Union Pacific's Miniature Train
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This page was last updated on December 28, 2012.
Since 1956, Union Pacific has operated a miniature train in various public parades, UP Family Days and other promotional events, in cities around the system. The train is approximately one-third scale and is made up of a streamlined diesel and six cars. The equipment includes:
- Locomotive, numbered as UP 956
- Box car, numbered as UP 498150, "Automated Rail Way" slogan
- Gondola, numbered as UP 98000
- Tank car, numbered as UP 69969
- Refrigerator car, numbered as UPFE 451501
- Aluminum coal hopper
- Caboose, numbered as UP 25300
An early description of the train comes from a photo caption at the Denver Public Library, showing the train at Columbus, Nebraska, sometime in the early 1960s. On the back of the photo, the following description had been penciled in:
"The power unit of the miniature train is 16 ft. 11 inches long. The length of the cars varies as there are several different cars used on the train. Following is a list of the lengths of the various cars: Box car 13 ft. 41/2 inches, Refrigerator car 13 feet 31/2 inches, Gondola car 14 feet 63/4 inches, Tank car 12 feet 11/2 inches, Caboose 12 ft. 21/2 inches, the total length of the train is 82 feet 51/2 inches. Only one man is required to operate this train as the engine is a Clark towing tractor hidden beneath the exterior, which appears to be a Union Pacific engine. Usually, during a parade a second man accompanies the train, walking along side to check on the cars as they proceed. Two automobile cars have been converted for storing and shipping the train. These two cars are equipped with end doors and are used for nothing else except the miniature train."
The "956" Miniature Train
The current miniature train was completed in 1956, which explains the 956 number on the locomotive; 56 for the year it was built, and a 900 series number for the railroad's most modern passenger locomotives at the time, the EMD E9s. The train's miniature locomotive is made from a Clark tow tractor, of the type used to pull baggage wagons at larger passenger depots. The tow tractor chassis uses a flat-head 6-cylinder gasoline engine. The locomotive and cars run on rubber tires, with appropriate skirting to simulate the running gear of the train's much larger cousins.
The following item comes from the February 1979 issue of INFO, UP's employee magazine:
The miniature train was built in the Omaha Shops in 1955. The 84-foot long train consists of a diesel locomotive replica which pulls a yellow boxcar, orange refrigerator car, black tank car, red gondola and a yellow caboose. The 3/8 scale train runs on rubber wheels and is powered by a 17-horsepower, four-cylinder tractor engine.
Schafer [UP General Director of Public Relations, Ed Schafer] said the train travels from town to town in two specially outfitted boxcars and that it is "usually appearing somewhere or is on the way somewhere all the time." The train is booked up two and three years in advance for special civic celebrations.
(Previous information, as published in the article in The Streamliner article, had the train being built in Salt Lake City.)
Color photos of the 956 train, with its boxcar, refrigerator car, tank car, gondola, and caboose, are on page 104 of Union Pacific Official Color Photography, Book II, by Lou Schmitz and Robert Yanosey (Morning Sun, 1999). Notable is that the paint schemes on both the boxcar and the refrigerator car were both updated to match UP's then-current paint schemes for each type of car.
During the 1990s, the South-Central District (later the Salt Lake City Service Unit) was in charge of the 956 train, and it was kept at the Salt Lake shop close to the district offices. But every time it went out for a special run, it seemed to return with a lot of damage. The lack of someone traveling with the train meant that those who ran the train at each destination most times would load it wrong for its return trip. After several instances of severe damage to the miniature locomotive and cars, railroad officials started sending Salt Lake shop employees with the train so it could be loaded properly into its specially assigned boxcars. While assigned out of the Salt Lake diesel shop, the miniature train was under the protective wing of Ron Galloway and Steve Slater, two machinists who worked in the shop. Whenever the train went out for special run, either Ron or Steve went with it to ensure its safe and sensible handling and operation, especially unloading and loading in the special boxcars.
It was during its years assigned to Salt Lake City that the train received its newest addition, an all-aluminum open-top hopper car representing UP's newest traffic source of unit coal trains. Warren Johnson tells of how the aluminum hopper car was built in the Salt Lake City diesel shop around 1993 or 1994 by Bob Bateman, a sheetmetal worker in the shop who also repaired locomotive radiators. The car was made from sheet aluminum. Warren was an employee at the shops and was able to observe the car's progress on a daily basis.
Until 1998, the miniature train traveled around the UP system in a pair of matched BF-70-7 boxcars numbered as 903014 and 903015, lettered with UP's "We Can handle It" slogan and sub-lettered for "Miniature Train Service." The two dedicated box cars were sold because of the difficulty of keeping the two cars in special service. Despite specific instructions to the contrary, on numerous occasions the two cars, with the miniature train on board, would find themselves getting sent over various hump yards, and getting kicked along empty yard tracks in much the same way as normal freight cars. Plus, due to lack of a specifically assigned crew to watch and maintain the cars and the miniature train itself, locally assigned personnel who handled the train were not too keen on properly handling the special little train on loading and unloading or tying it down inside the cars. The miniature train got beat up pretty badly and the two box cars and the miniature train spent most of their time lost in various switching yards as mundane company material.
