The name Union Pacific has dominated railroad transportation since its founding on July 1, 1862 and with good reason. The original Union Pacific Rail Road was incorporated on July 1, 1862, under an act of Congress entitled Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. The act was approved by President Abraham Lincoln, and it provided for the construction of railroads from the Missouri River to the Pacific as a war measure for the preservation of the Union. On May 10, 1869 the Driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah celebrated completion of linking our Nation by rail.
The challenge to build the first transcontinental railroad with dramatized first in the 1937 novel Trouble Shooter by Ernest Haycox and in 1939 by the epic motion picture Union Pacific. Seldom recounted are the troubled finances of the line that occurred first with the Credit Moblilier scandal in 1872 where the construction company overcharged the Union Pacific and ultimately those costs were passed on to the United States Government. A new charter in 1880 changed the name to the Union Pacific Railway with Jay Gould as the dominate stockholder. Expansion included lines in Idaho and Oregon and by narrow-gauge connections to Colorado. But by 1893 the line would declare bankruptcy and would later emerge with its original name Union Pacific Railroad (UP)
The early years of the 20th Century were marked by aggressive internal improvement. One early example was the 1906 founding of Pacific Fruit Express (PFE). Working in concert with the Southern Pacific, UP successfully developed a vastly improved transportation network for the perishables and eventually PFE would become the world’s largest lessee of refrigerated railcars. Many sections of mainline were aligned to lessen grades and provide more direct routes and in 1904 the original route to Promontory Summit was replaced by the Lucin Cutoff. The UP partnered once again with the Southern Pacific and the Chicago & North Western for perfection of the famous “Overland Limited” and related “Overland-series” luxury passenger trains that for decades dominated railroad travel between Chicago and the west. The UP became a powerhouse and even the ill-fated scheme to merge the UP and Southern Pacific in 1913 did not derail its progress.
During the 1930s UP Chairman W. Averell Harriman was determined to elevate the services and image of the railroad creatively by tapping the equity of several travel destinations along the railroad and that effort led to the development of the Sun Valley Ski Resort in Idaho in 1936. The Harriman management team embraced one of the earliest streamlined trains known somewhat functionally by its road number M-10000 that introduced the eye-catching Armour yellow livery to its passenger fleet. By 1940 the UP diesel-powered “Streamliner” fleet represented the cutting edge of railroad passenger technology.
The commanding “up from the ranks” UP President of that era William Martin Jeffers of course succumbed to the direction that Harriman established but had no phobias about speaking his mind. On the subject of Sun Valley disgruntled Jeffers told Harriman “The only thing I ever did with snow was to shovel it the hell off the track. Now you want to play with it!” Jeffers forecast the type of strong-willed leadership that UP was noted for.
Despite his hard-nosed drive, Jeffers and his managers proved to be well-suited to building a better railroad. Irrespective of early applications of diesels, UP fielded some landmark steam classes including the celebrated Challenger (4-6-6-4) and Big Boy (4-8-8-4) locomotives. In July of 1945 Time Magazine selected Jeffers to be the industry statesman for relating the challenges of successfully operating a railroad during war time.
The 1950s ushered in a new level of passenger luxury with the famous “City” lightweight, dome-equipped trains and members of that fleet included the City of Los Angeles, City of Denver and City of Portland. Diesels finally silenced the legendary steam classes but the railroad thoughtfully preserved samples of the best of its fleet for preservation and later, mainline steam operation.
Like all of its competitors, UP refocused in the 1960s and 1970s by phasing out long-distance passenger service, selling off resorts including Sun Valley and reengineering its operation to be a more efficient freight-hauler. Despite that focus, management always respected the company’s legendary history and heartedly celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Driving of the Golden Spike in May of 1969.
Convolutions in the railroad industry emerged after the fall of Penn Central when the merger movement became active once again. UP would eventually consume the Missouri Pacific, Western Pacific, Chicago North Western, the Katy and later on the Rio Grande, Southern Pacific and Cotton Belt.
All of that is good reason to celebrate the accomplishments of the Union Pacific and pay tribute to that western powerhouse. Whether you like the steam giants of the past or the powerful diesel-electric locomotives of the present, our current inventory offers you a great sampling of locomotives and complementary rolling stock to choose from. Our award-winning rewards program makes it easy to add the flavor of the Union Pacific to your own model railroad!
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