UP's Olympics Cauldron Car

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This page was last updated on April 3, 2023.

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Union Pacific supported both the the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, and the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City by running special Torch Relay trains across its system, carrying the Olympic Torch flame from its origin in Greece to Atlanta in 1996, and from Greece to Salt Lake City in 2002. The flame was held in a special cauldron car built for the purpose.

Trains magazine in its May 1996 issue noted the need for the Olympic cauldron car:

The Atlanta Games first approached UP in early 1995 with the idea to carry the torch by train west of Chicago, where great distances conspire to make a traditional relay impossible. East of Chicago, the relay would be the province of runners, cyclists, and other carriers.

Olympic officials won the blessing of UP Corp. Chairman Drew Lewis, patron saint of the UP steam program. The railroad agreed to take the basic designs of the Games and incorporate them in a train of UP business-fleet cars, capped by the elaborate cauldron car carrying the flame. In the end, UP spent more than $1 million in direct costs associated with the train, especially the cauldron car, outfitted in Milwaukee by Northern Railcar. The overall relay was sponsored by Coca-Cola.

The cauldron car used for the 1996 Olympics was converted for Union Pacific by Northern Railcar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, using a UP-owned 60-foot (or 65-foot) flat car. A test train was run on March 18, 1996, testing the car for balance, unusual vibrations at speed, and air brake safety. After being in the shop for four months, the newly completed car had its unveiling ceremony at Northern Rail Car in Milwaukee on April 11, 1996. The car had been ballasted with lead ingots to bring it up to the needed 80,000 pounds (40 tons). The car was possibly converted from one of the four F-100-6 flat cars in the UP 50052-50056 series. The newly completed car was given a new number: UPP 1996.

The car included a 40-inch diameter cauldron with a propane two-million BTU burner, producing a flame four feet tall. The propane for the burner was supplied by six 200-gallon tanks that were refilled daily. The custom-designed burner used a vertical air "curtain" to prevent the flame from being extinguished as the Torch Relay Train traveled as fast as 70 mph along each of the rail portion of the relay. The cauldron car also featured a self-contained light and sound system, ramps and steps on both sides for torchbearers to light their torches and return their flames to the cauldron car. There were also presentation podiums on either side of the car for the various ceremonies at each ceremonial location during the tour.

Additional description of features of the cauldron car comes from the May 14, 1996 issue of the St. Joseph News Press newspaper:

Union Pacific personnel worked with Northern Rail Car and Georgia Tech University to design and construct the car, whose cauldron will keep the flame alight though moving at up to 60 mph. To meet this challenge, Georgia Tech professor Sam Shelton designed a protective wind curtain, one that surrounds the flame with a column of air shooting skyward at 100 mph and fends off slower gusts. The cauldron is hydraulically controlled and will be raised to its full height for stops along the route.

The cauldron car also features a stainless steel wall centered along the 65-foot-long flatcar. Ceremonial stages are positioned on each side and are accessible through portals at both ends and in the middle of the wall. Ramps can be lowered in minutes for torchbearers traveling to and from the cauldron.

The car also has a 24-inch false floor that conceals an elaborate light and sound system, in addition to six propane tanks supplying the 1,200 gallons of fuel used daily by the flame.

After the 1996 Olympics, the cauldron car was put on display at the Durham museum in Omaha. By January 2001 the cauldron car had been moved for storage in Union Pacific's Cheyenne roundhouse along side the railroads Heritage Fleet of locomotives and cars.

For the 2002 Winter Olympics, the cauldron car was refurbished with a new design, and the existing propane flame burner was retained, but with a new design surrounding structure. The refurbished car also received a new number: UPP 2002.

Within about four years after the 2002 Olympics, the car was donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum at Ogden Union Station, where it remains today [2023].

1996 Summer Olympics

The cauldron car was part of the 19-car special Union Pacific Torch Relay Train, which operated over UP rails between Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado, by way of Seattle, Boise, Pocatello, Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, and Denver, where it was passed off to BNSF.

