Union Pacific Ogden Roundhouses and Mechanical Facilities

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This page was last updated on November 23, 2023.

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(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)

Modern Locomotives

As the new Union Pacific continued to make improvements after its reorganization in 1897, traffic continued to grow and new locomotives were purchased to move it. Between 1911 and 1921, UP purchased 362 Mikado-type 2-8-2 locomotives and, between 1917 and 1925, 144 TTT-class 2-10-2 locomotives. These two types were the state of the art in locomotive design at the time, and many operated into and through Ogden. The June 28, 1918 issue of the trade publication Railway Age stated that of the 27 2-10-2 locomotives purchased by UP during 1917, 10 were placed in service on the 75.8 miles of grade between Ogden and Evanston, Wyoming, and that these locomotives were powerful enough to eliminate helpers on the same grade. Conquering the Wasatch grade east of Ogden was always a consideration with mainline steam locomotives purchased by Union Pacific, along with every turbine locomotive, and many of the later diesel locomotives.

Between 1922 and 1925, Union Pacific placed in service 60 thoroughly modern 7000-class 4-8-2 Mountain-type locomotives. These locomotives were designed and used, as their name implies, on UP's mountainous routes to pull its fastest and most important passenger trains. The 7000s were UP's mainline passenger motive power for another 15 years, until the arrival of the first examples of the 800-class 4-8-4s in mid-1937. The arrival of modern locomotives in the 1920s required UP to construct correspondingly modern facilities to care for them, but some of the facilities at Ogden had been built during the railroad's earliest days in the city.

1897 Roundhouse

Union Pacific had built an enginehouse in Ogden in 1869 immediately after the driving of the Golden Spike, but the road's main shops were at Evanston, 100 miles east. The Ogden enginehouse was a single-stall building, 40 feet by 157 feet, located between the main line and the Weber River, sharing a common turntable with Central Pacific's own enginehouse. (Ogden Junction, January 1, 1870)

Locomotives continued to increase in size and capacity, and the turntable and small enginehouse soon became inadequate. In October 1870, the single-stall building was replaced by a four-stall roundhouse. (Hunter, Beneath Ben Lomond's Peak, p. 424)

By 1885, CP had completed its own turntable and roundhouse adjacent to its own yard, and by 1890, the original UP enginehouse had been abandoned and the turntable taken up. Research suggests that UP shared Central Pacific's new roundhouse between 1890 and 1897.

In 1897, a new 20-stall roundhouse was completed just north of the original enginehouse and turntable. This new roundhouse was all-brick, and its stalls were 77 feet long. According to UP's 1897 annual report, other improvements in Ogden at the same time included a new 60-foot iron turntable, a 40-pocket coal chute (measuring 30 feet by 120 feet), a new oil house, sand house, and storehouse, a brick hospital, track scales, yard office, water tanks and water columns, and additions to the stockyards. The 60-foot iron turntable was replaced in 1900 by a longer, 66-foot steel model from Lassig Bridge and Iron. (Union Pacific structures property book, on file at the Union Pacific Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.)

Joint Shops Complex

Edward H. Harriman was in control of Union Pacific by 1900, and in 1901 he gained control of the Southern Pacific as well. One of the most enduring impacts from Harriman's control of both UP and SP was the engineering designs and improvements made under what was called "Common Standard," a concept meant to reduce costs by buying and maintaining standard designs common to all companies controlled by Harriman. Although Harriman died in 1909, and Union Pacific was forced to sell its interest in Southern Pacific in 1912, the two companies continued to cooperate under the Common Standard concept for many years after. Even today, many of both Union Pacific's and Southern Pacific's engineering designs have their roots in the Common Standard era.

