Union Pacific Steam Locomotives

This page was last updated on October 14, 2015.

Acknowledgements and Sources

My interest in Union Pacific's steam locomotives dates back to 1972. That was when Don Dover, the editor of Extra 2200 South, and I were first getting started with our all-time roster listing Union Pacific's diesel locomotive fleet. We were discussing the various number series that UP used for its earliest diesel locomotives and how they fit in with UP's number series for its still existing fleet of steam locomotives. With a gentle push from Don, I started building a list of UP's steam locomotives using some blank forms with preprinted columns that Don used to build all of his locomotive rosters. (These forms were 11x17 inches and were a wonderful tool before the days of computers and spreadsheets.) Don and I decided what was important for a steam locomotive roster, such as drive wheel diameter, cylinder size, weights, etc., and I got to work.

I started with the list that was in the book, "Motive Power of the Union Pacific" first published in 1959 by William Kratville and Harold Ranks. The variations were mind boggling, and a roster of UP's steam locomotives became a challenge that has remained as either an active project, or as a back-burner task for the next 35 years. As various projects would wind down, I would dig out the UP steam project and do a bit here, and a bit there. But the project has always been on the to-do list, since it was really one of my first projects, predating even the UP diesel roster, and my interest in Utah railroads.

This was during the early 1970s and I was already in contact with Allen Copeland. Allen graciously shared extensive listings of steam locomotives owned and operated by UP and its various subsidiary railroads. It was the study of these subsidiary railroads and their connection to Utah's earliest railroads that brought me to my never-ending fascination with Utah's railroads. As I got to know the basics of companies such as Utah Central, and the narrow gauge Utah and Northern, I became hooked into an interest like no other, and which soon became a major part of the way I spent my spare time.

The variations in locomotive designs, their road numbers, and the companies that owned and operated them, is a very important part of any railroad's history. Usually the most visible part. Union Pacific is no different, and my quest to find the history of Union Pacific locomotives and the locomotives of Utah railroads has been very rewarding because it brings with it an sincere appreciation of the history of Utah and its place in the West.

A roster of Union Pacific's diesel locomotives became a major focus in 1978, and the steam roster was soon laid aside. I was working for Union Pacific at the time, and had come to know Frank Acord, Union Pacific Chief Mechanical Officer, by asking him almost endless questions about his earlier days in Utah. Mr. Acord mentioned several times that he was impressed by my interest in history, and invited me to Omaha. In June 1978, I was able to accept his invitation and with his approval I spent two full days doing research in the files of Union Pacific's mechanical department. While scrolling through reels of microfilm, in addition to gleaning diesel locomotive information, I would occasionally run across steam locomotive information. This was dutifully copied and retained for future reference. It was during that trip in 1978 that I met Greg Davies, who was employed by Union Pacific. Greg shared a wondrous variety of steam locomotive information that he had collected as part of his own project to document UP's steam locomotives. Later, he sent me photocopies of most of his research, which has been an important part of what I have continued to keep safe for my own future use.

The Union Pacific diesel roster was published by Don Dover in multiple issues of his magazine Extra 2200 South in 1979 and 1980. I continued to do limited research into UP's steam locomotives throughout the early 1980s as time permitted, usually focusing on the Union Pacific's predecessor companies in Utah.

I first met Gordon McCulloch in the late 1970s through a mutual friend, Ralph Gochnour. Gordon was deeply involved in his own project of a Union Pacific steam locomotive roster. He and I discussed numerous points of common interest, and 1984 I sent him copies of what Greg Davies had shared with me. He later noted in a letter that the Davies data allowed him to "plug a lot of gaps and clarify a few numbers." In 1988 Gordon self-published the first edition of his landmark "Steam Roster for the Union Pacific System", which covered the road's steam locomotives from 1915 to the end of their operation. He published an updated version in 1990, and another in 1995. In 2012, Gordon published a greatly expanded roster and narrative history of Union Pacific steam locomotives, and updated it in 2015. (The book is now sold out and out of print.)

(As a side note, Gordon McCulloh wrote in April 2010 that he started compiling his roster of Union Pacific steam locomotives on an Apple IIe home computer, back in 1980-1981. "I was frustrated by the seeming complexities of the UP loco numberings. When I got to the ORN/OWRN I was convinced I'd go crazy before I ever had their renumberings figured out, but in retrospect there is no doubt in my mind the OSL has been at least twenty times harder to feel like I've really gotten it sorted out.")

From the mid 1990s and through to 2006 I was completely involved with other publishing projects that produced a series of books about Union Pacific's diesel locomotive fleet and Chicago & North Western's diesel fleet, along with other book projects about Ogden railroads (2002) and Union Pacific cabooses (2005).

