Union Pacific's Salt Lake City Roundhouses
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This page was last updated on April 13, 2020.
The 32-stall Salt Lake City roundhouse was completed in 1905 with just 20 stalls, as part of the new North Yard joint yard between the new San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, and the Oregon Short Line Railroad, which had been operating trains through Salt Lake City since its predecessor Utah Central was completed in 1870.
This roundhouse completed in 1905 was the second roundhouse in Salt Lake City. The first was completed in 1880 by Utah Central and was located just to the north of the original Utah Central depot at the northwest corner of South Temple and Third West streets. The site of this original roundhouse was on the southwest corner where today's North Temple street meets 400 West.
The San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was completed between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles in 1905, but the SPLA&SL had been operating the lines south and west of Salt Lake City since 1903 when the Oregon Short Line and SPLA&SL settled their right-of-way disputes in Nevada in July 1903. At that time, the San Pedro line took ownership of all former OSL lines south and west of Salt Lake City.
After the settlement in 1903, SPLA&SL locomotives shared the original OSL roundhouse at Salt Lake City at North Temple and 400 West. The new roundhouse was completed in June 1905 at 900 North and 500 West. The two roads continued to use the newer facility until 16 of the 32 stalls were were demolished in early 1950. The remaining 16 stalls were demolished in November 1951, and work on a new diesel shop began in December 1951. There are a few photos of the bright orange steel girders being erected with the last roundhouse stalls still standing at the outside edges of the building site.
The joint Salt Lake City terminal completed in 1905 consisted of the large roundhouse, an adjacent powerhouse (completed in 1918), and a large, 500-ton coaling trestle. During 1914 the terminal was servicing 53 steam locomotives, including 36 for OSL and 17 for SPLA&SL. The compressors in the powerhouse were changed from steam driven to electric motor driven in 1924. At the same time, seven 105-foot stalls were added to the roundhouse, and a pneumatic sanding system was added to the coaling trestle. A new powerhouse was added in 1944.
Utah Central Roundhouse
Prior to the completion of the new joint facility in 1905, Oregon Short Line's mechanical work was done at the original Utah Central roundhouse near its depot west of downtown Salt Lake City. Located on the southwest corner of today's 400 West and North Temple streets, the original Utah Central 12-stall brick roundhouse was completed in December 1880, and itself was a joint facility of the original Utah Central Railroad, and the Utah Southern Railroad. The two roads were combined as the Utah Central Railway in 1881, and were included in the consolidation of Utah and Idaho railroads in 1889 with the creation of the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern.
The major shops for OSL&UN were in Pocatello, but Salt Lake City remained as the second largest shop for locomotive, passenger car and freight car maintenance. When OSL&UN was reorganized as the independent Oregon Short Line Railroad in March 1897, company management announced that Pocatello would remain as the largest shop, but that Salt Lake City would have its foundry expanded to take the work that was previously being done by Union Pacific in Omaha. The "car shops, paint shops, and general repair departments will also be enlarged to meet the requirements of an independent system." (Salt Lake Tribune, March 2, 1897)
As early as October 1897, OSL saw the need for a larger mechanical facility to maintain its locomotives and rolling stock. The area was growing, and the amount of railroad activity was increasing, which meant more trains and more locomotives. There were discussions of moving the shops to the northern limits of Salt Lake City, along the mainline to Ogden. The railroad knew of the need for larger mechanical facilities in earlier years, but OSL was under the control of Union Pacific until early 1897, and UP had its own shops 35 miles north in Ogden. Due to UP's bankruptcy and reorganization beginning 1893, in March 1897 Oregon Short Line became an independent railroad, and needed its own locomotive facilities. But the negotiations in late 1897 with property owners, and Salt Lake City itself fell through, and the project was put on hold. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 17, 1897)
In December 1897, the Salt Lake City roundhouse was expanded on its east side with a 40 feet by 40 feet addition that was to house a large foundry for Oregon Short Line. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 10, 1897)
As locomotives grew in size in the early 1890s, the original roundhouse was found to be too small. When new compound locomotives arrived in Salt Lake City for service on the OSL in 1890 and 1891, the local Deseret Evening News wrote, "Today the old roundhouse is regarded as a prehistoric freak. and when a new compound went inside about half of its Vanderbilt tender was want to stick out of the doors." (Deseret Evening News, June 9, 1905)
North Yard Joint Facilities
In March 1901, the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was organized to build between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Although there were issues between SPLA&SL and OSL over the route in southern Nevada, the two roads agreed that a joint facility in Salt Lake City would be best for both companies, if the details could be worked out. Previously, OSL had tried to locate in the northern part of Salt Lake City. In the years since, OSL had been buying property as it became available, and had acquired a large portion of what was needed. There were several holdouts for some of the needed parcels, and as reported in the local Deseret Evening News newspaper on July 29, 1901, Oregon Short Line went to court under eminent domain to have the remainder of the needed property condemned. The San Pedro road had already announced that it would be building its terminal in North Salt Lake City, and had been buying land in the vicinity, so the OSL legal action was itself in response to the San Pedro action, wanting to beat the new road to some of the needed property.
