Fifty years ago, Tooele said goodbye to one of Utah’s last steam trains.
Engine No. 11’s long legacy in Tooele came to an end on May 20, 1963, during a ceremonial Memorial Day run that was well attended by locals, former passengers and railroad officials. The send-off was well-deserved — the engine had worked the Tooele Valley Railroad line, which followed Vine Street up the center of town, for more than 50 years, and it was the only engine the railroad never sold.
Little is known about the engine’s early years. Both No. 11 and its sibling, No. 12, came to Tooele from New York state in 1912, but it’s unclear exactly who owned the engines before the Tooele Valley bought them. Both appear to have been custom-built around 1910, for the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railway, but if either actually worked the BA&P line, they certainly did not do so for long. Though it’s unknown if or how many times the two engines changed hands after the sale to BA&P fell through, the New York railroad did have a business relationship with the Tooele Valley. Four years later, the Tooele Valley Railroad would buy its engine No. 10 from the BA&P.
The twin engines’ first year on the Tooele railroad, in 1912, was a tumultuous one. The Tooele Valley Railroad, an independent company founded by the Utah Consolidated Mines in Bingham Canyon to supply the new International Smelter in Pine Canyon, had become operational just three years prior, after less than a year of construction. The smelter itself opened in 1910, but a sudden decrease in the supply of copper ore in Bingham stole some of the event’s momentum. By 1912, International Smelter’s contingency plan — the addition of lead processing facilities at the Pine Canyon complex — was well underway.
The lead addition not only saved the smelter, which later quit processing copper entirely, but deals with mines in Idaho, Nevada and other states brought additional rail traffic through Tooele. The railroad purchased two additional engines, which it numbered No. 9 and No. 10, to ferret freight and passengers to and from the smelter. At its peak during the 1920s, the railroad could ship as many as 85 to 90 freight cars on any given day, and passengers filled an entire train of coaches each morning.
Of the four engines, the No. 12 was the railroad’s favorite. Both the No. 11 and No. 12 were built with more efficient Walscharets valve gears, making the older sister engines more popular with company management than the railroad’s newer acquisitions. Passengers favored No. 12, which was said to run slightly smoother than the No. 11. Popularity procured additional work for the No. 12, and could have contributed to its earlier demise in 1956.
Company officials began to discuss the discontinuation of passenger services as early as 1941, with the railroad anticipating a surge in freight traffic upon the completion of the Elton Tunnel. Transfers from the Warner station on Tooele’s west side to Salt Lake-bound trains ended sometime in the early 1940s, and in 1946, the Tooele Valley Railroad discontinued all passenger services.
Four years after the sale of the Tooele railroad’s final ticket, the company decided to discontinue 24-hour operation. The change made four engines unnecessary, and the railroad sold engine No. 9 for scrap that same year.
Engine No. 10 met a similar fate in 1955, after the Tooele Valley Railroad decided to invest in its first diesel engine, which it ordered directly from the manufacturer, General Motors, and dubbed the No. 100. The diesel proved far more efficient than the old steam engines, so company executives decided to scrap No. 12 a year later.
Unlike the other two scrapped engines, the No. 12 remains in Tooele. After suffering through several massive blizzards in the 1930s and 1940s that buried trains and ground service to a complete halt, the railroad company decided to convert operational parts of the No. 12 into a snowplow. This the railroad later donated to Tooele City for display at the Tooele Valley Railroad Museum. The dismantled engine remains there to this day.
The Tooele Valley Railroad kept the No. 11, its final steam engine, on hand as a back-up engine for another seven years after scrapping its twin. But 50 years of service, including several decades of 24-hour use, had taken a toll on the old locomotive. In 1963, the state finally condemned engine No. 11’s boiler. The iconic engine was no longer fit for rail duty.
It remained in storage in the International Smelter rail yard for nearly a year after its final run before the company decided to lend the engine for display in a special mining exhibition. The display proved so popular that the Tooele Valley Railroad agreed to convert the engine into a permanent monument in the Tooele City Park.
The railroad company would continue to operate trains, though at gradually decreasing intervals, for another 20 years before the smelter’s closure ultimately doomed the entire enterprise. The railroad’s increasingly unnecessary presence through the middle of town made it unpopular with some residents. When Atlantic Richfield, the railroad’s final parent company, abandoned the downtown tracks, pressure from residents and local politicians encouraged the mining corporation toward a quick, tidy clean-up process.
However, those residents with a fondness for the train worried this push for a hasty resolution would leave the community with no recollection of town’s industrial past. Claude Atkin, an avid local historian, was the first to formally propose the idea of founding a public railroad museum to honor the train’s memory, and Doug Sagers, the city mayor at the time, was quick to jump on board with the idea. Within months of the company’s formal abandonment, Tooele City organized a board of local historians and activists, which included the railroad’s last superintendent, Don Lee, and convinced Atlantic Richfield to donate the railroad’s main station on Broadway, some surrounding track, various artifacts and engine No. 11 itself to the cause.
Moving the engine to its new home fell primarily to the board, and proved no small feat. The loss of its boiler decades before had rendered the old steam engine entirely immobile. But, with the help of men and equipment from the Tooele Army Depot, the board eventually came up with a plan.
A crane lifted the engine onto a pair of flatcars, which followed the main Tooele Valley line up to the station where two tractors waited to move it into a final position. However, when it arrived, the engine simply refused to budge. Further inspection revealed that someone in 1964 had welded the engine’s brakes into place. A blow torch readily corrected this, but with its wheels free, the engine rolled of the track and sank into the asphalt on Vine Street. An additional tractor had to be summoned to finish the job.
Engine No. 11 now sits on the Tooele Valley Railroad Museum property, and visitors are allowed to climb aboard during museum hours.
The Tooele Valley Railroad Museum is open late May through Labor Day, Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 882-2836.