The ceremonial torch arrived from Greece to Los Angeles, the site of the 1984 Summer Olympics, on April 27, 1996, and began its 15,000-mile journey visiting 42 states plus Washington, DC, visiting 29 state capitols. The torch was carried by 10,000 torchbearers, by runner, bicycle, horseback, canoe, steamboat, Great Lakes lake boat, sail boat, airplane and Union Pacific's special 19-car train. The ceremonial flame arrived in Los Angeles by way of a Delta Airlines charter named "Centennial Spirit," named for the 100-year anniversary of the Olympics games.

Union Pacific's part was to transport the torch between cities along routes where individual torch bearers were unable to carry the torch, due to remote locations and long distances. The railroad journey ended on January 22, 2002, but the ceremonial flame's journey ended on July 19, 1996 when it arrived in Atlanta at the start of the Summer Olympics.

(View a map of the route of the 1996 Summer Olympics Torch Relay)

(Read the Wikipedia article about the 1996 Summer Olympics Torch Relay)

The two custom-painted UP locomotives pulling the train throughout the entire nationwide rail tour, were painted "Georgia green" and had Olympic Torch Relay decals applied by employees at Union Pacific's Jenks locomotive shop in North Little Rock, Arkansas. UP was joined by six other railroads to operate the Olympic Torch Relay Train. The other railroads included Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CP Rail/Soo Line, Illinois Central, Kansas City Southern, Southern Pacific and Washington Central Railroad.

The specific 11 rail portions of the Torch Relay, using nine railroads, with the flame safely on board the train were as follows:

1996 Summer Olympics Locomotives

The two Union Pacific SD40-2s (UP 1896 and 1996, to honor the 100-year anniversary of the Olympics) were loaned by Union Pacific to pull the Olympic Torch Relay train. UP 1896 and 1996 were renumbered for service as part of the Torch Relay Train. After the Summer Olympics concluded, both were renumbered to new UP numbers. UP 1896 was built in 1976 as UP 8046; renumbered to UP 3316 in September 1981; rebuilt to SD40-2R on 4 April 1996; renumbered to 1896 on 7 April 1996; renumbered to UP 3100 on 27 November 1996. UP 1996 was built in 1977 as UP 3339; rebuilt to SD40-2R, 4 April 1996; renumbered to UP 1996 on 7 April 1996; renumbered to UP 3101 on 30 October 1996.

(View the roster listings for the two 1996 Olympics locomotives)

1996 Summer Olympics Torch Relay Train Consist

2002 Winter Olympics

The cauldron car was rebuilt in 2001 in preparation for Union Pacific's support of the 2002 Winter Olympics to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The 1996 version of the cauldron car was sent to Mid-America Car in Kansas City to be refurbished and updated. A test train was run from Kansas City to Topeka a short time before the special Torch Train began its journey across the UP system. The test train included the two specially-painted SD70 locomotives, the specially painted and decorated passenger cars and the cauldron car, with the flame lit to test if the flame remained lit at the speed the train would be operating at.

The 2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay Train was made up of two Union Pacific specially-painted SD70 locomotives (UP 2001 and 2002), and 13 passengers cars, and three service cars, with the cauldron car at the end of the train, a total of 17 cars. The passenger cars included in the train provided facilities for the 200 persons who accompanied the torch throughout its journey.

The special train, including the cauldron car, were officially presented to the public on November 15, 2001 at a ceremony at Union Station in Kansas City.

The 2002 ceremonial torch arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 4, 2001, from its ceremonial re-lighting in Greece on November 19th. From Atlanta, the torch began its 65 day run across the United States, from December 4, 2001 to February 8, 2002, arriving in Salt Lake City at the start of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

(View a map of the route of the 2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay)

(Read the Wikipedia article about the 2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay)

The Olympic train carried the flame on four separate occasions during the 2002 torch relay, for a total of more than 3,200 miles through 11 states. The first leg of the route for the Torch Relay Train began Livonia, Louisiana, on December 10, 2001. The train transported the Olympic flame for four days, from Livonia to Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Texarkana,Texas. The train then headed into Arkansas and ended this portion of the rail journey at Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 13, 2001. The train, without the flame, then proceeded to Omaha where it was stored awaiting the second rail leg that started on January 10, 2002. The second leg of the rail journey was from Omaha to Yuma, Arizona, and the third (shorter) leg was from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, California.

