Posted by Jim Wrinn, Editor
Heber Valley Railroad Executive Director Craig Lacey was astounded at the phone call he got Tuesday. It was from a resident of the region just east of Salt Lake City wondering what that sound was. “She wondered if it was a cow in distress, or maybe giving birth,” Lacey said over dinner. “She hadn’t heard it much and was debating it with another woman.”
What the two women heard was a Southern Railway “hooter” whistle affixed to Union Pacific 2-8-0 No. 618, a 1907 Baldwin product making a rare appearance Monday and Tuesday on a Trains & Travel photo charter. The engine (pictured above), which reaches the end of its Federal Railroad Administration 1,472-day boiler ticket at the conclusion of May, was the focus of attention for 27 photographers from across the United States, the UK, and Australia.
To see the engine with its UP “Overland Route” shield on the tender and immaculate paint job, you wouldn’t think that it is ready for work, but to listen to the running gear slap, you know it is one tired engine. Chief Mechanical Officer Michael Manwiller, nevertheless, put on a show with the engine in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah with a freight consist and a UP combine.
While No. 618 will be set aside, the good news for steam in Utah is that Great Western 75, another Baldwin 2-8-0 from 1907, is about to get work. After several years of being torn down, a TEA-21 grant of almost a half million dollars from the state of Utah will ensure completion over the next 24 months. A well-equipped shop and a team of experienced steam professionals will make it happen. At that time, steam will return to Heber Valley rails, which are themselves part of a former Rio Grande branch that earned its keep by carrying sheep.
But this week, No. 618 was still the star of the show. The engine has been a staple among U.S. preservation engines, and its absence will be felt. The engine just looks right on the point of a short freight consist, and photos of it at work on the UP in Logan, Utah, demonstrate that its local flavor is right on target. Let’s hope No. 75’s rebuild takes place and that the Heber Valley can show Utah officials what a great railroad it is and No. 618 can run again.