Pioneer Village Railroad

a.k.a. Old Ironsides
Opened: 1976
Closed: 1988
Manufactured By: Crown Metal Products – Wyano, Pennsylvania

Locomotive
Illustration from a 1976 Lagoon brochure.

Most of Lagoon’s Pioneer Village originated as an attraction in Salt Lake City. When the collection was brought to Lagoon, new features were added including a Crown Metal Products train which circled the entire village. This train first operated at Pixieland near the Oregon Coast beginning in 1969. When Pixieland went out of business in 1974, Lagoon acquired the park’s train and log flume. In 1975, the train became the Wild Kingdom Train and the Log Flume opened in its present-day location before the old pioneer homes and buildings arrived. When the new Pioneer Village opened in 1976, the train was put into operation on the new Pioneer Village Railroad and another train was purchased for Wild Kingdom.

THE TRAIN

The Pioneer Village Railroad had another name, at least in later years. The ride is listed as Old Ironsides in the 1988 park guide and even after the ride closed the name showed up on the 1989 map and in the 1990 edition of the AAA Guide to North America’s Theme Parks. The nickname “Old Ironsides” has had a few different applications throughout history, but the name in this case would have been in reference to an early steam locomotive designed by Matthias W. Baldwin. It’s uncertain when the name Old Ironsides was first used for the ride. The locomotive acquired a name of its own. The name Meriwether is mainly used among employees and was apparently inspired by Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark, who also had a significant connection to the Oregon Coast.

From PDXhistory.com
Pixieland postcard featuring the train that would later operate on the P.V.R.R.

While Wild Kingdom Train has had three different trains at different times, only Meriwether has traveled the Pioneer Village Railroad. Meriwether is a miniature American 4-4-0 locomotive built in 1968. Powered by live steam and originally fueled by coal, it was converted to burn propane after Lagoon bought the train in 1974. The tender received a larger water tank at that time and again in 1980 and 2004. At Pixieland, the the train included three coaches. Lagoon added a fourth coach, though it’s uncertain when. Meriwether, along with her tender and coaches, have been repainted three times. The original red, green and yellow scheme is shown in the photo to the left. At some point, it was repainted dark red and white. The second repainting was in 1987 with a light blue, pink and white color scheme. It’s currently painted red, blue and gold.

THE STATION

Pioneer Village Railroad Station relocated from Kaysville. Illustration from a 1976 park brochure.
Pioneer Village Railroad Station relocated from Kaysville. Illustration from a 1976 park brochure.

Passengers loaded and unloaded at the station on the south end of Pioneer Village’s Main Street. The building was formerly a train depot built at the end of the old Maple Street in Kaysville, Utah by the Oregon Short Line, a subsidiary of Union Pacific. Construction took place from September to December 1899 at a cost of $2,386.77. Decades later, after automobiles became the more popular mode of transportation and the train station was no longer used, Union Pacific donated the building to the original Pioneer Village collection in Salt Lake City. A Pioneer Village  guidebook provided the following description of the building:

“In this excellent example of utilitarian architecture, the station has wide overhanging roof design for protection of passengers and luggage in poor weather. Borrowing from Flemish 17th century architecture, the roof features blind turrets at the front.

“The interior of the station is comprised of three rooms; stained glass windows enhance the waiting room. There is an office with a ticket window and a baggage room.”

The waiting room was on the east end with the baggage room – or freight room – on the west end and the ticket office in the middle. The interior is now one large room. The stained glass windows have been removed (except above the entrance) and a Union Pacific shield has been added to the roof.

THE RAILWAY

The Pioneer Village Railroad was a 24″ gauge railroad. No exact track length can be found for the P.V.R.R., but by measuring its path on a map it can be estimated to be roughly 2,400 feet long – about 800 feet longer than Wild Kingdom’s track. From the station, the train crossed Farmington Creek on a truss bridge and continued north between the creek and Stagecoach road. After passing the Pioneer Pavilion, it crossed the walkway and wrapped around the Log Flume where it crossed the creek again. It then followed alongside the smaller Lagoon Miniature Railroad around the north portion of the village. The tracks crossed both entrances to Pioneer Village and then traveled behind the buildings on Main Street. After crossing the Stagecoach road, it passed in front of Governor Dern’s livery stable just before pulling back into the station.

PVRR Map
Highlighted in yellow is the approximate track layout of the P.V.R.R. based on old maps and remaining portions of track.

D&RGW RAILROAD CARS

Photo courtesy of Lagoon
D&RGW boxcar and caboose at Lagoon in 1991. Photo courtesy of Lagoon

For over a decade, three narrow-gauge cars used on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad were on display behind the station. Some remember the caboose being open for guests to go inside and look around. The boxcar (№ 3576), gondola (№ 1051) and caboose (№ 0573) were used on a freight line near Montrose, Colorado. They were donated to the original Pioneer Village collection by D&RGW in early 1953 and were relocated to Lagoon with the rest of the buildings and artifacts in the summer of 1975. There was talk about adding the D&RGW locomotive № 223 from Liberty Park to this display, but it never came to be.¹

In the 1990s, the cars were moved to Ogden’s Union Station. They were stored south of Union Station until 2006 when a fire spread from a nearby building and burned the cars. The remaining metal parts were sent off to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado, Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton, California and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Chama, New Mexico.²

Denver & Rio Grande Western was the railroad company that built Lagoon’s predecessor, Lake Park, on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.

