since October 13, 1982.)

(Read the Wikipedia article about Union Tank Car Company)

1996-1997
Union Tank Car vacated the former Union Pacific roundhouse and moved to a new facility located northwest of the roundhouse.

(A review of aerial and satellite images shows that by August 1994, the new Union Tank Car facility had not yet been constructed, or even started. This indicates that preparation for the move was in 1996. The actual move took place in 1997.)

After Union Tank Car moved to its new much larger facility northwest of the roundhouse, the City of Evanston began a larger renovation and restoration effort, still limited by a tight budget.

(The City of Evanston began planning its renovation and restoration efforts for the roundhouse as early as 1991, and work continued as budgetary constraints allowed.)

August 15-16, 1998
Evanston held the first "Roundhouse Days" open house. Union Tank Car had moved to its new facility in 1997.

First Open House

The following comes from a report by Lee Witten, for the September 1998 issue of the monthly newsletter of the Golden Spike Chapter, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, headquartered in Ogden, Utah.

Evanston Holds First Roundhouse Festival

On August 15 and 16, the Roundhouse Restoration Inc. held its first of hopefully many more, annual festivals in support of stabilizing and preserving the Evanston Railroad Complex, originally built by the Union Pacific Railroad. This is the largest standing complex on the original transcontinental route. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

In 1997, the Union Tank Car Company that had been using the facilities moved to Evanston's new industrial park. The question arose of what to do with the complex now that it was vacated. The Roundhouse Restoration Inc., a non profit organization, was formed.

The machine shop served as the main focus of activity with vendors, artists and model layouts set up inside. There were, however, things to do and see outside as well. The machine shop when in operation utilized about 25 men. It held a 25 ton overhead crane located over the pit. Work was done on flat cars, drag lines, shovels, cranes and other heavy equipment. There were also metal cut lathes, air tools, motor car repair and large lye vats used to clean repaired parts before painting and/or welding.

In December 1868, Evanston was reached by the Union Pacific on its westward march. The town nearly disappeared when operations were moved out to Wahsatch, 12 miles to the west but was saved when the UP built a stone roundhouse. It was replaced by the larger brick structure in 1912 and has been in continuous use since then. There are 28 stalls arranged in a semicircle served by the turntable that was connected to the main trunk line. It was first used as a steam locomotive maintenance and repair facility, then as a multi-purpose repair and reclamation plant for the UP, and, most recently, as a repair shop for railroad tank cars, one of which can be seen in the photo above.

In the late winter of 1925 the Union Pacific announced that, after 55 years, the locomotive repair facility was going to be shut down. The larger locomotives could run all the way from Green River, 80 miles east of Evanston, to Ogden, 80 miles west, without service, so there was no longer a need for a locomotive service terminal at Evanston.

This was a devastating blow because the roundhouse payroll was an important element of the city's economy. In response, a committee of Evanston citizens traveled to Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha to persuade railroad officials to reopen the roundhouse or find a new use for it. Apparently, their pleas worked because in the spring of 1926, the company announced that it was establishing a reclamation plant in Evanston. The new plant began operation in the fall of 1926 with a work force made up of local men along with others transferred in from other UP facilities around the country.

From 1926 until 1972, the Evanston Reclamation, Manufacturing and Repair Plant was known in town simply as "the shops." Every part or tool needed by the UP on their lines from Omaha, to Los Angeles, and to Seattle was manufactured, repaired, or reclaimed at the Evanston shops. Repairing meant restoring damaged items to a "new" condition. Reclamation meant converting items that were beyond repair into new items and materials. Existing buildings were converted to Reclamation Plant use and new ones were built.

The roundhouse was divided into four work areas of seven stalls each. Clockwise from the turntable they were:

1. First section had three natural gas boilers that generated steam for the steam hammers. The tin shop where all sheet metal work was done. They made signs and different types of cases.

2. The second section is where they made hoses for air compression, signals, and fittings for fire hoses. Also the valve shop where they made stops, angles and cocks to turn valves off at the handle.

3. The third section held the blacksmith shop with 5 to 6 furnaces to make bolts for locomotive boilers, sharpen pick axes, and another process to reclaim the steel used to make locomotive "tires." They would take the locomotive wheels, cut a series of lines around the tire about 10 inches deep and at 10 inch intervals. Then they would use a crane to hoist the wheel over a rail, drop it, and knock the pre-cut sections off. Then they would heat the sections and lengthen them for steel to use for other items.

4. The fourth section was the cement plant. They made posts and supports. In addition there was a pantograph machine which cut forms out of steel using a template. This section also had an addition in which there were two forges used to heat couplers and knuckles and a forge work area where they were built up in worn areas. This was also the area where they parked the switch engine at night.

By the early 1930's, more than 100 men were working in the shops. During the depression years, they cut the shops back to only ten work days a month. In 1934 the workers were finally permitted to form craft unions. The entire shop became union. The work force reached its peak in the early 40's during the war. 230 employees in July of 1942 grew to 331 before the end of the war. Close to twenty women worked at the roundhouse complex from 1943 until the end of the war.

