Bob Dowty, the locomotive engineer for the replica of the 119 Union Pacific used at the Golden Spike National Monument, helped build the train replicas in Costa Mesa, Calif., and when they came to Utah so did he.
"When we were finished building them, they had become my babies and I couldn't let them go, so I applied for a job with the National Park Service and came to Utah to be with the trains."Dowty lives in Honeyville and works all year maintaining the engines for the Park Service. When the trains are not being used in the winter, Dowty takes all the brass off and polishes it. In fact, he polishes the brass several times a day during the regular season, too.
"These steam engines are kind of persnickety," he said, touching a rail gingerly. "You have to know how to fix every little thing if they break down. We have to be jacks of all trades."
Dowty started collecting trains as a child and hasn't stopped.
"There aren't too many things that helped people the same way the railroad did," he said.
Dowty said that in the early days of the railroad, a cross-country trip cost $120 and took six days and 22 hours, as opposed to $2,000 and six months in a wagon train.
"The railroad really settled the West. It opened up all the western states," he said. Dowty said he has never quite gotten over the feeling of traveling on a train. "I just love to see all the scenery."
Recently officials asked Dowty and his staff to start wearing foam earplugs while running their locomotives. Dowty said that while he appreciated their concern about his hearing, it is impossible to hear the workings of the engine with earplugs in.
"People will just never get over the iron horse," he said. "That steam engine is just exactly like a heart."