by Jacob Lyman
A scary bit of history for us railfans showed up in the Tooele Transcript for Halloween night 2019 in their Front-Page Flashback segment.
“In 1969, city donates locomotive to Salt Lake Museum… October 28-31, 1969… Featured on Friday’s front page was news of Tooele City donating the old Tooele Valley Railroad Locomotive Number 11 to the Wasatch Railroad Museum in Salt Lake City. The locomotive for several years had been the dominant feature at the City Park on West Vine Street.”
“‘I’d like to see it stay here, but it’s a dirty shame that it has been so badly neglected’ said Tooele Mayor Frank Bowman. ‘We have been calling on many of the city’s clubs and organizations asking for help and nothing has been done. When the thing is going to pieces, I feel I must act to preserve it.'” (Republished Tooele Transcript October 31, 2019)
1969 came to an end, and well… Tooele Valley Railway #11 was still in Tooele City. What happened? A vocal campaign from local citizens kept the engine in Tooele City. Eventually in 1982 #11 left the city park and traveled several blocks east to become the centerpiece of the new Tooele Valley Museum.
In a way, #11 may have dodged a bullet. The Wasatch Railroad Museum, while listed in Salt Lake City at the time of the article’s authorship, is better known as the organization that started heritage/tourist rail operations on the abandoned Rio Grande Heber City Branch. Shunned by Tooele City and unable to get #11, the now Wasatch Mountain Railway instead leased from the State of Utah Union Pacific 618, which was at the time previously stored in the Utah State Fairgrounds. Without the modern FRA mandated safety inspections in place, 618 was steamed up as soon as it left the park and arrived on the Heber Branch in December 1970…
… This was the first bullet #11 dodged. With its boiler condemned in 1963, the potential risk of a boiler explosion on 11 if it was steamed up by the over-eager Wasatch Mountain crew could have been disastrous. Possibly destroying 11 and killing the volunteers who would have attempted to operate it at Heber. Admittedly the same risk existed with 618, but it fortunately survived its first steam up and would see use in the years in Heber; last being used in 2010. As mentioned previously, modern law prohibits such practices with antique steam locomotives now and requires extensive inspection and repairs before a fire is lit in the locomotive.
The second bullet 11 dodged was in 1990’s. After years of private ownership, the Wasatch Mountain Railway known to locals then as “The Heber Creeper” had gone bankrupt. January 31, 1991 was the last day of private operations; and to pay off the accrued bills the Heber Creeper began selling off its equipment to other museums. Among the items sold was the former International Smelting steam crane known as “The Crab” which was sold to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City with other ex-Creeper equipment. Other pieces of Heber equipment were sold to lines across the nation. Had #11 been at Heber at this time, it too would have been sold. Perhaps had it been lucky it might have ended up with fellow Tooele native “The Crab” in Boulder City. Or perhaps it would share the fate of locomotives such as SP 1744 (which is currently in pieces in Colorado being transferred to new owners in Niles Canyon, California). Simply put, it would have been unlikely that Tooele Valley #11 would have ever returned home to Tooele City; and its likely possible that without it there might not have been the incentive to found the Tooele Valley Museum.
Fortunately, UP 618 was the right locomotive for the place it needed to be. Since it was leased by the state to the Heber Creeper, when the operation went bankrupt it could not be sold at auction like the rest of the line’s equipment. In July 1992, UP 618 and fellow state owned diesel locomotive UP 1011 became part of the new state operated Heber Valley Railroad; which operates to the present day. Both 618 and 1011 are currently waiting to finish restoration, but their critical role in the early years of the state operation are fondly remembered. Just as Tooele Valley #11 was the right locomotive for our Tooele Valley Musuem, so was UP 618 the right engine for the nascent Heber Valley Railroad.
If Mayor Frank Bowman was right on one thing though, its that locomotives need a lot of work to prevent deterioration. In the early years of the museum Marion Bevan and other volunteers brought 11 back up cosmetically to a better state than it had ever been in the park, including a new layer of boiler jacketing. In the future, the work will have to be done again including asbestos abatement on the antique locomotive. Its something that has been brought up in the museum board meetings, a long term project for sometime in the future. When the people of Tooele petitioned for #11 to stay in our city in 1969, we inherited a duty to maintain the engine that persists to the present day and is part of our museum’s mission.