(Read more about UP's use of Common Standard)

In an early example from those Common Standard days, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific in 1904 combined their mechanical facilities in Ogden into a joint facility to serve the needs of both companies. In November 1914, Union Pacific vacated its 1897-built, 20-stall roundhouse and moved all of the machinery to a newly expanded Southern Pacific shop. (Union Pacific structures property book)

In October 1904, UP announced that their "old" roundhouse in Ogden would be outfitted as a paint shop, to handle all painting for all UP divisions near Ogden. The old carpenter shop was to be moved from its location 400 feet away, and would be outfitted as an upholstery shop for passenger equipment. (Ogden Standard Examiner, October 11, 1904)

An earlier announcement mentioned the planned move of the OSL paint shops from Salt Lake City to the then-vacant roundhouse at Ogden. (Deseret News, August 12, 1904)

SP had completed its new mechanical facilities in 1906 (while Harriman was still alive and controlling the SP) in the form of a new 33-stall roundhouse with 88-foot-long stalls. Two years later, in 1908, Southern Pacific completed the adjacent machine shops, and added a transfer table. (SP ICC Structure Valuation Indexes, on file at Southern Pacific headquarters, San Francisco, California.)

A new 600-ton coaling station was completed in August 1907. It was reported as being twice the size of the coaling station recently completed at Salt Lake City. "The big coal chute rises fifty feet above the ground. There is a sharp incline running from the tracks below up to a height of thirty-five feet, to the point where cars must be placed for unloading into the huge pockets, of which there are six, each holding 100 tons." The coaling station was equipped with a sixty-horsepower electric hoist to pull the loaded cars up the incline and lower the empty cars. (Salt Lake Herald, August 26, 1907) (Salt Lake City actually had a five-pocket, 500-ton coaling station with an electric hoist throughout its entire existance (1907 to 1954), so the above note comparing Salt Lake City to Ogden is wrong.)

As part of the improvements in 1914 for a joint shops complex, SP added an all-steel 100-foot Pony truss turntable, and completed a large Blacksmith and Tin Shop north of the transfer table, making the facility the most modern in the West, and capable of handling both its own and Union Pacific's repairs. The old UP roundhouse became the railroad's Ogden passenger coach repair shop.

One block south of the old UP roundhouse stood the 1897-built former UP ice house, leased to Pacific Fruit Express in 1906. When the ice house burned in 1919, Pacific Fruit Express set out with immediate plans to replace it. Planning and engineering activity took a year, and studies showed that the best location for a new PFE facility was right where the old one had stood, but with longer platforms and easier access for through trains. This last consideration meant that the old UP roundhouse was in the way. Demolition soon began, and was completed in September 1921, along with the removal of the 66-foot turntable, the 40-pocket coal chute, and other shops and buildings. (Union Pacific structures property book)

By the early 1920s, the expansion of traffic through Ogden, and the use of new, modern locomotives, made Union Pacific acutely aware that it no longer had its own locomotive repair facilities in Ogden. Since 1914, UP had been sharing Southern Pacific's facilities, and those joint facilities were becoming overcrowded. SP's roundhouse stalls were too short, and too few in number, with the result that many UP locomotives were forced to be serviced outdoors. Many proposals were made to improve this condition, including new facilities at a new location. Two locations were considered. The first was south of the 30th Street wye (in the area later occupied by the passenger balloon track, and during the mid- and late-1990s, by a concrete tie manufacturer), locating the roundhouse and other structures (including a transfer table and rectangular large shop buildings) in the area bounded by the wye on the north, the Weber River on the west, the elevated Bamberger line on the south, and the main line on the east. This site may have been ruled out due to its lack of room for expansion. The second site was on the north side of the same 30th Street wye, bounded only by the Weber River and the proposed OSL freight bypass track on the west and the wye on the south. A 1923 map illustrating these proposed sites shows essentially the same configuration as what became the final roundhouse and car-repair track design, with only minor variations being made later for easier access. (Map, Oregon Short Line Railroad, "Locations for Proposed Mechanical Facilities, Ogden, Utah", June 4, 1923)

As early as February 1923, there had been internal correspondence about UP building its own "independent" engine and mechanical facilities. (UP correspondence file index, entry dated February 18, 1923)

When SP learned that UP was considering moving out of the present joint facility, it proposed another joint facility, as the SP terminal was also inadequate to handle its own fleet of larger and more modern locomotives. A committee was formed and a study was made. SP wanted to simply add on to its present site, and keep Union Pacific as a tenant.