The fourth and last rail leg of the torch relay started in Sparks, Nevada and ended on January 22, 2002 at Eugene, Oregon. The train departed Eugene and progressed south without the flame to Roseville, then east over Donner Pass and arrived at Salt Lake City on January 25, 2002 where it was parked on temporary track for use by railroad guests during the games.

The two locomotives were used to pull the Olympic Torch Relay Train on its nationwide tour; the rail portion (in four separate parts) of the torch relay began on December 10th at Livonia, Louisiana, and ended on January 22, 2002 at Eugene, Oregon. The Olympic Torch Relay Train transported the Olympic flame more than 3,200 miles across 11 states as part of the 65-day long torch relay, which began on December 4, 2001 at Atlanta, Georgia, and ended at Salt Lake City on February 8, 2002, opening day for the Olympics. Part of the route for the torch relay train was over BNSF, which also cooperated during the torch relay ceremonies at locations along its railroad. Most of the press coverage was for the individual torchbearers carrying the flame, but most of the non-rail movement over long distances was by motor convoy, with the flame safely burning in either a specially-equipped Chevrolet Avalanche SUV, or in special portable lanterns.

During the non-rail portions of the Olympic torch relay, the ceremonial flame was carried in a special Chevrolet Avalanche equipped to protect and transport the Olympic Flame. The relay covered more than 13,500 miles and passed through 46 states on its way to Salt Lake City for the opening ceremony on February 8, 2002.

Union Pacific paid for the special paint jobs on the two locomotives as part of their support of the Olympics. The design was done by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. UP provided free freight transportation for a number of goods ranging from propane gas to wire cable to Salt Lake. UP also provided vehicle parking at Roper Yard for hundreds of Olympic buses, cars, trucks and other vehicles. In Salt Lake City Union Pacific built a temporary panel track yard to park their passenger cars near the Union Pacific depot for use as sleeping and meeting space for railroad officials, and an entertainment center for the railroad's guests. The temporary yard was also used by some additional passenger equipment from Canadian Pacific.

2002 Winter Olympics Locomotives

UP 2001 and 2002 were built in 2001 as UP 4690 and 4691. Both were painted in a special two-tone blue scheme to commemorate the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The locomotives did not enter service in their original 4600 series road number, but were moved direct from the factory in London, Ontario to the shops of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad at Horicon, Wisconsin for application of the special Olympic paint scheme; completed on November 7, 2001 and officially unveiled at Kansas City, Missouri on November 15, 2001.

The two units remained in Salt Lake City until February 27th, when they were used to return the Olympic Torch Train cars to Council Bluffs, Iowa; the units entered normal freight service on March 1st, with plans for them to be repainted to UP's standard yellow and gray paint scheme at some future date.

In 2017 both units were repainted to freshen the special paint scheme. The 2002 Salt Lake Organizing Committee owned all rights to the images, graphics and designs, but the committee had been disbanded and all supporting materials had been destroyed, including the designs and painting plans for the locomotives. To make up for the missing plans, the locomotives were photographed "foot-by-foot" at West Colton; first one locomotive, then a week later, the other locomotive. The photographs were then used to create templates that were used to repaint the locomotives. The two locomotives were sent to National Railway Equipment in Mount Vernon, Illinois, in May 2017 to be repainted.

As of early 2023, the two 2002 Winter Olympics locomotives have remained in their commemorative paint scheme. Both units were brought to Salt Lake City in February 2012 to take part in the 10-year anniversary celebration of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

(View the roster listings for the two 2002 Olympics locomotives)

2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay Train Consist

The consist of the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay train was as follows:


1996 Summer Olympics Cauldron Car at LaCrosse, Wisconsin (at RRPictureArchives.net)

1996 Summer Olympics Torch Relay train passing through Henefer, Utah (at RailPictures.net)

1996 Summer Olympics Cauldron Car (at RailPictures.net)

2002 Winter Olympics Cauldron Car (at RailPictures.net)

2002 Winter Olympics Torch Relay train in Texas (at RailPictures.net)