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Union Pacific 3985 Over Sherman Hill

by Chris Guenzler

I had always dreamed of riding a Union Pacific Steam trip over the legendary Sherman Hill. I always had said if the Union Pacific Historical Society ever had a convention in Cheyenne, Wyoming that I would go. In 1992, that location was exactly where they had their convention and I checked with Bill Compton to see if he wanted to go. We could also visit the Powder River Basin and Crawford Hill again. He agreed that he would fly to Denver and rent a vehicle to meet me in Cheyenne. I would take the Desert Wind to Salt Lake City, thruway bus to Ogden, Pioneer to Borie and the van into town. At least that was the plan. A week before I was scheduled to leave on Amtrak, there was a national railroad strike. The impasse could not be bridged so I needed a new plan. I had just bought a brand new Geo Metro and had only seven hundred miles on it so my new plan was to drive to Cheyenne. On June 25, 1992 at 4:00 AM. I left Santa Ana to Cheyenne via Salt Lake City. I made really good time and was in Salt Lake City in the mid afternoon. I drove east on Interstate 80 across the Wasatch Mountains and descending the east side got into one of the worst rainstorms of my life. Myself, another car and a trucker all from California, all took it easy driving forty down the very slick road keeping a safe distance from one another. From behind us came a speeding El Camino with Utah plates who passed the three of us. When they switched lanes spun out of control, off of the road, crashing into the canyon wall. With the door opening throwing out a lady before the car rolled on top of her killing her instantly all in my full view. There was no way for me to stop safely so I went to the next exit, found a phone and called the Utah Highway Patrol. Both the following driver and trucker stopped and the trucker told the other driver to make sure I had called the Highway patrol. He found me just as I was walking out and said, "The trucker would wait for the authorities and to thank me for being such a good driver, at least Californians know how to drive in the rain." I made it to Rock Springs with it really bothering me I found a Motel 6 and liquor store before I drank the night away.

6/26/1992 I woke up early and drove the rest of the way to Cheyenne. It was really weird with the railroad not operating. I arrived at the Little America, the convention headquarters and relaxed having a few drinks. Bill arrived from Denver after a non eventful flight. That night we did a night photo session with the Union Pacific 5511, a 2-10-2 out on the turntable. It was really nicely done and I got great pictures from it.

6/27/1992 The railroad strike had been settled and by the afternoon the trains were back running with Bill and I spending the afternoon out west of the BN {Colorado Southern} Bridge watching the flood of trains. That night we went to the Banquet which had Steve Lee, the czar of the UP Steam Program telling us that the cars for the trip were on the way west from Council Bluffs, Iowa and should arrive around Midnight so our trip was on tomorrow.

Union Pacific 3985 over Sherman Hill 6/28/1992

The morning started with Bill and I going out to Archer Hill for a morning of railroad photography. After a very satisfying parade of freight trains we return to town to the historic Union Pacific Station built in 1886 in a Romanesque style and constructed from polychromatic sandstone. It anchors downtown Cheyenne with the spire facing the capitol dome nine blocks to the north. We had a chance to look around inside and it was really quiet a building. The UPRRHS wanted a group picture so we all posed along the north wall and after the picture was taken we all waited for the train to be bought to us. We scrambled for cover as an early afternoon rain shower poured on those who did not seek cover under the highway overpass.

It was still raining as the Union Pacific 3985 4-6-6-4 and the train of the finest of the UP's passenger car fleet pulled up to load. Unlike other excursions which left early in the morning ours would be unique as it was leaving midafternoon so all of the photo runbys would be in perfect light. We all boarded our assigned cars and just as we left Cheyenne, the rain stopped.

