During the late 1800s and early 1900s, about 1,830 powerful 2-8-0 narrow-gauge locomotives produced by the Grant Locomotive Works of Paterson, N.J., plied the mountainous terrains of the world.
Now, few of those historic engines remain. One lies inoperative and rusting behind the old Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot in Salt Lake City.While the engine is a national historic landmark (so designated in 1979), without a significant application of cold hard cash it will be little more than a rusted hulk in a few years.
The Utah Historical Society hopes to avert the loss of Locomotive 223 through a restoration project. Officials estimate $88,000 is needed to simply prevent further deterioration. To make No. 223 operational again could cost $1 million.
At a public meeting Thursday night, about 50 railroad hobbiests and enthusiasts gathered to discuss the fate of No. 223. The only real consensus at the meeting was the impossibility of restoring the locomotive to operating condition. But there was a sentimental desire to see No. 223 restored cosmetically and put on display.
Several of those attending suggested efforts be made to trade the engine for another with more historical significance to Utah. They said no documentation exists to support claims that No. 223 actually saw service in Utah.
Historical Society officials said they will review suggestions from the two-hour session and develop a plan of action over the next several weeks. Many of those attending indicated they would volunteer time and skills.
"I think our main goal is to prevent any further deterioration and get the engine back to a condition that would make it a valuable exhibit," said Phil Notarianni, director of the Historical Society's museum.
In 1881 the Grant Locomotive Works provided eight nearly identical narrow-gauge locomotives to the D&RGW, including No. 223. The eight were among 60 locomotives purchased by the railroad to serve mining areas in Utah and Colorado. The narrow gauge (42-inch wide tracks vs. the standard 4-foot 81/2-inch width) were considered more suitable in mountainous areas.
No. 223 operated in Utah until 1890, according to some accounts, when the D&RGW converted its Utah tracks to standard gauge. No. 223 moved to Colorado where it remained in service hauling freight until 1941. In December 1941, it was returned to Utah and lent to Salt Lake City for exhibition purposes. In 1952, the engine was formally deeded to the city.
From 1941 until 1980, the engine was in Liberty Park, exposed to Utah's harsh climatic changes, water from sprinkling systems and occasional vandalism. In 1979, the city deeded No. 223 to the Utah Historical Society, and the engine was moved to its present location behind the D&RGW depot. The city deed requires city approval to move the locomotive from the city, restricts use of the engine to museum exhibition and returns ownership of No. 223 to the city if the society decides to either sell the engine or fails to meet the other conditions of the deed.
Since 1980, several efforts by Utahns and people from other states have been made to restore the engine.
In June 1989, locomotive restoration specialist John Bush of Denver donated his time to the society and prepared a report outlining possible options.
The options include stabilizing the engine in its present condition at the $88,000 cost. While this and implementation of a regular maintenance program would prevent futher damage, it would do little to improve the engine's visual appearance.
Bush estimates it will cost $250,000 to stabilize the engine and restore No.223 to its 1890 appearance.