Symposium Focuses on Ogden's Railroad Heritage

OGDEN, Utah – A now historic sign says it best – "You Can't Get Anywhere Without Coming to Ogden!"

Marking the map for nearly a century as a bustling railroad center, Ogden is also hometown to the railroad-building Utah Construction Company, founded in 1900. By 1976, with railroads seeming more nostalgic than essential, the "little company that could" linked with General Electric in the largest merger of its type in United States history to that date.

The company's start in railroading and Ogden's wealth of railroad lore will be feted at "Making Tracks: Railroading 1900-1930," the fourth annual Utah Construction/Utah International Symposium, Oct. 7, in the Stewart Library Special Collections, through exhibits,  oral history excerpts, a slide presentation and a panel discussion.

The "Making Tracks" exhibit features three early projects of the Utah Construction Company: the challenging Feather River line for Western Pacific, from Oroville, Calif., to Salt Lake City; the first foreign venture, a Southern Pacific line linking Tepic with La Quemada in Nayarit, Mexico; and the gala opening in Klamath Falls, Ore., of a Southern Pacific branch line, celebrated by townspeople and several Indian tribes.

Excerpts from oral histories given by crewmen and photographs will enliven an adjacent photographic exhibit, "The Ogden Connection," which includes a "rapid transit" system initiated by banker and entrepreneur David Eccles; the inter-city Bamberger line; the awe-inspiring Lucin trestle over the Great Salt Lake; and the busy Ogden Depot, which included a hotel and restaurant before it burned down in February 1923.

The one-day symposium will begin at 10 a.m., with a panel discussion, "You Can't Get Anywhere Without Coming to Ogden: Railroading in the American West," moderated by Dr. Richard Sadler, dean of the WSU College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, with historians Dr. Kathryn L. MacKay, Dr. Stan Layton and Dr. Richard Roberts.

A 3 p.m. reception will feature Daniel Davis, photograph curator for Special Collections at Utah State University, and his slide show, "Creating a New West: Photographers Along the Western Railroads." This presentation is co-sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council.

Brothers Edmund O. Wattis, William H. Wattis and Warren L. Wattis founded the railroading company with backing from Eccles and his fellow banker, Thomas Dee. The company soon undertook building dams and led the Six Companies consortium in building the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. After branching into military, commercial and residential construction and specializing in mining in 16 countries on six continents, the company changed its name, in 1971, to Utah International. Following the merger with General Electric, Utah International continued to operate until its 1984 purchase by Broken Hill Proprietary, Ltd.

In 1999 the Utah Construction/Utah International Collection was donated to the Stewart Library Special Collections by BHP and the late Edmund W. Littlefield, a former company president and a grandson of founder Edmund O. Wattis. A grant from the William H. & Mattie Wattis Harris Foundation assisted in processing and preserving the half million photographs,  correspondence, minutes and other business records.
Contact:

Linda Sillitoe, special projects assistant for the Stewart Library
801-626-7351 · lsillitoe@weber.edu

Author:

Linda Sillitoe, special projects assistant for the Stewart Library
801-626-7351 · lsillitoe@weber.edu