THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD’S MOST FAMOUS AND FORGOTTEN STEAM ENGINES
Robert L. Foster
After the arduous challenge of building a railroad west from Omaha across Wyoming’s vast expanse, the Union Pacific (UP) reached Promontory, Utah Territory, in May 1869. There they met the Chinese workers of the Central Pacific Railroad (CP) who had constructed a rail bed up over the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Reenactment of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific meeting at Promontory Utah.
It was finally time for a huge gala celebration as the two rail lines met each other, completing America’s transcontinental railroad, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. However, that would require UP and CP’s two top officials to be in Promontory to drive the golden spike at rails end as the entire nation anxiously awaited the good news.
Both men, UP’s Thomas C. Durant and CP’s Leland Stanford, were anxious to get to Promontory, taking along with them key members of their construction teams. In Cheyenne Durant hopped aboard the Durant Special and it headed west, and all was well—until typical Wyoming weather swept in and stopped the Durant Special in its tracks at Devil’s Gate where a swollen river had washed away some of the supports of the bridge spanning the river. Durant’s engineer refused to take the Special’s heavy engine across the bridge—but he did consent to nudge the lighter passenger cars across the bridge. The bridge held, the cars made it across, but Durant and his entourage were left in that desolate Wyoming spot without an engine!
Durant’s plight was solved when UP Engine 119 was dispatched from Ogden to Devil’s Gate to bring the Durant Special to Promontory. That engine won fame in the national press and in the history books!
The citizens of Cheyenne turned out to see Durant Special off, realizing how very special the railroad was to the growth and development of Wyoming—and remembering that in July, 1868, the UP finally reached a desolate spot in eastern Wyoming. On July 4, John A. Rawlins gave a well-received speech. The next day, a band on Indians sprang on the grading crew and killed three men. Rawlins was astonished to see the Indians attack when there were four companies of U.S. troops camped in the area.
Grenville Dodge heading up the UP had the dead men buried on the site where his new town would be built—and Cheyenne had its first cemetery!
Cheyenne is where the mountains meet the plains, on the southeastern edge of Wyoming, at an elevation of 6062 feet. It is a natural crossing place. From Cheyenne today, one train track leads west across the state and on to California, another north to Montana and south to Denver; so too the interstate, with I-80 going east-west and I-25 north-south. There in Cheyenne the last steam engines purchased by the UP are housed. They were made during World War ll and used well into the 1950’s. The old train depot has been turned into a railroad museum. Grenville Dodge’s first tent site, from which he decided to build a town, and name it after the dominant tribe, Cheyenne, has a marker on it.
On May 6, 1869, 1150 miles west of Cheyenne, in Sacramento CP’s Leland Stanford and his entourage, aboard the Stanford Special headed east from Sacramento toward Promontory. Stanford’s train was carrying the golden spike which would be used as the final spike on the transcontinental railroad, so it was imperative that the train arrive on time. But fate or destiny again stepped in, as it had at Devil’s Gate, Wyoming, and stopped the Stanford Special in its tracks at Sierra Tunnel #114! The CP section crew had no idea that the Special was coming and they felled a tree right across the tracks! As the Special came around a bend the engineer had barely enough time to apply the brakes. The engine struck the log and was damaged. While Stanford waited impatiently, another engine was sent to pull the Special on to Promontory.
The engine was called Jupiter and it won national fame and a place in the history books, just as did UP’s Number 119.
UP’s steam engine, 119 and CP’s Jupiter, which went nose to nose at Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869, to celebrate the completion of the transcontinental railroad, were very unique pieces of machinery.
UP’s No. 119 was of the American or eight-wheel type, built by the Rogers Locomotive Works at Paterson, New Jersey, and turned out on November 19, 1868. It headed west, carried as dead freight on another train. Arriving at Council Bluffs, the engine was ferried across the river by mid-December, and was quickly set up at the Omaha roundhouse, as it was fully assembled. The engine had small driving wheels of 54-inch diameter, 16x24-inch cylinders, and weighed 68,400 pounds. It was considered a freight engine (whereas the CP Jupiter was considered a passenger engine). The engineer said “the 119 handles superbly!” It was a wood and coal burner, equipped with an extended smoke box in which there was an adjustable cinder screen controlled by the fireman by means of a lever extending from the cab. The smokestack was Hudson’s patent straight stack, with a large brass cap on top. The No. 119 presented a distinct contrast to the CP’s “Jupiter” which seemed larger due to its huge bonnet stack and 60 inch driving wheels.