But UP's heart wasn't in the committee effort, and the road declined SP's offer, mostly because Union Pacific felt it was being taken advantage of in the current situation. In 1923, UP President, Carl Gray, stated in a memo that new, solely-Union Pacific mechanical facilities would generate almost $192,000 in annual savings. Gray was especially upset that SP wanted UP to build the roundhouse and other improvements at UP expense, but locate it on SP property, and let SP direct its operations, but still as a joint facility. (Memorandum by the President, July 28, 1926)

Southern Pacific tried a different proposal, with "better" arrangements, but it was too late. Nothing motivates better than a bad offer mixed with significant savings on the bottom line, and UP decided it needed its own engine terminal in Ogden. UP had just opened new facilities at Evanston and Green River, Wyoming, providing excellent examples of significant savings offered by modern facilities. A solely-UP location would cost Union Pacific just as much as a new joint facility, but would be at a better location for access by the road's own locomotives.

1927 Roundhouse

With the decision made, UP purchased property in 1923. Located west of the main line at 28th Street, this land was occupied by several private dwellings. Union Pacific had been fielding complaints from the residents about the need for a viaduct on 28th Street to allow better and safer access, because "the [grade] crossing was almost continually used by trains and switching moves" (remember that congestion here was the reason for the proposed OSL bypass in that same year). Purchase of this property, for a mere $30,000, allowed Union Pacific to move the residents out, quiet the complaints, and obtain land for its new facilities, all at the same time.

A budget proposal drawing for a new engine terminal was completed with a date of November 23, 1923, prepared for the 1924 budget year. The drawing showed a proposed 20-stall roundhouse, a 100-foot turntable, and minimal service tracks, a small cinder pit and a small single-track coaling station (similar to that recently completed in Provo), all spread out in a direct north-south orientation along the north side of the yard tracks. The drawing included "future" improvements that included a larger three-track cinder pit, a larger three-track overhead coaling station, and three service tracks instead of one. The "future" proposal also included a 195-foot by 330-foot machine shop and a 155-foot by 250-foot boiler shop, with a 92-foot transfer table separating these two future improvements.

The 1924 budget was approved, and work began preparing the site for the new engine terminal, with some delays while the terminal and buildings were designed and given final approval. The preparation and design work continued throughout 1924 and 1925, and in 1926 a budget was approved as the final amount to build the buildings and install machinery.

November 10, 1926
"Roundhouse Plans Expected Soon. Ogden, Nov. 10. Blueprints of the proposed Union Pacific system roundhouse here are expected to arrive soon, according to word received by Ogden contractors Tuesday from Omaha. Until the plans arrive there is no definite information concerning the new building. 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)

June 30, 1927
The following comes from the June 30, 1927 Ogden Standard Examiner newspaper:

Union Pacific Forming Crews. Hires Several Men From Force Displaced In S. P. Shops. Organization of Union Pacific roundhouse and machine shop crews was started this morning by William Parry, terminal general foreman, who announced that 64 men will be employed in these portions of the railroad's new Ogden activities. Twenty-five of the employes are being shifted from the Southern Pacific shops, others coming largely from Evanston, Wyo.

Besides the roundhouse and machine shop forces, divided into three shifts, there will be the employes of the storehouse, making a total of considerably over 125 men, according to present indications. At the present time nearly 100 men are employed in completing the building and grading work at the roundhouse grounds.

