Union Pacific's Ogden Laundry

This page was last updated on July 11, 2016.

(Return to the Ogden Rails Index Page)

(Updated from text originally published in 2005 as part of the book, Ogden Rails)

Ogden Rails, A History of Railroading At The Crossroads Of The West
(Union Pacific Historical Society, 2005)

The successful operation of passenger trains on Union Pacific always took a lot of attention to detail and much planning. Handling thousands of passengers every day during the peak World War II years required a large number of employees just to support the trains themselves. It took teamwork to keep the trains running, especially the road's premier Streamliner fleet - teamwork among the dispatchers, locomotive engineers, train conductors, car attendants, porters, and dining car waiters and cooks. The locomotives had to work. The car heating and air conditioning had to work. The dispatchers had to get the trains over the road on time, every time. And everyone had to work together to see that passengers were comfortable. What passenger ever considered what was needed to get him or her over the road to a destination. There always seemed to be plenty of food in the dining car, a pillow for your head in the coach seat, and sheets for your bed in the sleeping compartment or Pullman bed, along with clean towels in the rest rooms. Clean towels, sheets, and pillows, and good food was the responsibility of Union Pacific's Dining Car and Hotel Department, or DC&H. The department also took care of the uniforms of train personnel, and the drapes on the car windows.

The Dining Car and Hotel Department operated large commissaries to store and distribute food and supplies to all of UP's passenger trains. Large DC&H commissary operations were located at Omaha, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland, and at Ogden. The DC&H laundry at Ogden was the only laundry operated by the railroad, and did all washing for the entire system, taking care of 940,000 (in 1945) pieces of linen and cotton items, including 40,000 tablecloths and 285,000 napkins, as well as thousands of aprons, coats, pillow slips, sheets, and dish towels. In 1945, the DC&H laundry monthly cleaned soiled linen of 125 dining and club cars, and 14 hotels, restaurants, and crew clubs operated by Union Pacific, together with several business cars and the widely known Sun Valley Resort for skiers. The laundry operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At that 1945 peak, laundry arrived from all of the other DC&H points, plus Kansas City, washing 60,000 to 70,000 pieces every 24 hours. On average, every laundry item on the railroad was cleaned and ironed twice a month. The laundry employed more than 200 people, most of whom were women. A large sewing operation both repaired and manufactured needed items. The sewing room employed 20 women, who at times hemmed 6,000 towels per day. (The Railroad Journal, October 1945, on file at the Union Pacific Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.)

The original laundry in Ogden was completed in 1906, located in the Commissary building just south of the depot. It was styled after the then-adjacent Union Depot, built in 1889, and remained after the new depot was completed in 1924. The passenger business grew in the post-World War II years, and soon the railroad found itself sending a large amount of its laundry out to several commercial laundries in Ogden and other locations along the system. To expand its capabilities, in 1951 the railroad completed a new laundry facility in Ogden, which still stands today, just south of the Union Station parking lot. The 100-foot by 180-foot building was completed in July 1951 as a large and modern facility that could process up to 110,000 pieces during an eight-hour shift. (Ogden Standard Examiner, July 27, 1952)

February 19, 1950
"In recognition of Ogden's position as one of the major railroad centers in the west, President Stoddard recently announced plans for the construction of a new modern laundry on the northwest corner of Twenty-sixth and Wall to handle all laundry for the entire system. The new laundry will replace the present laundry in the company's commissary which will be converted into commissary space. The building will be 100 by 180 feet with pavement areas of 100 by 60 feet at each end. Covered platforms, 100 by 12 feet, will run the width of the building at the south and north ends for the receiving and issuing of laundry. The new laundry will be capable of turning out 110,000 pieces during an eight-hour working day." (Ogden Standard Examiner, February 19, 1950

Every hour of the average eight-hour shift, an average of 3,300 pounds of dry laundry (about 13,333 pieces) would be unloaded at the south side dock, and within an hour and a half, it would be available at the other side of the building, washed, dried, ironed, folded, counted and tied in bundles ready for delivery to commissaries all over the system. Equipped with eight washers and three dryers, the laundry also included four flatwork ironers, 42 individual pressers, six folders, and numerous other machines needed to handle the volume of work. The facility needed large quantities of steam, which came from seven Vapor-Clarkson steam generators, identical to those used to produce steam heat on the railroad's diesel passenger locomotives. This unusual arrangement allowed the laundry to operate at peak times with all the steam it needed, but at slower times, some of the steam generators could be turned off to conserve fuel. (March 26, 1951 press release, Union Pacific Railroad)

As the number of passenger trains began to diminish in the mid-1960s, the amount of laundry sent to Ogden also fell. Soon, the cost of keeping the laundry in operation, and shipping the soiled and clean laundry all over the railroad, exceeded the cost of simply sending the railroad's laundry out to commercial laundries located in cities with large passenger terminals. As the work began slipping away to commercial businesses in other cities, the employees were laid off. (Roberts, Ogden Union Station, p. 55)

August 5, 1969
Union Pacfic announced that it would close its Dining Car & Hotel Commissary in Ogden "this fall." A total of 62 employees would be affected, including 12 clerical and warehouse workers, and 50 on-train stewards, cooks and waiters. All affected employees would be offered positions at other locations on Union Pacific. (Ogden Standard Examiner, August 5, 1969, "today")

The Commissary building was owned by Ogden Union Railway & Depot Company, and was rented to Union Pacific. The employees affected was increased to 70, including 20 clerks, 12 cooks, 16 waiters, 4 stewards and 18 extra board waiters. At one time, the commissary served 120 trains, operating westbound and eastbound from Ogden. At the time of the annpounced closure, Union Pacific was operating six trains through Ogden. These were the City of Los Angeles, Mail and Express trains 5 and 6, and the Butte Special, trains 35 and 36. The City of San Francisco was also operating through Ogden and was sent west via the Southern Pacific, which had applied to reduce the train from daily, to three times per week. The Commissary also supplied UP's work trains with food and other items. (Ogden Standard Examiner, August 13, 1969)

September 21, 1969
Union Pacific closed its Commissary at Ogden, and demolished the building in during the week of February 16-20, 1970. (Ogden Standard Examiner, February 22, 1970)

December 2, 1970
Union Pacific announced that it would close its laundry at Ogden, although a definite date was not given. About 40 employees would be affected. The reason given was the decline of the number of passenger trains traveling through Ogden, along with the sale of UP's Sun Valley resort in Idaho, four years previously. To make up of the loss of laundry facilities at Ogden, Union Pacific would contract with private firms at either end of its system. UP had closed its commissary at Ogden in September 1969, and demolished the building. (Ogden Standard Examiner, December 2, 1970, "today")