By the end of 1903, the two railroads had settled their differences in southern Nevada, and OSL had completed its Leamington cutoff, which had its route west from Salt Lake City to Lakepoint on the south shore of Great Salt Lake, then south through Tooele and Rush valleys to a connection with the existing mainline at Lynndyl. Just six months before, in July 1903, OSL and the San Pedro road had settled on the ownership arrangements of the entire line between Salt Lake City and the new construction being completed in southern Nevada, with SPLA&SL taking ownership of the route in return for OSL taking an one-half ownership in the San Pedro road. The new cooperation meant that work could proceed on the new Salt Lake City joint terminal.
June 22, 1904
A new switching yard in northern Salt Lake City was approved on June 22, 1904, along with a second track to be added between Second South and Ninth North streets. The cost was projected as being $342,550. (OSL AFE 104 1904, approved June 22, 1904; OSL Form 12, Authority for Expenditure; research completed May 4, 1995)
In March 1904, local newspapers told of work commencing in the form of surveyors pounding stakes, carpenters laying forms for foundations, and trackmen laying new spurs and side tracks, all in the vicinity of the new shops being built at what was then known as Eighth North and Fourth West, now known as 900 North and 500 West. A steam shovel was in place, and large construction tents had been erected. A new roundhouse was to be the first structure to be completed, since the San Pedro had an immediate need for a place for its own steam locomotives. (Deseret Evening News, March 28, 1904)
By September 1904, there were over 300 men working on the new yard tracks and shop buildings. (Salt Lake Herald, September 16, 1904)
The Deseret News newspaper of December 31, 1904 carried photographs showing the partially completed 20-stall brick roundhouse, along with numerous yard tracks in place but not yet ballasted and aligned. That same news item mentioned that there were to be 31 parallel tracks in the yards, 12 of which would be at least 8000 feet in length.
June 5, 1905
Work on the new roundhouse continued, and on June 5, 1905, all of the locomotives being worked on in the old roundhouse were removed to the new roundhouse. On June 8, work commenced on the demolition of the old structure. The Deseret News of June 9, 1905 told of the old roundhouse, and the changes, "When the old roundhouse was first erected on Third West between South and North Temple streets great astonishment was expressed by the wise railroad men and others at the size of the big doors leading to each stall. Today, the old roundhouse is regarded as a prehistoric freak and when a new Compound went inside, about half of the Vanderbilt tender was wont to stick out of the doors." One feature of the new roundhouse that was noted was that the service pits were concrete, with rails set into the concrete, an great improvement over the previous method of wooden timbers, which were a fire hazard due to hot coals and the accumulation of oil in the timbers. (Deseret Evening News, June 9, 1905)
October 22, 1905
OSL announced a new passenger depot in Salt Lake City. This was in addition to building new freight yards north of the city, a new roundhouse, a new freight station, and a new viaduct for North Temple street. The total cost of all the projects was reported as $500,000 to $600,000. (Salt Lake Herald, October 22, 1905)
July 28, 1914
UP approved a work order for OSL to construct six additional stalls on the present Salt Lake City roundhouse, which was "only a 20 stall enginehouse." The inside length of the existing stalls was 96 feet. between July 1, 1913 and June 30, 1914, an average of 53 engines were serviced or repaired at the Salt Lake City facility, including 36 OSL engines and 17 SPLA&SL engines. (OSL AFE 91/84 1914, approved July 1, 1914; OSL Form 12, Authority for Expenditure; research completed May 4, 1995)
August 15, 1916
Oregon Short Line received a building permit to add five stalls the existing twenty-stall Salt Lake City roundhouse. The cost was reported as $15,000, and work had already started and the foundation had been laid. (Salt Lake Telegram, August 15, 1916.)
