Engine 223 has won a reprieve and will remain in Utah for at least the foreseeable future.
The Utah State Historical Society had been considering giving the narrow-gauge engine to railroad historical museums in Colorado or New Mexico in an effort to keep it from further deteriorating behind the former Rio Grande Depot.The steam engine was donated to Salt Lake City in the 1950s by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and for years was located in Liberty Park. In 1979 the engine was donated to the historical society and moved behind the depot - where the society's offices are currently housed. Over the years, exposed to the elements, the engine has slowly deteriorated.
In September the State History Board said it would make a decision at its November meeting on whether to accept bids from the out-of-state organizations. Since that time, however, a temporary shelter has been constructed over the engine while asbestos is being removed from its boiler area. And, the board has received a letter from Gov. Norm Bangerter offering his support to keep the engine in Utah.
Board members said the temporary shelter will provide sufficient protection for the engine to allow a more detailed exploration of options.
The board also voted to send a letter to the governor informing him the decision has been made to keep the engine in Utah and asking his formal support in getting state money to make the shelter protecting the engine permanent. The society also wants state money for cosmetic restorations that will make the engine suitable as a museum display.
Since the fate of the engine became and issue early this year, it has been discovered that Engine 223 never operated in Utah, although many similar engines were used in the mining areas of eastern Utah. Local groups wanting the engine to remain in state said the fact that it is the only remaining engine of its kind in the state is sufficient reason to keep it here.
The board directed the staff to develop a detailed estimate on the cost of cosmetic restoration and construction of a permanent shelter. That estimate will then be submitted to the governor in an effort to get support for an appropriation from the Legislature.