Need to know how to run a train? We’ve got you covered!

Joe Witten, UP Conductor, at work

Union Station’s archive has a lot of obscure stuff because that’s what museums and libraries do: Preserve knowledge, big and small.

Here at Union Station we’re a bit specialized. For example you could, by using our library’s resources, run a train,

That is an enormously complex undertaking, but  if you spent enough time wandering our shelves you could learn how to do it. We’ve had donated, over the years, a myriad of shop manuals, instruction manuals, records and diaries from the folks who did that work.

For example, this morning I randomly picked up a little pamphlet called “EMD and GE Engine Starting Instructions.”

Those are specific types of diesel-electric engines used by the Union Pacific railroad. Cranking one of those suckers up is a lot more complex than sitting down, putting on your seat belt, turning on the radio and twisting the key on your car.

It has 30 pages of detailed checks, adjustments and procedures before you get to the last page that says “push the start button in.” You have to check the crank case pressure, adjust the engine overspeed, open the cylinder test valves and crank the engine over one turn, set up the electrical stuff (whole raft of circuit breakers) and on and on and on.

Then push the button.

Every aspect of running the train was monitored as well. Conductors kept detailed logs of every run on every train, including what the train was hauling, the condition of every car, any and all problems. WE have a number of conductors’ log books in our collection, and the detail is amazing. Here’s a train that left Pocatello on 10-19-1948 at 11:45 p.m. carrying spuds, coal, boxes, oil, stones, asphalt, wine, liquor and more spuds. Also listed is which railroad owned each car, each car’s ultimate destination and how much each car weighed.

These aren’t dry numbers, these are life. These are the industry of the nation, its economic core, detailed.

Lee Witten, the chief archivist here in the library, had good reason for taking one of those log books and telling its story in pictures. It was his dad’s log book.

Joe Witten was a conductor for the UP from 1943 until he died in 1974. Before that he was a brakeman.

Joe was a conductor back when they still used cabooses on trains, so Lee saw  his dad’s log book as a snapshot of the end of an era, a look at how trains ran and how those little cabooses worked. He took the last 6 months of his dad’s logs and set out to find pictures of the cabooses his dad worked in.

His dad worked the run between Ogden and Green River, Wyoming. Lee located pictures of as many of the engines to the trains as well as the cabooses. In his investigations, he even found one of the cabooses his dad worked in, #25280. His dad rode it into Ogden, but they found it parked in a playground in Lynndyl, Utah, in west central Utah.

He put all his work into a book for his family and donated a copy to Union Station’s Utah State Railroad Museum so it can be preserved for posterity along with the conductor’s log.

It’s an illustration of the lives, the work, the dedication, that goes into every little bit of life in the railroads, which is just one small part of the entire economy of this huge country.

And it all comes down to a guy doing his job.

Lee in a caboose his dad worked in