We left the Station and headed west out to A Tower before we ducked under the C&S Bridge and past the Little America Hotel where we were staying. We were on number three track and started to drift away from the original Union Pacific mainline that runs west via Borie and Sherman which we will rejoin at Dale. We curved to the south and headed to Speer with its water tower where the Denver line joins ours as we turned to the northwest. At the west end of the small yard at Speer, the Borie Cutoff departs our line to head to the old mainline and we were now on the new line over Sherman Hill. The new line is 42 miles long and was started on February 18, 1952 by Morrison Knudsen. It reduced the westbound grade from 1.55% to .82%. Building this line across the rugged terrain of Sherman Hill required 111 major fills with the highest one being 164 feet and 114 major cuts with the deepest being 120 feet. The line was built almost six miles south of the original mainline and almost near Harriman cut into Colorado. It was officially opened for service on May 12, 1953 at a cost of 16 million dollars. The line was built with four sidings named Emkay, Lynch, Harriman and Perkins and was built with CTC traffic control which would allow for bidirectional running of trains.

We stayed on the north side of Lone Tree Creek until we crossed it at Emkay as we turned to the south. We made a horseshoe curve back to the north to gain elevation before we reversed again to the southwest with Lone Tree Creek further down in its valley. The hillsides are a beautiful green as we made our way to Lynch where just west we stopped to do our first Photo Runby of the day. The Challenger backed its train down the straight track before it came charging towards us with the green hills standing out against the yellow train.

It was a perfect lit Photo Runby. We reboarded and our steam train continued to climb as we entered the trees and rocks of Sherman Hill.

This time we all went up a hillside with the tracks below us with the Union Pacific 3985 performing another prefect Photo Runby.

We reboarded passed through Harriman before we stopped again to do another Photo Runby this time with the Union Pacific 3985 coming out of a cut. Back on the train everyone was really happy with the runbys so far as the fills got higher and the cuts got deeper and longer. We passed through Perkins and stopped just short of the deepest cut on Sherman Hill where we all climbed up the hill while the Union Pacific 3985 backed down to get ready to cross the fill.

What a Photo Runby this one was and I could not believe I was living through a steam trip over Sherman Hill. It was incredible! We headed through the deepest cut and came out of it with Dale and the other mainlines in view.

We pulled forward to Dale before we did another Photo Runby with us looking up at the 3985 this time.

With five photo runbys we shot pictures of both sides of the train with views above it, even with it and below it. Only the Union Pacific could put on this kind of a show and what a show it was! We pulled forward through Dale across the fill with Dale Creek below before we reached the Hermosa Tunnel where the train was buttoned up for our passage to keep the smoke out. Upon exiting the 1800 foot bore, we passed through Hermosa and at Tie Siding the mainline split again with our train taking the line via Red Buttes. We descended rapidly where we joined Wyoming Highway 287 for the rest of the trip into Laramie with people pulling off the road to get a better look at our train. We pulled into Laramie and at the station we all detrained to have a chance to look around town.

Bill and I went across the bridge over the yard with a few people following us and we waited for the Union Pacific 3985 to be wyed on the Coalmont Branch. The Union Pacific 3985 and train pulled by us treating us to a private runby before it backed up to the mainline and we all hightailed it back to the station. We left Laramie right at sunset and would be treated to a night time stream trip over Sherman Hill. Bill and I found our way to the open doors of the baggage car and enjoyed the trip right there. We ran up the other line through Colores to Hermosa where we shut the baggage car doors for the Hermosa Tunnels. Once clear of the tunnels the doors were reopened and we enjoyed the sounds of the night. There was the sound of the Union Pacific 3985 working hard pulling our train, with the whistle calling out in the night and the sound of the train on the rails. It was magical. We passed Dale and climbed to Sherman, the highest point on the line at 8013 feet. We descended by the ballast pits, through Burford and Granite Canyon. We made our way east through Otto, Borie and at Wycon we become four tracks to enter Cheyenne. We ducked under the C&S Bridge and into Cheyenne coming to stop in front of the Cheyenne Depot ending my first steam trip over Sherman Hill and the completion of a lifelong dream. What an incredible experience and only something that the Union Pacific Railroad could provide. Thank you Union Pacific!