The noise is deafening. The steel, red-hot. Steam locomotive repair is a grueling and demanding effort, and the skilled mechanics who perform this work are slowly slipping away with the passage of time.

There are fewer and fewer qualified steam mechanics. But the Heber Valley Railroad is fortunate to have six men who can repair these mighty giants of yesteryear.For the past 14 months, these men have been methodically disassembling, repairing and reassembling a 1907 Union Pacific locomotive, No. 618, in preparation for the opening of their 1995 tourist season.

Repairs on 618 began Jan. 28, 1994, following approval of a $245,000 enhancement grant from the state of Utah.

Under the watchful eye of chief mechanical officer Craig Drury, the engine was disassembled.

All of the engine's systems have been repaired and reinstalled. The only remaining major task to perform is the reinstallation of the boiler tubes scheduled this month.

A few weeks from now, when Bill Sherwood, Mark Rounds, Mike Winterton, Mike Bigler and Doug Brown have finished their work, locomotive No. 618 will emerge from the engine house looking as majestic as it did in 1907 when it was built. The engine spent most of its life working throughout northern Utah and southern Idaho.

When it was retired, it was donated to the state of Utah with the condition that it could not leave the state or be scrapped or sold. The engine was put on display in 1959 at the Fairpark in Salt Lake City and remained there until 1970. Officials wanted it removed. But where? Finally it was decided that the only way to abide by the terms of the donation was to dig a hole and bury the machine.

About this time a group of Heber businessmen and Salt Lake railroad buffs decided to operate a tourist railroad on the track from Provo to Heber. The Denver & Rio Grande Western, which owned the line up Provo Canyon, applied for abandonment in 1967. Engine No. 618 was a perfect candidate for the job.

The original tourist train, called the Heber Creeper, stopped operating in 1990. Local citizens began a campaign to save the historic line and 10 months after receiving an appropriation from the 1992 Legislature, trains began running again.

After repairs are completed, the engine will be fired up for the first time since it stopped operating five years ago. Following several weeks of testing, and a blessing from the Federal Railroad Administration, engine No. 618 will be placed into service for the remainder of the railroad's winter season, which ends the last week of March.

The grand opening of the 1995 season and the official presentation of engine No. 618 to the public will take place May 13.