During the late 1990s I became briefly involved with Union Pacific's steam locomotives as I was finishing "Diesels of the Union Pacific, 1934-1982, The Classic Era, Volume I," published in 1999. As part of that effort I had compiled a chronology of Union Pacific's locomotive fleet, from 1934 to 1982, including purchases and retirements. I included steam locomotives to put UP's diesel locomotives in context with their overall locomotive fleet. For my own use, I expanded the steam locomotive portion to include the 1915-1933 time period. When I first made the UtahRails.net web site available in 2001-2002, I included the two chronologies as part of the website. At that time I attempted to carry the roster back to cover the period between 1864 and 1915, but the renumberings and rebuilt 4-4-0s and 4-6-0s during the 1880s and 1890s seemed to scramble the whole roster into a confusing mess, and I gave up. -- (View the 1915-1933 UP Locomotive Chronology)

Between 2000 and 2006 I completed a series of magazine articles for The Streamliner, the publication of Union Pacific Historical Society. I was kept busy developing the stories about various parts of Union Pacific in Utah. The end result of this effort were articles about Union Pacific's Park City Branch, their operations in the Tintic Mining District, and their mainline route in Weber and Echo canyons.

(Read more about Union Pacific's Park City Branch)

(Read more about Union Pacific's operations in the Tintic Mining District)

(Read more about Union Pacific's mainline route in Weber and Echo canyons)

Between September 2004 and December 2007, I worked on a complete internet-based roster of Union Pacific passenger cars. I was able to gather together data from an amazing variety of sources, with lots of help from some very kind people. The subject of steam locomotives seldom came up, and the few questions that did arise, were easily answered using Gordon McCulloh's steam roster published in 1995.

(View the roster listings of Union Pacific's passenger cars)

After exhausting the data sources for the passenger car roster, I continued to focus on Utah's railroads, and in mid 2008, while doing some research as part of the overall UtahRails.net project, I found an interesting news item in an online newspaper about Union Pacific's locomotive roundhouse in Salt Lake City. The article was from 1897 and talked about the recent rebuilding of an Oregon Short Line 500 class 4-4-0, and gave both its old number and its new number. I wanted to compare the old and new information with what I had on hand, and hit a brick wall. I did not have any locomotive information from this period of OSL's history, including the extensive research obtained from George Pitchard back in 2004.

In October 2008, I sent an email to Gordon McCulloch asking if he had made progress on his project to document UP's steam locomotives in the 1885-1915 period. He had made progress with his own research, and graciously sent a single spreadsheet file that showed the information I was looking for.

Oregon Short Line was independent from Union Pacific between March and December 1897, with the result that they renumbered all of their equipment into new number series unrelated to their numbers while OSL was controlled by UP. To document the new numbers for OSL's steam locomotives, I decided to create a basic roster of OSL steam locomotives for the period of 1897-1915, when the equipment was renumbered into UP's newly established system-wide numbering pattern. I began gathering all that I had on hand from various storage locations, and to my surprise, I had retained an amazing variety of information concerning UP's steam locomotives.

After looking at Gordon's spreadsheet, I asked for his approval to reformat his roster into the separate eras of UP's steam locomotive fleet. He agreed as long as I did not publish the information in the form of a magazine article or book, keeping it in a purely digital format. So the work began to tackle Gordon's work and compile it all into a usable format to which I could add new information and updates as I discovered them. I am very comfortable working with interconnected ("hyperlinked") web pages, so that is the form that this roster is in.

As I set about learning about steam locomotives, I realized that I don't have much of a background in their design and usage. So I began gathering basic information to help me better understand what a steam locomotive is and how the designs have evolved over the years. I found several books from the early 1900s that Google has made available as part of its Google Books project. These helped a lot to explain the improvements in design, and the particulars as to why railroads, and Union Pacific specifically continued to rebuild their locomotives with larger drive wheels and larger cylinders. Just recently I was able to obtain a copy of Alfred Bruce's "The Steam Locomotive In America", a landmark book published in 1952. Mr. Bruce was the vice president of engineering at American Locomotive Company when the book was published.

I wanted to put UP's steam locomotives in context with the locomotives of other railroads, so I started looking for lists of all locomotives built since the mid 1800s, which are known as "Builder Lists." I made contact with Allen Stanley, and Allen sent a CD of all that he had collected over the years. I also began a correspondence with Robert Lehmuth concerning his project to compile finished builder lists for all locomotive builders, and to make them available. In return for providing a web page that shows the builder lists that Bob Lemuth was offering at the time, he sent me copies of the lists for builders that sold locomotives to Union Pacific. (Bob Lehmuth passed away in 2019.)

The greatest benefit from this steam locomotive project was that I have been able to compile a series of brief corporate and historical summaries of all of UP's subsidiary railroads that have operated steam locomotives. This includes the largest companies (OSL, OWRR&N, and LA&SL), as well as numerous smaller companies that have added to UP's network of branches all across its pre-1982 railroad network. These are all on the UP Corporate History page. I've tried to add an overview of each company's history, along with a roster listing of each company's steam locomotives, with their subsequent road number in UP's numbering system. -- (Read more about Union Pacific's Corporate History -- scroll down to the individual companies, then click each link)