Ogden • Three words seemed to sum up why hundreds of people traveled Saturday to Union Station on the west side of this important railroad town, where National Train Day was being observed.
Nostalgia, power and beauty.
Bill Barnhart, 64, remembers the days when he was a kid watching freight trains rumble past his hometown of Palmdale, Calif., on their way to or from destinations he could only imagine.
"They would run through Palmdale, along the Mojave Desert, at speeds of 65 to 70 miles an hour. I remember counting up to 150 cars on them. Not many of those run anymore," said Barnhart, who drove up from Taylorsville to enjoy the exhibits inside and outside the historic train station, talk to other aficionados and spread the word about why trains still matter.
The best evidence that railroads are still vital is the behavior of investors. Since fuel prices began their sharp rise in 2004, UP's stock has quintupled in value, to the $154 range. In late 2009, billionaire investor Warren Buffett announced that his Berkshire Hathaway investment firm would spend $44 billion to buy UP rival Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp, or BNSF. It was the largest purchase in Berkshire's history.
For Sherri Christensen, trains are a heady blend of power and beauty, where function dictates form. Hence her desire to attend the daylong event commemorating Utah's ties to the railroad industry, which dates back to 1868, when Union Pacific's construction of the first transcontinental rail line reached Wahsatch, Utah Territory, at the top of Echo Canyon a few miles west of Evanston, Wyo.
"I don't know why it works, but it works," Christensen said of the physical presence of several vintage locomotives on permanent display outside the 89-year-old station. "You see the speed by looking at the shape. You also see the creativity, the inventiveness by looking at the shape. For instance, the snowblower locomotive. When you think of that clearing off the tracks, it's cool."
Christensen's connection to trains goes back decades. When she was around 12, she and her friends hopped on a caboose in Morenci, Ariz., and rode it east to Lordsburg, in New Mexico's boot heel, to attend a birthday and swimming party at the town pool. Later, after she married her husband, Alan, the pair would sometime follow westbound trains descending Echo Canyon from Wyoming. They would race ahead in their car, stop, take pictures and race ahead again.
Stephen Dorsett, 49, a communications student at LDS Business College, seems to have a genetic disposition that favors all things railroad. His great-grandfather was a telegrapher for Southern Pacific in Paso Robles, Calif. His grandfather was a storekeeper for Southern Pacific in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
When Dorsett was a teen, he rode in a locomotive across California's deserts and through tunnels where the superheated air beyond the cab's window reached hundreds of degrees.
"It's the power that's harnessed under the hood of these things," he said, gesturing toward a 4,000-plus-horsepower Union Pacific locomotive built in 2005. "It's a thrill to have that much power in your hands."
Bob Walter, 69, drove from West Valley City for one reason. He loves trains and has studied them for years. His knowledge, gleaned from books, movies, magazines and hanging around rail yards, is encyclopedic.
So much so that Walter could offer an educated description of a 114-foot Union Pacific steam locomotive parked outside Union Station. Built in 1939, the jet-black locomotive was capable of speeds up to 110 mph not through Utah, perhaps, because of its topography, but certainly across the flats of Wyoming and Nebraska, where UP tracks run unswervingly for dozens of miles.
"They are alive, especially the steam engines," Walter said. "If you've ever seen a steam engine run, they are alive. They have a soul of their own."
Ogden owes its existence to railroads. The first of three depots was built in the city in 1869, the same year that the Union and Central Pacific railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, on May 10. The Utah Central Railroad established a link between Ogden and Salt Lake City, a year later.
A commuter rail link between Ogden and Salt Lake City was re-established in 2008, when the first FrontRunner train service between the two cities began.