By ALEX R. LLOYD
75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — What do you do with a large piece of equipment that has served the Department of Defense since the beginning of the jet age? The answer, unfortunately, if it is an outdated locomotive, is to unceremoniously cut it up into small pieces for scrap and reuse the parts.
The Air Force once owned and operated a bustling railroad fleet comprised of 56 diesel-electric locomotives of different makes, models and sizes. They have been assigned to different bases around the world, including Hill Air Force Base. Their uses have been many: troop movement, fuel and coal hauling, rocket and missile transport, and other heavy duties.
Currently, Air Force bases still using railroad equipment are rare. Shaw AFB in South Carolina uses trains to transport aviation fuel, and Eielson AFB in Alaska uses its railroad to haul coal for the base power plant.
At Hill, locomotives operated by the 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron moved oversized missile motors and parts around the base when the loads were too large and heavy for transport on base roads by semi-trucks. The last locomotive run occurred here in 2011.
One locomotive had an especially long run at Hill.
Originally designated 65-00374, the 1200-horsepower S12 switcher was built in 1952 by Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Locomotive Works for the U.S. Navy. In 1961, 65-00374 was renumbered “USAF 1864” and sent to Hill AFB along with another S12, USAF 1863. Together, they worked for many years moving freight around the base.
“1864 was like ‘The Little Engine That Could’ because it would keep going even when you thought that time had the best of it,” said Chris Dunyon, an electrical supervisor who worked on the locomotive at Hill. “You could never count it out. It would keep going.”
Baldwin built steam locomotives for many years, resisting the conversion to the manufacture of diesel-electric locomotives such as the S12. Due to this resistance and competitive pressure, Baldwin built just 451 S12s before going out of business.
At 55 years young, 1864 was parked in 2007 because replacement parts were no longer available for it to continue operating.
For the next eight years, the locomotive sat outside, subject to the elements. During this time, the Defense Logistics Agency attempted to dispose of 1864, seeking a location for reuse within the DoD; DLA also sought to donate it to a suitable home. The cost of moving the locomotive, however, became prohibitive so 1864 was turned over to Government Liquidation, a government contractor, for disposal.
“Because of its non-track readiness, (DLA) was not able to do anything with it,” said Government Liquidation’s Dean Queda. “Taking care of a train is a lot bigger process than people were anticipating. It (takes) a tremendous amount of money to move a 60-ton train.”
Because the train could not be donated or reused, it was sold to the highest bidder, which turned out to be Allied Metals in Ogden.
In early November, Allied began dismantling 1864 using oxygen-propane torches, heavy equipment, and other tools. After two weeks of demolition, the locomotive’s shell was gone. The locomotive’s controls, chassis and wheels (trucks) still sit on Hill’s west side, awaiting transport from the base where they will be recycled or sold and reused.
“While it won’t resemble a train anymore, 1864 will continue on,” said Stuart Roper, Allied co-owner. “It’ll be recycled, repurposed and used as replacement parts. It’s still got some good years left.”