The following improvements were made in the 1917-1928 time period.
- Clerestories were added above 14 stalls in 1917.
- Stalls 14 through 20 were extended to 110 feet in 1926.
- Stalls 7 through 13 were extended to 100 feet in 1927.
- Stalls 5 and 6 were extended to 110 feet in 1928.
February 19, 1924
UP completed construction of a new sand house at Salt Lake City, with pneumatic elevated sanding facility at the existing coaling station. (OSL Register of AFEs, on file at Union Pacific Museum, Council Bluffs, Iowa, page 477; research completed May 4, 1995)
September 2, 1924
UP completed construction to extend seven stalls on the Salt Lake City roundhouse, from 96 feet to 105 feet. Work order started on September 19, 1923; completed on September 2, 1924. (OSL Register of AFEs, on file at Union Pacific Museum, Council Bluffs, Iowa, page 477; research completed May 4, 1995)
December 12, 1924
UP completed the installation of two new 1,500 cubic feet electrically-driven air compressors, replacing the previous steam-driven compressors. (OSL Register of AFEs, on file at Union Pacific Museum, Council Bluffs, Iowa, page 477; research completed May 4, 1995)
The Salt Lake City steam locomotive engine terminal received relocated sanding facilities, and water and oil columns. The sand tower was relocated from the north end of the coaling station, to a new location just south of a new green (wet) sand bin just south of a new sand drying house. The oil column was relocated from the engine service tracks to very near the new sand tower, and the Sheffield water column was relocated from its site across the track eastward from the south end of the coaling station, to a new location also very near the new sand tower. The new sand drying house was converted from an existing small brick building labeled as "Vault." (UP CE Drawing 64137, dated November 12, 1942; citing Work Order 259)
Adjacent to this new sand storage and sand drying facility, UP added a small service and inspection pit for the diesel switchers that had arrived in 1942. This new location would later become informally known as the "Goat Pit," remaining in place until the late 1990s. There was a concrete inspection pit to work under the switchers. Although the water and oil columns for steam switching locomoitives were later retired and removed, the 1942-built sand tower, wet sand bin, and sand drying house remained in use for switch engines. The sand bin and sand drying house also furnished dry sand to the large sanding facility that was added just south of the new diesel locomotive service pits, completed at the same time as the new diesel shop in 1955.
When a new service facility was added west of the diesel shop in 1973, all sanding activity for both road power and switching power was moved to the facility, and the original (built in 1942) sand storage and sand drying was retired and removed. The original "Goat Pit" for servicing switchers was also removed. The area was re-graded and new tracks were laid at the same location and were used for miscellaneous storage during yard operations. The new tracks became known as the "New Goat Pit," a name that stuck for at least 20 years. The tracks were long enough that the various local trains could tie up there, as well. Although reconfigured a bit, the tracks are still there in 2019, and are where UTA stores its trains.
August 1941, Salt Lake City was one of the first yards to receive diesel yard switchers on the entire Union Pacific system, due to the smoke ordinances of Salt Lake City. These smoke ordiances went into effect on October 1, 1941. (Salt Lake Tribune, August 21, 1941, with photo of first switchers)
The roundhouse was modified in that same year to accommodate servicing for the new units, by the addition of wooden work platforms and a overhead monorail crane system that would allow maintenance on the diesel engines. Also in 1942, a new double track mainline was located to allow passenger trains to avoid the congestion of the freight yard by passing to the east of the roundhouse. The double track mainline was moved slightly to accommodate the new diesel shop, and remains in service today.
