LARAMIE, Wyo. — The crowd hushed as two cranes lifted nearly 200,000 pounds of black steel, rotated it and set it down on a flatbed truck.
“It moved. It really moved,” someone said.
“Its wheels are off the ground,” said another.
The Union Pacific 535 steam engine, built in 1903 and retired in the late 1950s, moved for the first time in more than 50 years on Monday morning.
Its wheels never spun and the engine didn't start — another $600,000 would be needed for that to happen — but, with cranes and a truck, the engine was moved from Laramie's LaBonte Park several miles southwest to the historic train depot.
“In the 1950s and '60s, Laramie would have been described as a rail town and not a university town,” said Larry Ostresh, the vice president of the Laramie Railroad Depot Association Board.
“For a lot of those people who lived here back then, it's part of their heritage, and part of the heritage of the town, and a neglected part in my opinion.”
The engine and its adjoined tender — the part that holds water and fuel for a steam engine — were the first two portions of a five-part snow train to be reassembled in downtown Laramie.
When it's finished, the engine, tender, wedge snowplow, caboose and bunk car will sit together on new tracks near the restored train depot.
As the only complete train on display in the country, the reassembled locomotive may attract more tourists to southeast Wyoming, Ostresh said.
It will also serve as an educational tool for Laramie residents and visitors, teaching them about the history of the railroad in Wyoming.
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“Those trains, in this configuration, would run on the tracks to bust through the snow, and without those little puppies you would not have the lifeline, literally, for the entire West, as late as the '40s and '50s,” Ostresh said. “This commemorates them.”
The engine, bunk car and snow plow all operated out of Laramie at some point during their lives. Each was abandoned or sold by railroad companies and placed throughout the town.
The Wyoming Colorado Railroad used the bunkhouse as a ticket office, selling rides to Walden, Colo. It was abandoned in west Laramie.
The caboose came from Kansas, one of many given away by the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1980s, Ostresh said. Until Monday, it sat on Third Street in south Laramie.
About two years ago, Ostresh heard the bunk car would be torn apart and sold for scrap. He and others campaigned to buy the bunk car and then realized there would be enough support to reassemble the entire train.
Once the pieces are united, Ostresh plans to recruit volunteers and money for renovations. The bunk car and caboose may ultimately be open to the public.
Nick Vasser and his son, Ansel, came to watch because Ansel's a train buff and steam engines are his favorite.
Fred Lorenz lives 80 miles west in Riverside. Old machines are his thing. He's not as familiar with trains as he is tractors, but he couldn't miss seeing 90 tons of train suspended in the air.
Linda Paintin rode the engine as a child, more than 50 years ago, in a roundhouse used for daily maintenance. That was before it moved to LaBonte Park when her father worked on the engine in the '50s.
He and his nephew, who both died years ago, remembered the locomotive as a snow train when it cleared a path through drifts for other trains.
“This is the best thing they ever did. It's part of Laramie history, and all this stuff should be in one place,” she said.