The location for the city of Cheyenne was chosen by chief surveyor Grenville M. Dodge on July 4, 1867. The chosen spot was at the banks of Crow Creek, a precious water source on the high plains. Dodge's team of surveyors was looking for a way to cross the Rocky Mountains that was both direct and not too steep. Dodge found just such a pass to the west of Crow Creek, and Cheyenne's importance to the railroad was quickly cemented.
The Second Depot
In 1885, the Union Pacific commissioned architects from Van Brunt & Howe of Boston to design a new depot in Cheyenne. The firm followed the example of architect H.H. Richardson, who was famous for his Romanesque style of late-Victorian design. On March 16, 1886, Union Pacific workers began to construct the new building, and Cheyenne citizens and newspapers eagerly followed the laying of every stone in the new structure. The depot was completed, minus the clock, in November 1887, 9 months after the cattle industry went bust due to massive snowstorms that killed 85 percent of the herds around Cheyenne.
Kirkland Collection, Wyoming State Archives
Cheyenne Shops and Yards
In late 1888 rumors began to circulate that the Union Pacific was considering the relocation of its major shops to Cheyenne. The facility was to be comprehensive, and would include facilities to not only repair and maintain locomotives (work that had previously been done in Laramie) but also freight and passenger cars. Over the next few months, the citizens of the city eagerly watched as the Union Pacific built one structure after another. When the machine shop was put into operation on April 16, 1890, the Cheyenne Daily Sun reported that 200 people were present when Mayor C.W. Riner was given the honor of starting the engine to power the machinery in the shop. Cheyenne's long-dreamt-about role with the Union Pacific was at hand. As that role grew, so did the size of the facility, which expanded in 1919.
The Only Way to Travel
Cheyenne has had a close connection with the Union Pacific's passenger service from the time the first passenger train arrived in 1867 until Amtrak moved out of the city in 1979. Passenger service was designed to be the height of luxury for those with money to spend. Railcar dining became an indulgent activity all its own, with many people riding the train simply to get the best meal around.
Wyoming State Archives
Home of the Largest Locomotives
Due to the steep grades at Sherman Hill, Cheyenne has always been home to the most powerful locomotives available. This meant that Cheyenne became the base shop the the 4-8-4s, the Challengers, and the Big Boys, the three largest engines in use by any railroad at the time. Though nearly all of the locomotives were initially built in New York or Pennsylvania, they had to be maintained and repaired in Cheyenne. The ability of Cheyenne crews to handle the power and size of these machines was paramount to the railroad's success.