In April 1945 Union Pacific advertised for bids to install a new steaming and boiler wash system in the Salt Lake City engine facility. The plans called for an eight-inch steam line to be installed from the new power house to the roundhouse, entering on the west south wall of stall 32, which was the farthest stall to the west. The eight-inch pipes were to be continued in what was called the "circle line" from stalls 32 through 20. At stall 20, the eight-inch line was to be reduced to six-inches, and continued from , then a six-inch circle line line was to be continued to stall 1, on the east side of the roundhouse. A new steam drop and boiler washing system was to be installed to serve each stall. The bid proposal listed the classes of steam locomotives that would be using the new steaming and boiler wash system. These included the 800-819 series of 4-8-4s; the 3950 series of 4-6-6-4s; the 4000 series of 4-8-8-4s; the 5000 series of 2-10-2s, and the 7000 series of 4-8-2s. (Union Pacific Invitation To Bid, "Installing New Overhead Stem Line From Power House To Enginehouse And Modified Steaming System In Enginehouse," bids to close April 14, 1945; Work order 1182)
Although Union Pacific was receiving many new diesel locomotives for mainline freight service, and in September 1948 would announce that the South-Central District was fully dieselized, there were still substantial numbers of steam locomotives being serviced. In his letter dated September 23, 1948, asking that the roundhouse roof be repaired as soon as possible, the mechanical superintendent for Salt Lake, A. R. Nelson, pointed out that the proposed retirement of stalls 9 through 24 (deemed the most unsafe part of the structure following a recent inspection) must be delayed due to the large numbers of steam locomotives still being worked on. Stalls 20 to 23 served as the drop pit for the change-out of steam locomotive axles and diesel locomotive traction motors.
In August 1948, the Utah Division Engineer had completed a report that the Salt Lake City roundhouse was in very poor condition. Numerous structural beams and posts were found to be cracked and improperly repaired. The roof joists were found to be in very bad condition. The roof sheeting was soft, split and shredded. There were no smoke jacks. Instead, ventilation was accomplished with rooftop clerestories. But over the years, clerestories for six stalls had been removed as part of roof repairs. The overall condition of the entire roof was found to be inadequate to support a heavy snow load.
The report recommended that the roof for stalls 5 through 20, and stall 32 be removed and renewed. A total of 22 posts needed to be "stubbed" to allow them to carry the structural load. All of the clerestories needed to be repaired, or completely removed to allow no break in the roof surface.
On September 9, 1948, the Utah Division superintendent recommended that the stalls 9 through 24 be retired due to the needed repairs. But on September 23rd, the request was not approved due to the large numbers of steam locomotives being repaired. At the time, 22 to 24 steam locomotives were being serviced and repaired every day in the roundhouse. Five steam locomotive and one diesel yard engine were being held for repairs, and needed to occupy a stall in the roundhouse. A request was made to close the openings in stalls 14 through 18 where roof repairs had been started, and minor repairs be made to allow full use of the roundhouse until more diesel locomotives become available. In addition to the need for space for the repair of locomotives, consideration was being given to relocate the Dining Car & Hotel Department's laundry from its current site in Ogden, to stalls 9 through 24 of the Salt Lake roundhouse. The drop pits in the Salt Lake roundhouse were in stalls 20 through 23, and were needed for the removal of steam locomotive driving wheels, and diesel locomotive traction motors.
A heavy wind storm on the night of June 8, 1949 blew off 18,000 square feet of the roundhouse's roofing. The storm exposed large portions of the underlying sheathing, and there was immediate concern that the poor condition of the roof structure and sheathing might lead to a workman being injured by falling debris. It was recommended that the clerestories be completely removed due to their overall poor condition. A strong request was made on June 10th for immediate roof repairs, or a determination as to which roundhouse stalls could be used to accomplish needed repairs to several diesel yard locomotives.
Following the wind storm, temporary repairs were made, which included removal of the distinctive clerestories. Many proposals were made to repair the roof and its underlying framing, or to completely demolish the building. One proposal had stalls 5 through 20 being converted to the railroad's Dining Car and Hotel (DC&H) system-wide laundry. Instead, the new DC&H laundry was completed in July 1951 in nearby Ogden, Utah, thirty-five miles to the north.
