By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
For visitors to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Engine 1242 is an interesting outdoor attraction. Built in 1890 in New Jersey, the engine (nicknamed Ol’ Sadie) ran the Walcott-Saratoga-Encampment rail line from November 1921 until May 1954. It’s the oldest coal-burning steam locomotive in the state.
With its shiny black exterior, set aside behind an iron fence near the garden, Ol’ Sadie is a relic from ages past.
For Floyd and Al Young, the locomotive is a link to their past.
“My father was a railroad engineer with Union Pacific,” Al told Cowboy State Daily. “He served 44 years with the Union Pacific.”
From 1952-54, Al said his brother and parents lived at the depot in Encampment, and in the mornings the boys would ride with their father to pick up the train for its daily runs.
“I was a young boy in third and fourth grade,” said Al, “and my father would take us in the morning down to the turntable where we picked up the train, and he would bring it up and drop us kids off at the depot for mom to take us to school.”
Floyd also remembers how his father “drove that train from Encampment to Saratoga to Walcott Junction, where it turned around and loaded and came back to Encampment, then when it slowed down we would hop on and go to the round house.”
Al said the train was originally used for hauling ore out of the mountains near Battle Mountain and above Riverside and Centennial.
“Eventually, it was used for even carrying honey out of the areas of Saratoga down to the main track, and then from there to different places on the Union Pacific Railroad,” said Al.
In 1954, the decision was made to retire the engine from service altogether. Since his father was its engineer at the time, the responsibility fell on Floyd Sr. to bring the train to Cheyenne.
“The engine and the coal car were placed in the park,” said Al. “It became a centerpiece for a little playground that was there.”
Over the years, however, the train engine at the small park fell into disrepair.
“It was abused, and the kids painted on it and broke out the windows, and all sorts of things,” said Al.
It was in the early 2000s that the train was offered a new lease on life.
Cheyenne Botanic Gardens
In 2004, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Director Shane Smith was given the opportunity to make the train part of its outdoor display.
“We were given eight or nine acres of grounds from the city to manage,” Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “It included Wyoming’s oldest steam locomotive.”
With help from the Cheyenne Railroad Club, the train was moved to its current location, painted and refurbished.
Smith said that during the process, he found out that the family of the train’s last engineer had built a fence in tribute to the railroad and made arrangements to have the fence placed around the train.
A Fence Built To Last
When Floyd Jr. was attending the University of Wyoming, his father had the idea to create a welded metal fence that would pay tribute to his years on the railroad.
“(It was) all the way around our yard in Laramie,” said Al. “It consisted of pieces of railroad memorabilia – everything from little wrenches to all sorts of things that were put into that fence.”
Al said the items were collected by his parents on trips they would take across Wyoming.
“Basically from Pine Bluffs all the way across the state of Wyoming, they had an old Volkswagen microbus and they would pick up any pieces of metal that were left along the old railroad beds,” he said. “And dad would clean them off and he would put them in a stack. And then later in the 1960s and early ’70s, Floyd Jr. and my father welded the fence together, and then we all painted that fence.”
Floyd said it took about a year to complete the fence.
“Dad would show up, he’d have it all laid out on the floor in the welding room at the University,” he said. “And as soon as I got out of class, I changed into my clothes and then I’d go and weld all the parts together.”
Floyd said the two would put the individual parts of the fence into the Volkswagon microbus and haul it to the family’s property in Laramie, which is where it stayed until it was moved around the train in 2004.
A Piece of History
Visitors to the Botanic Garden can take in this unique piece of Wyoming’s history at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, off Interstate 25 at Exit 11.