Ogden • In a town steeped in railroad history, they know to show up when a piece of that history rolls into the station.
Several hundred people were waiting at Ogden's Union Station at noon Saturday for the arrival of Union Pacific's Steam Locomotive No. 844 one of the two steam engines the railroad still runs.
People flocked to have pictures taken in front of the massive black locomotive, plugged their ears at the noise of the compression of air, and lined up to climb the platform to take a look inside the pipe-filled cab where the engineer and fireman operate the engine.
Steam-train enthusiast Joshua Kight, 20, of Brigham City, brought his dad, Donald, to take a look.
"I grew up on it," Kight said of his love of locomotives. "It's the beauty of simple engineering, that also can be complicated. â¦ I love the complexity, that you can take water and combine it and compress it with fire, and make power."
No. 844 arrived in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, coming through Utah on its way back to its home base in Cheyenne, Wyo., after a monthlong tour of the southwest to mark next year's statehood centennial events in New Mexico and Arizona. (No. 844 is available for public viewing at Ogden's Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday before departing Monday at 8 a.m. for Wyoming.)
No. 844 began service in 1944, the last steam locomotive built for U.P. It pulled passenger cars until diesel engines took over that job in 1957. It was used for hauling freight in Nebraska for a couple of years, and was destined for the scrapyard along with most steam locomotives before U.P. officials preserved the locomotive for special service in 1960.
Now the steam locomotive is reserved for special events. The locomotive serves as a "goodwill ambassador" for the company, said Dan Harbeke, director of public affairs for Union Pacific.
The three members of the passenger-car crew conductor Jim Coker, brakeman Kevin Coker (Jim's brother) and stationmaster Jim Leonard dress in classic railway uniforms and look like a casting call for "The Polar Express." In a nod to that holiday story, Jim Coker carries a sleigh bell in a small red cloth satchel, a gift from his grandchildren, who added an engraved tag with the words, "We Believe, Papa."
Jim Coker is the third of four generations of railroad workers and he also carries the pocket watch his grandfather and father owned when they were on the rails.
Up front, far from the passengers, engineer Ed Dickens and fireman Ted Schulte operated the complex network of valves and levers to control the engine's mighty steam power.
"There's nothing on it that's automatic," Dickens said on the platform in Salt Lake City before the train embarked. "You have to do everything that it needs to do to make it run."
The crowds waiting in Ogden were matched by observers who waved at and took photos of No. 844 which pulled six support cars, two passenger cars and a diesel locomotive (to assist in braking) along the route from Salt Lake City to Ogden. A few dozen train lovers were also at the Salt Lake City Amtrak station Saturday to see No. 844 off.
More than 100 people took the ride to Ogden on U.P.'s deluxe passenger cars. Passengers included Union Pacific employees and their families, and such dignitaries as Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.
Lockhart, who said she took the ride because her husband, Stan, is friends with Harbeke, praised Union Pacific. "It's a huge part of Utah's history," she said.
When the train was running, the ride was so smooth it felt as if the train were going 30 mph until one looked out the window, and saw the train was keeping pace with the cars doing freeway speeds on Interstate 15. In just over an hour, the train went from Salt Lake City to a point north of Ogden though it took another 45 minutes for the train to back slowly into its perch at Union Station.
"This is such a sweet way to travel. â¦ When someone else is taking you, you can relax and enjoy the scenery," said Eleni Fotes of Bountiful, who accompanied her grandsons, daughter and son-in-law, Salt Lake City Fire Department Deputy Chief Carl Lieb (whose department supplied No. 844 with the 23,500 gallons of water necessary to make steam). "We're riding history right now."
Steam Locomotive No. 844
Union Pacific's Steam Locomotive No. 844, one of two remaining steam-powered train engines in U.P.'s fleet, will be on display Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Ogden's Union Station, 2501 Wall St.
It departs Ogden at 8 a.m. Monday and will head through Wyoming, arriving at its home base in Cheyenne on Tuesday.
For information, go to http://www.upsteam.com.