The 119 was selected by sheer happenstance for the historic journey to Promontory—it just happened to be handy! The crew spent considerable time cleaning and polishing the engine. The brass cap on the smokestack and the brass steam dome casing gleamed in the sunlight in pictures made on that great day at Promontory.
CP’s locomotives bore names and numbers from the beginning of construction until 1872. Their names covered the range from towns and cities through which the CP was to run, to such things as animals, birds, constellations and planets in the heavens, famous Americans, and even Greek deities.
The Jupiter, No. 60, was of the American type, with four driving wheels and a four-wheeled pony truck supporting the front end of the locomotive, built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works in September 1868. It was a passenger engine, had driving wheels of 60-inch diameter, cylinders of 16-inch bore and 24-inch stroke, and weighed in at 65,450 pounds, without tender. It burned wood, and the engine was equipped with a huge bonnet smokestack equipped with screens to prevent sparks from setting fire to the countryside.
It was shipped from the makers in knocked-down form; such items as the boilers, smokestacks, headlights, cabs, bells, cowcatchers, and other parts were crated to facilitate stowing in the hold of the ship which carried it around the Horn to California. The Jupiter left the factory with its three mates, “Storm No. 61;” “Whirlwind No. 62”; and “Leviathan No. 63”—but in New York the Jupiter became separated from the others and was loaded on a different ship. The engine arrived in San Francisco the last week of February 1869 after a voyage of 140 days, was transferred at a special dock in San Francisco to a Sacramento River schooner, “The Golden Gate” and arrived in Sacramento on February 26, 1869. The crated locomotive parts were hauled on wagons through the streets to the new 29-stall roundhouse of the CP, where the Jupiter was assembled.
On Saturday, March 20, 1869, the Jupiter was put under steam and run up and down a test track on Front Street. It ran perfectly, and the mechanics responsible for setting up the engine turned it over to the operating department.
It seems a shame that Engines 119 and Jupiter were forgotten after their big day at Promontory. It would have been wonderful if they could have been preserved in a covered museum someplace so railroad buffs could see them up close, walk around and marvel at their fascinating history.
However, to the presidents of the UP and CP they were just ordinary pieces of machinery, no more important than any other piece of machinery in their systems. After the Promontory ceremony the two locomotives returned to their regular duties and worked for many years before being retired. UP’s No. 119 was renumbered 343 in July 1885 and was rebuilt with larger driving wheels and various other changes and improvements. In April 1903 it was dropped from equipment rolls and scrapped. At that time President E.H. Harriman was busy consolidating all his railroads into one system and obviously gave no thought to No. 119’s fate; Union Pacific’s motive power officials probably cared even less.
The CP’s Jupiter soon became just plain old Nr. 60, and the fact the owners had no sentiment whatsoever about the locomotive is seen in its later history. It was renumbered No. 1195 in 1891 and received a new boiler at Sacramento in 1893, and was immediately sold to the Gila Valley, Globe & Northern Railroad, then under construction north from Bowie, Arizona, on the Southern Pacific, to Globe and Miami. As G.V.G.&N No. 1, the old Jupiter worked out its days and was scrapped unceremoniously at Globe in 1901.
Tired and worn out, the two old engines UP’s No. 119 and CP’s Jupiter “died” within two years of each other, in the scrap heap, and were forgotten.
It should be pointed out, in all fairness to the Southern Pacific, that they did preserve an engine similar to the Jupiter, the “Governor Stanford” No. 1, by presenting it to Leland Stanford, Jr., University in 1899, insuring its preservation to this day. The CP’s third locomotive, the “C.P. Huntington,” was sold to the Southern Pacific in 1871 and became their No. 1 and remains on display at the Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Locomotive engines UP No. 119 and CP Jupiter, which first met each other 146 years ago when they nosed their cowcatchers together at Promontory, enjoyed their brief moment of fame. Only in recent years have historians brought the two forgotten engines into the prominence they deserve.