In 1970 the Union Pacific announced it was closing the Reclamation Plant. The doors were closed for the last time on December 31, 1971. UP deeded the buildings and the land to the City of Evanston. Then in 1974 the City signed a ten year lease with Lithcote Corporation which began its railroad tank car operation in the roundhouse.

As important as the roundhouse is in local history, it also serves as a vital link to the history of the American West and the United States. The richly layered past of Evanston's roundhouse suggests how valuable local landmarks can be in preserving regional and national heritage, and how preserving such landmarks and converting them to contemporary economic use can provide continuity between the past and the present locally, regionally and nationally.

Now the Evanston roundhouse, along with the rest of the buildings that make up the complex, are about to be reborn into a brand new use. In seeking to preserve this historical industrial complex, Evanston is continuing its commitment to economic development through historic preservation.

(Lee Witten's note: Most of the information for this article was obtained from the "Tour Guide Script" used at the festival.)

Brochure

The following comes from a brochure produced by the City of Evanston:

Late 1868 - The Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) had reached what was the fort camp of Evanston, Wyoming. A few years later, the city was named after UPRR railroad surveyor James. A. Evans. As the 20th Century drew closer, a train depot was built, along with the Roundhouse & Railyards, establishing Evanston as a permanent stop along the Union Pacific line.

Built by Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), Evanston's Roundhouse & Railyards is a site to behold, the 27-acre complex was used to primarily service and repair rail cars and engines.

1871 - The first Roundhouse was constructed on the grounds currently occupied by City Hall today.

1912 - Building of the Roundhouse & Railyards commences in November. The many structures include a machine shop, carpenter's shop, power house, cafeteria, oil house, mineral building, and of course, a four-section roundhouse with 28 bays.

1926 - With the ability of such locomotives to travel further distances without repair or refueling, UPRR decided to close the site; however, the citizens of Evanston rallied and beseeched them to remain open as a reclamation plant. Without the operation of the Roundhouse & Railyard's facilities, the community faced a dire economic crisis. At various times in its history, the site employed over 300 people.

1927 - UPRR agrees to reopen the plant, and the site continues to operate for another 45 years under UPRR's management.

1930s-1950s - The UPRR workers at the Roundhouse & Railyards participated in many civic groups and events, including baseball leagues and the Union Pacific Male Chorus.

1971 - The Roundhouse and Railyards are officially closed by UPRR. The following year, UPRR would deed the entire 27-acre site (with the exception of the Power House building) to the City of Evanston. The City leases the property to a series of railcar repair companies until 1998 when the last tenant relocates to a new facility down the street.

1991 - The depot building in Historic Depot Square on Front Street is one of the first railroad areas in Evanston to be renovated.

2004 - The Machine Shop is fully restored. Equipment used on the UPRR mainline was repaired here. Today it is utilized as a place for both public and private events, ranging from the Evanston High School prom, the annual Renewal Ball fundraiser to weddings and graduation parties.

2009 - The first of four sections of the Roundhouse is completely revitalized. The semi-circular roundhouse is one of a very few completely intact and still standing structures of its kind. Its curved walls stand a remarkable 80 feet high, with a total of 28 train stalls. The facility operated by placing a rail car or engine onto the turntable and pushing it into one of the bays where mechanics repaired it. Impressively, the metal turntable remains operational!

2010 - The turntable is fully renovated. The metal sidings and the wooden decking are repainted and repaired, respectively.

For over 30 years the Evanston Urban Renewal Agency has hosted the Renewal Ball, a fundraiser for various restoration efforts in the downtown district, on the first Saturday in June. The money raised during the annual event is used for the renovation of the Roundhouse & Railyards, as well as, other downtown sites and projects.

2011 - The J.T. & Phyllis Patterson Visitor Center is primarily created due to a generous donation from members of the local Patterson family. The building, formally known as the "Oil House," is transformed into the site's main structure for tourists.

2012 - Roundhouse Restoration Incorporated (RRINC) and the Evanston Historic Preservation Commission led the charge to renovate the Superintendent's Office and the Wash House. The buildings are rehabilitated with the assistance of local individuals, businesses and organizations, Rocky Mountain Power, WYDOT and the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. It is hoped that in the years to come, the City will obtain the Power House (still owned by UPRR) and restore the remaining sections of the Roundhouse, so that future generations can enjoy this remarkable, historic railroad treasure! The entire site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Locomotive Crane

UP 903124, an Industrial Brownhoist locomotive crane with 25 tons capacity, built in 1952, was likely assigned to the Evanston Reclamation Plant at the Evanston roundhouse when the plant was closed in late 1971. It was retired by UP in October 1972. The roundhouse and surrounding area were donated to City of Evanston in 1974. UP 903124 was likely sold to Wyoming Rail Car Co., Evanston, Wyoming, in 1974 when the company started business in the leased roundhouse.

When Union Tank Car was planning its move to its new facility in 1996, it donated the locomotive crane to the City of Evanston, Wyoming, and the crane is today displayed at the roundhouse in Evanston.

Sources

Union Pacific annual reports research by James E. Ehernberger.

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