Ogden train lovers bringing Old No. 223 back to life
Ogden • Volunteers meet every week to restore steam locomotive built in 1881.
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Ogden • There's something about trains. Chugging down the rails or standing still, they somehow embody adventure and romance. And the older, the better.

"Ogden has always been a railroad town," Steve Jones said Saturday. "And it still is."

Jones heads up a small but determined group who are rebuilding ­— practically from the ground up ­— a narrow gauge Denver & Rio Grande Western steam locomotive.

Old No. 223, as it is called, was built in 1881 by the Grand Locomotive Works in New Jersey for $11,500 and it plied the narrow gauge rails in mining districts in Colorado and Utah through the 1940s.

About 15 members of the Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society volunteer every Saturday in a building next to the Union Station, where they are rebuilding the locomotive one rivet at time.

"We are reverse engineering it," explained Maynard Morris, 75, of Kaysville, a retired nuclear engineer.

They are reproducing parts for the locomotive and its tender car based on measurements, drawings, patterns and molds they are making from the rusting original. The $3 million project depends on private donations and volunteers.

"I didn't want some cosmetic renovation. I wanted something that will run down the rails," Morris said. "Steam locomotives are like tea kettles. You heat 'em up and they make steam."

The locomotive and its tender car were plopped down at Liberty Park after D&RGW donated them to Salt Lake City in 1952. They sat rusting until 1979, when the city presented Old No. 223 to the Utah Historical Society and parked it behind the Rio Grand Station on 400 West.

Jones' group initiated their chapter in 1991 for the express purpose of bringing Old No. 223 to Ogden for a rebuild. They get small donations, $20 here, $50 there. It's been slow going, but the tender car is almost complete.

"When the tender is finished, we'll use it as a show piece," Jones said. "Hopefully that will help us pull in more money to get the locomotive done."

It's a labor of love. But these volunteers are drawn to trains as if it were in their DNA.

Slim Jolley is a 73-year-old retired office manager and the only woman on the restoration team. Her grandfather was an engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad.

"I came down to Union Station and the [Utah Railroad Historical Museum] and there was a sign that said, 'Be part of history,' and I've been here ever since," she said. Jolley has helped set almost every one of the 5,000 rivets in the tender.

Another volunteer is Mike Burdett, a 72-year-old retired dentist whose grandfather worked for the Union Pacific. "When I was a young boy, my grandfather stood me up in the cab of a 4,000, the largest locomotive ever to run in Utah."

Lee Secrist, 68, retired to Bountiful after a long career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department. He was in charge of O.J. Simpson during the football great's trial for the murder of his ex-wife.

Secrist, an H.O. model train buff, bumped into Morris at a model train exposition and invited him to Union Station to take a look at the project. "I was hooked about six seconds after I walked in the door," he said.

It's a happy crew that every Saturday touches railroad history, according to Lee Witten, a 70-year-old retired teacher who was born in Ogden but spent his professional career in Hawaii.

He also volunteers at the Utah Historical Railroad Museum next door at Union Station where he is the librarian and archivist. Visitors can find a photograph of a 4-year-old Witten on the Union Pacific caboose where his father worked.

The group isn't formally affiliated with Union Station and the museum, but they are darn proud of it and enjoy its offerings.

"People come from all over the world to see this station and these trains," Jolley said. "There's something about trains."

csmart@sltrib.com —

Help rebuild Old No. 223

To volunteer or donate to the Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society visit www.trainweb.org/goldenspikeLRHS or call Maynard Morris at 801-544-0653.