The loneliest diesel in America

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Saturday, February 9, 2019

The loneliest diesel locomotive in America lives with two steam locomotives that will be the subject of great attention this year. I’m talking about the General Electric 25-tonner at Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit, Utah. The little critter, when I was on site last June to do research for our forthcoming special anniversary issue “Journey to Promontory” and our made-for-PBS video of the same name, was parked at the end of the track as far away from the public as possible and not far from the engine house where the replicas of Union Pacific 4-4-0 No. 119 and Central Pacific 4-4-0 No. 60 Jupiterreside. In fact, the little engine stared east at the abandoned grade of the first transcontinental railroad.

I had little time to inspect the engine, which carries no number and no markings other than a National Park Service emblem. Greg McDonnell, who edits our Locomotive annual and knows more about diesels that I ever will, says the unit should be GE serial number 30820, built October 1948 for Hooker Chemical of Tacoma, Wash.

The Tacoma chemical plant story jibes with what I learned from Richard Carroll, the facilities manager at Golden Spike. However, according to his records, it was made in October 1950. He also says it was in Columbus, Ohio, when the site got it in 1998. At the time, it was lettered for Harvard Steel Storage.

“One of our locomotive engineers at the time, Eric Dowty, managed this amazing trade to obtain the locomotive for the National Park Service,” Carroll relates. “Golden Spike NHS donated a tie tamper to the Heber Valley railroad. Heber then sold a bunch of diesel locomotive axle sets that they had no use for, and used the proceeds to purchase the locomotive, and donated it to Golden Spike NHS.”

He goes on to say that the original engine was replaced (not sure when) by a Cummins, similar to what you'd find in a semi-truck. Otherwise, it's pretty original. Says Carroll: “In 2006, we contracted with the Department of the Army, Anniston Army Depot, which operated the Defense Generator & Rail Equipment Center at Hill AFB, Utah, to complete running repairs to the locomotive. Those include work to the prime mover (mostly replacing gaskets so it didn't leak oil) refurbishing the electrical contactors, replacing window hardware, and repainting the unit.”

As with most railroad preservation sites, it’s a most valuable locomotive when you need to move something else. Given that there no freight or passenger cars at the site, all it has to move is the Jupiter or the No. 119 on rare occasions. The rest of the time it sits and waits at its lonely perch at one of America’s most historic railroad sites.

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