THE END OF THE ROAD

Part of the Lagoon-A-Beach site plan with the P.V.R.R. shown winding through the water slide supports and around a set of greenhouses.
Part of the Lagoon-A-Beach site plan showing the P.V.R.R. winding through the water slide supports and around a set of greenhouses. (click to enlarge)

When plans were being made for a new water park to replace the old Swimming Pool, water slides were placed to allow the railroad to pass through their supports. The ride closed at the end of the 1988 season for construction of Lagoon-A-Beach. The following spring, as Lagoon was beginning another season, Ivan M. Lincoln interviewed Lagoon’s entertainment director, Ron Van Woerden, who spoke of plans to connect the tracks of the Wild Kingdom Train and P.V.R.R. The article states, “…instead of one train encircling Pioneer Village and another encircling the lagoon, the two sets of tracks will be joined for one long railroad excursion around both.” This was about the same time that Lagoon was trying to get plans approved by the Farmington City Council to develop the area that would become the home of Rattlesnake Rapids and initially included the P.V.R.R. and a mine train coaster. Plans for this development had to be redrawn and submitted many times until an agreement could be reached. This may have contributed to the delay on connecting the two railroads. Another article in July 1995 hints at the loss Pioneer Village had suffered since Lagoon-A-Beach opened in 1989: “…Howard Freed, who has been curator of Pioneer Village…says the number of visitors here has been sagging ever since the Old Ironsides railway closed…” The article then discussed the upcoming installation of Rattlesnake Rapids and said that after it was completed “park personnel hope some day to add a new railroad line that would encircle the park and attract even more Pioneer Village guests.”

View behind the station where the P.V.R.R. tracks are still visible. The rails used by the D&RGW narrow-gauge cars can be seen in the distance. Photo: B. Miskin
Behind the museum, the P.V.R.R. tracks and rails used by the D&RGW narrow-gauge cars still remain. Photo: B. Miskin

Ultimately, the P.V.R.R. never reopened, probably due to a combination of factors such as maintenance costs, the safety concern of having multiple crossings or focusing on other attractions and projects elsewhere in the park.

In the 1990s, the station had model trains on display. After an update, it re-opened in 2002 as David E. Sperry’s Model Train Museum. Behind the museum, the tracks remain along with the water tower and rails on which the D&RGW cars once sat. A long stretch of track remained alongside Pioneer Pavilion and in front of the deer pens until early 2016. The tracks used as landscaping to the south and east of the Log Flume were placed there after Rattlesnake Rapids opened in 1997, but they’re in pretty much the same spot as P.V.R.R. track once was. Between the Gold Springs and Coal City picnic terraces, just north of the Log Flume, there is what appears to be an old concrete abutment for one of the railroad bridges. Both truss bridges were relocated in the ’90s for use on the Lagoon Trail. On the path leading to the Telephone Museum or Governor Dern Livery Stable, you can see where a portion of the tracks were paved over. Merriwether returned to the Wild Kingdom track in 1989.

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NOTES

1. Locomotive № 223 ended up at Ogden’s Union Station. It’s currently undergoing restoration and donations for the project are being accepted by the Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

2. You can find more details about the cars and just about anything related to railroads in Utah at the incredibly informative UtahRails.net. Photos of similar narrow-gauge equipment (like the boxcar and caboose) along with other information about the Denver & Rio Grande Western can be found at DRGW.net.

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pvrrgallerylinkClick here to enter the P.V.R.R. Gallery

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LINKS

Wild Kingdom Train (coming soon)

Lagoon Miniature Railroad (coming soon)

Log Flume

Pioneer Village

Details about Meriweather at LagoonIsFun.com

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SOURCES

Lincoln, Ivan M. Lagoon A Beach: Resort is making waves this season. Deseret News, 21 Apr 1989.

Arave, Lynn. Pioneer Village: Lagoon offers colorful ride into the past with a rare collection of artifacts. Deseret News, 23 Jul 1995.

Arave, Lynn. Get out of town by sundown? Hey: there’s too much to see!. Deseret News, 23 Jul 1995.

Pioneer Village at Lagoon. Lagoon Press Kit, 1988.

24 inch Gauge Steam Railroad Equipment. Crown Metal Products Catalog, undated.

WKT Locomotive Merriweather. LagoonIsFun.com, accessed 13 Mar 2013.

Strack, Don. Sons of Utah Pioneers’ Pioneer Village. UtahRails.net, accessed 29 May 2013.

Strack, Don. Utah State Railroad Museum at Ogden Union Station. UtahRails.net, accessed 29 May 2013.

Pixieland. PdxHistory.com, accessed 9 Feb 2013.

Oregon Short Line Railroad (1897-1936). UtahRails.net, accessed 29 May 2013.

Old Ironsides. The Franklin Institute: The Case Files, accessed 2 Jul 2013.

Pioneer Village Train. LagoonIsFun.com Forum, accessed 9 Jul 2013.

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