Although coaling of Union Pacific locomotives was started to some extent today at the new yards, the official change of machine and roundhouse work will not take place until midnight. Then 114 employes of the Southern Pacific railroad, including many experienced men, will lose their positions as far as the Southern Pacific shops are concerned. The expectation is that some of these will be re-employed here as business increases while others may seek positions in shops elsewhere.

On July 1, 1927, the new 20-stall brick roundhouse and RIP (Repair-In-Place) tracks were opened for business, at a total reported cost of $712,000. Facilities included a 40-foot by 82-foot brick machine shop attached to the roundhouse, a 100-foot steel turntable, two concrete cinder pits, an electric Whiting traveling cinder pit crane, and a new power plant. (Union Pacific magazine, May 1929)

By the end of 1927, a 350-ton conveyor-type steel coaling station was completed at the site. With all structures and machinery fully operational and ready for full use, the facility was officially completed on March 1, 1929. The cost of the roundhouse alone was put at $573,000. By the end of 1928, Union Pacific figured it had already saved $149,000 over having SP maintain its locomotives at the former joint shop. In 1931, additional tracks were added that allowed the RIP tracks to be switched not only from the west side, as originally built, but also from the east side.

By the mid-1930s UP was looking for improved locomotive designs that would get more traffic over the road faster. In late 1936, the road found the answer in its Challenger design, an articulated locomotive with a 4-6-6-4 wheel arrangement. These locomotives were longer then conventional engines and consequently needed longer shop facilities to handle them. To do so, UP in 1941 replaced the 100-foot turntable with 135-foot model. In December 1942, nine stalls of the roundhouse were extended to accommodate the 4-6-6-4 Challengers and the first 20 4-8-8-4 Big Boy locomotives that were delivered that same year. Stalls 15 and 16 were extended 153 feet, and stalls 12, 13, and 14 were extended 233 feet to provide room for a new machine shop. The original machine shop had been located at the end of stalls 17 to 20, and rails were laid into the old machinery space to extend these stalls for the longer locomotives. The original two-track drop pit was also increased to be a three-track facility.

More Changes

In 1953-54, Riverdale Yard (completed in 1942) was expanded to accommodate the growth in traffic. Included in the construction was a new car repair facility. Completed in December 1955, the four new RIP tracks included a 50-ton traveling crane, 1,300 feet of concrete runway between tracks, and space to work on 70 cars at any one time. The old, nine-track car repair shop north of the roundhouse at 29th Street was retired in April 1959.

The presence of railroads and railroading in Ogden was always an important element in the local economy. During the labor debate in the early 1960s over reducing crew sizes of the local switching locomotives by elimination of the fireman position, Ogden's residents were reminded in the media of the benefits of railroaders to the local economy. Edward Peters, manager of the Weber County Industrial Bureau, figured that for every 100 railroad jobs lost in Ogden, the local economy lost $600,000 in yearly earnings. (Deseret News, February 3, 1964, p. B1)

With the arrival of large numbers of diesel locomotives in the early 1950s, and the end of the use of steam locomotives later in that decade, UP made modest improvements to the Ogden roundhouse to better serve the new motive power. These improvements included facilities to fuel UP's growing fleet of diesel locomotives, and its unique gas-turbine locomotives. The scope of these improvements was limited because Ogden was only 36 miles away from Salt Lake City, with its large diesel shop, completed in 1955.

With the retirement of the last of UP's steam locomotives in late 1959, and steam locomotives no longer needing to be serviced at Ogden, the large coaling station was demolished and removed. A photo dated June 11, 1960 shows that the large coaling station was being removed at that time. The large and extensive overhead structure was already gone, with only the trackside vertical steel beams and minimal horizontal steel beams still in place.

In 1969, most of the roundhouse work force was either laid off or transferred to the Salt Lake shops. The roundhouse, used only to house and service the local switcher fleet, was finally demolished in 1971. A series of dated photos furnished by Dean Gray show the demolition starting in May 1971, and continuing through June 1971.