Ogden, Utah, has been known for many years as the "Crossroads of the West" As one looks at a map of the western United States, the reason is obvious, especially if it's a railroad map that pre-dates today's publicly funded highway system. The construction of railways through Ogden made it a geographical crossroads, and it remained so right through most of the 20th Century, up until merger mania began to sweep the nation's western railroads during the late 1970s and through the 1990s. With the merger of Union Pacific Railroad and Western Pacific Railroad in 1982, UP's connection to the San Francisco Bay area was no longer Southern Pacific at Ogden, but instead, SP's much smaller competitor, Western Pacific, through Salt Lake City. With the merger, the traffic patterns of rail cars through the Ogden rail yards changed forever. The number of trains moving through Ogden fell dramatically when Southern Pacific began diverting many more cars to its own east-west route through the Southwest and Texas. Still more changes are on the horizon with the September 1996 merger of Union Pacific and Southern Pacific.
From the day the first rails entered Ogden in 1869, railroads have played an important and inseparable part in the city's economy and its sense of who it was. Before the improved highway system came during the late 1940s and early 1950s, railroads and Ogden rode the economic roller coaster together -- when the nation's railroads hit rocky ground, so did the city. But even with the highways and their never-ending truck, bus, and private auto competition, nearly everyone in Ogden either worked for the railroad, or knew someone who did. Working for the railroad meant that you had an important job, that you made good wages, and that you were contributing your part. Boys dreamed of being a railroad engineer. During much of this century, railroads were an everyday part of life. Before World War II, many people in Ogden didn't own a car, or owned only one car, and rode the streetcars downtown, or rode the electric trains of the Bamberger to Salt Lake, or the Utah Idaho Central to Logan. When the family traveled, it went by train to visit relatives in Seattle, or California, or somewhere in the Midwest. "Travel By Train." "Workin' On The Railroad." These two phrases summarize what many local residents thought of railroads, and what many residents today remember of railroads. This, then, is the story of railroads and railroading in and around Ogden, Utah.