When the Salt Lake shops were closed in August 1998, the train was loaned to Operation Lifesaver in Salt Lake City and for lack of any other official location; the miniature train was kept by the local coordinator at his home. Union Pacific asked for the train to be returned and it was sent east to the Council Bluffs Service Unit, where it was stored in the business car shop in Council Bluffs, then in the former Pacific Fruit Express ice house, also in Council Bluffs. Unfortunately, no budget was set aside for maintenance and operation of the train, but several employees were able to work on the train as a volunteer effort. Little could be done for lack of money, but other service units continued to request its presence at various special events. Because the dedicated box cars were retired in 1998, the miniature train was hauled around on maintenance-of way flatbed boom trucks, and the train continued to suffer by getting beat up, banged up, and bent up on an all-too regular basis.
It was returned inoperative and damaged one too many times, after which it sat in the Council Bluffs ice house until it was sent to Cheyenne to be under the care of the Steam Crew. There still is no special budget for the miniature train, but now at least it seems to have a permanent home, which includes an assigned boom truck and an assigned driver to look after the train as it moves around the Union Pacific system. In 2004, three retired baggage cars were set on the ground end-to-end, and this is where the miniature train is kept between assignments. During early 2006 the individual cars of the train received new undercarriages from airport baggage wagons, and the train was planned to be repainted.
Known locations where the train(s) operated:
(incomplete, more research is needed)
- 1954: Cheyenne Frontier Days
- 1970: Fort Collins, Colorado. (Golden Spike exposition)
- 1976: Denver, Colorado. (Family Days)
- 1978: Omaha, Nebraska. (Family Days)
- 1978, July: Seattle, Washington, Argo Yard (Family Days)
- 1979, March: Denver, Colorado. (Saint Patrick's Day parade)
- 1980: Omaha, Nebraska. (Family Days)
- 1982: Omaha, Nebraska. (Family Days)
- 1983, July: Centerville, Utah (July 4th Parade)
- 1984: Omaha, Nebraska. (Family Days)
- 1985: Longview, Texas (MP train, painted as a Missouri Pacific streamliner)
- 1986: Omaha, Nebraska. (Family Days)
- 1988: Omaha, Nebraska. (Family Days)
- 1996, May: Salt Lake City; Boy Scouts Scout-O-Rama
- 2004: Omaha, Nebraska.
- 2004, July: Marysville, Kansas (Marysville Sesquicentennial)
- 2004, November: Cheyenne Christmas parade
The Other Trains
Many interested observers remember a second all-passenger car miniature train. This is the former Missouri Pacific miniature parade train. This second train consisted of a simulated E7 and two passenger cars. It was painted in MP's Eagle passenger scheme of blue and gray prior to being repainted to UP's yellow and gray scheme in about 1988. While in UP service, the ex MP train was assigned out of the North Little Rock shops.
To reduce its internal costs, Union Pacific chose to rid itself of the former Missouri Pacific miniature train during the period of belt-tightening during the tenure of Mike Walsh as UP's chairman and CEO (October 1986 to September 1991). This was the same time that UP reduced numerous other promotional activities aimed toward both the general public and its own employees. This included Family Days, the UP hot air balloon, the Union Pacific Choir, the Union Pacific Drum & Bugle Corp, the Union Pacific Country Band, and half the passenger car fleet that was used for employee specials and excursions.
The miniature Missouri Pacific train was retired as excess by UP in the late 1980s, and was donated to the Galveston Railroad Museum at Galveston, Texas. In January 2006 the train was loaned to Texas A&M University and the George Bush Presidential Library.
Other miniature trains include an early diesel Streamliner version, and a steam locomotive version. The steam train was remembered by Jim Ehernberger as operating in Cheyenne in 1954. Jim also remembers seeing photos of other miniature trains dated as early as 1927. Consists of these early trains varied and Jim recalled the 1954 train with seven cars and what they called a caboose, which appeared more like a short passenger car which had a cupola. They would change the engine number (and caboose number) each year. The train Jim saw was numbered as 1954 as both its locomotive number and its caboose number. Earlier photos show miniature trains numbered as 1939, reflecting that particular year of operation. Jim also remembers other miniature parade trains that included one that was apparently meant to look like the CD "City of Denver" units, and another looked like the pioneering M-10000 Streamliner. These two were just simple two-unit affairs but they were a close match to the original thing.
In Jim's words, "The steam trains were pretty crude, with only one large driving wheel (back wheel of a tractor) and cylinders that looked almost like they belonged on a compound engine. The tender and other cars were little four wheeled affairs. I found another steam engine picture recently lettered for the Oregon Short Line, and looks like something Pocatello shop made. I don't have any data on it, but it was obviously a "home made" product. The UP steam train had a Vanderbilt style tender and the OSL version had a square tender."
Thanks goes to Nathan Beauheim, Jim Burrill, Karl Dahlquist, Jim Ehernberger, Warren Johnson, Norm Metcalf, and George Poindexter for sharing their information.
- Union Pacific's Parade Trains, by Don Strack; UPHS The Streamliner, Volume 21, Number 3, Summer 2007; includes photos and additional information about the other miniature and parade trains used by Union Pacific