On August 16, 1949, a recommendation was made to condemn the roof above stalls 1 through 20 of the roundhouse. Any further damage from wind or snow would make the areas under the roof unsafe for workmen. Work had started to repair and renew the roof above stalls 21 through 32.
A formal work order was issued on December 29, 1949 to retire stalls 5 through 20 of the Salt Lake City roundhouse, along with 2949 feet of radial tracks. It was noted that the roundhouse was the property of Oregon Short Line Railroad, operated by Union Pacific Railroad. "This 16-stall section of enginehouse is not required for terminal operation and retirement is recommended. The remaining stalls and facilities are sufficient for turning diesel and steam power. This property is withdrawn from transportation service effective with the date of issue hereof." A credit to accounts in the amount of $151,118 was taken for property retired. There were brick fire walls between stalls 4 and 5, and between stalls 20 and 21, and these walls were to remain in place.
Sixteen stalls (stalls 5 through 20) of the roundhouse were formally retired in late December 1949. Bids with local contractors were invited, with an amount of $3,723.00 allocated for the work. In late April 1950, Utah Construction Company bid $3,347.00 to dismantle stalls 5 through 20. In mid May 1950, Morrison Knudsen Company bid $2,920.00 for the same work. Records are unclear as to which contractor did the actual work to demolish the 16-stall portion of the structure.
The remaining stalls, numbers 1 to 4 (four stalls), and 21 to 32 (12 stalls), were retained to service the few remaining road steam locomotives, and the growing numbers of diesel switchers and diesel road locomotives.
After 1950, UP no longer had any capability at Salt Lake City for anything other than minor running repairs to either diesel locomotives or steam locomotives. There was a large roundhouse in Ogden, just 35 miles to the north.
Drop pits were located in stalls 20 through 23. Work platforms and a small overhead crane for diesel yard locomotives and passenger locomotives had been installed in stalls 30 to 32 in 1942.
The last remaining stalls, stalls 1 through 4 at the west side, and stalls 21 through 32 at the east side, were demolished in late 1951 to clear the site for construction of the new diesel shop, which began in December 1951.
As work progressed with the nearby new diesel shop building itself, the existing turntable was relocated. The terminal's 100-foot pin-connected girder and lattice design turntable was retained, but relocated from its original position just south of the new shop building, to the shop's northwest side. This original turntable was later replaced by the retired turntable from Lynndyl, Utah, a division point 116 miles south of Salt Lake City.
During early and mid 1951, as work on the new diesel shop progressed, the remaining portions of the roundhouse were demolished, with the last stalls still standing as the orange-primer painted steel structure of the new shop rose slowly skyward.
The work order for the retirement of stalls 5 through 20 of the Salt Lake City roundhouse was formally completed and closed on November 1, 1951. The work order had included the complete removal of the roundhouse structure and all radial tracks, and the salvage of any and all reusable materials.
The remaining portions of the Salt Lake City roundhouse, stalls 1 through 4, and stalls 21 through 32, were retired in December 1951, and were demolished and all materials removed. This included the entire machine shop section, inspection pits, and foundations.
Also in December 1951, work started on the new Salt Lake City diesel shop.
UP Salt Lake City Roundhouse Letters, 1948-1951 -- Added a PDF of letters concerning the retirement of the roundhouse in Salt Lake City, replaced by a new diesel shop, started in 1951 and completed in 1955. (PDF; 14 pages; 5.3MB)
A New Diesel Shop
Union Pacific's new Salt Lake City shops were opened in early August 1955, replacing the existing 32-stall brick roundhouse built in 1905.
All operations south and west of Salt Lake City were fully dieselized in 1948. Retired shop crewmen said that after the roundhouse was demolished in 1951, any steam locomotives that came into town only came down from Ogden, and only very rarely due to a power shortage at Ogden to power the twice-daily OSL transfer from UP's Ogden yard to the LA&SL yard in Salt Lake City. In November 1956, with the arrival of an 800-class 4-8-4 on a train from Ogden, one employee went home and got his camera because he had not seen an 800-class locomotive for a long, long time. His photograph also showed a 4-6-6-4 Challenger, so the 3700s may have been more common as power for the OSL transfer. The 3700s were assigned to helper service east out of Ogden in 1952, and remained in Ogden until they went east in in late 1958.