88th GM Presentation John Rimmasch

The 88th General Meeting Speaker Presentation
“Celebrating Railroad History, Preserving the Future for All”
John Rimmasch


The following presentation was delivered at the 88th General Meeting Monday General Session, May 6, 2019. It has been edited for content and phrasing.

INTRODUCTION: John E. Rimmasch is the owner and CEO of Wyoming-based Wasatch Railroad Contractors (an ASME/NBIC-certified facility). He has served on ASME committees, most notably the committee that recently re-introduced Section L of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, otherwise known as the Steam Locomotive Code.

Mr. Rimmasch’s slide presentation can be accessed here.

MR. RIMMASCH: I am a native of Salt Lake City. I grew up in Murray, just a few blocks south of here, and it was a great experience for me to grow up in Salt Lake City. 

I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some of you know them as the Mormons. And the fun part about that today is I'm very open and willing to talk about the church, because it means a lot to me. So if any of you want to talk to me later, I can show you my horns and my picture of my ten wives. Actually, there is none of that. There are no horns. I have one wife. She's beautiful. We have been married for twenty years. This year is our 20th anniversary.

My presentation today actually is a balance of a lot of different history related to Salt Lake City. 

Because I know that a lot of you are here from out of town, I want to share a little bit about the history and some of the neater aspects of Salt Lake City, and why the creation of the railroad was so important to Salt Lake City and the church, and why the creation of the code was also important to both of them. 

This first picture that I'm showing you is the rock quarry that is located in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The two major canyons in the Salt Lake Valley where all the skiing takes place are Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. If you've skied at Alta or Snowbird, you've skied in Little Cottonwood Canyon. If you've skied at Brighton or Solitude, you've skied in Big Cottonwood Canyon. 

When the Mormon pioneers got to the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847, the leader of the church at the time, Brigham Young, decided that the first thing the Saints needed to do was to build a new temple. 

For any of you that know about Mormon history, the Saints had just been driven from Nauvoo, Illinois, westward, and Brigham Young had had a vision that he knew where the Saints were supposed to build their new Zion, as it was. 

As the Saints got into the Salt Lake Valley, he was very sick in the wagon, and he got out of the wagon and proclaimed to all of the people that this was the place, this was the place that he had seen, and he knew this was the place that the Saints were to establish their new city. 

Salt Lake City and the entire valley is laid out in a perfect grid all centered around the Temple. The Temple represents ground zero. There is North Temple on the north, South Temple on the south, Main Street on the east, and West Temple on the west. From there any address in Salt Lake City is coordinated from that. 

I raised at 7th West and 5300 South. That's 53 blocks south of the Temple and seven blocks west of the Temple. I grew up knowing exactly where the Temple was. We all knew that. 

If you are wondering about the numbering system of Salt Lake City, the numbering system is based off the coordinates of the Temple.  So when you look at a number now and an address, you can very easily understand where that came from. 

Another interesting thing about Salt Lake City is that the streets are wide. Have any of you noticed that the streets seem pretty wide for a city? Brigham Young declared when they laid out the city that the city streets would be wide enough to turn a team of eight oxen and a cart within the street in a total circle. All of the streets in Salt Lake City are basically the same width, so they could turn this cart around. 

So now we are starting to build this Temple in Salt Lake City, and the building of the Temple is going excruciatingly slow. They are quarrying rock out of Little Cottonwood Canyon, putting it on carts, and hauling it by oxen down to Salt Lake. They are chiseling and finishing it, and then building the Temple with it. 

Brigham Young learned about the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad and that the railroad was coming west. He decided that building the railroad was far more important than building the Temple, so he asked his volunteers to stop working on the Temple, go north to the Ogden area and east, and spend their time working on the railroad. 

As he sent volunteers up, the Union Pacific Railroad decided that he was sending some really good craftsmen. They could build tunnels, quarry rock, and lay track. They could do all these things. 

The railroad penned an agreement between the church and the railroad. The church would supply people to build the railroad, and in exchange, the railroad would pay the church. This would help the church build up a little bit of money that would help spur the building of the Temple. 

So all of this worked out great. Here we have all of these LDS Saints building the railroad; the railroad is completed and meets in Promontory on May 10, 1869. 

From there Brigham Young decides that we are going to build railroads down to Salt Lake and then on to Little Cottonwood Canyon and into the canyon where they could put the rock on the train and bring the rock from the quarries down to Salt Lake City. 

Now, here is the bad news. Did any of you know that Union Pacific actually stiffed the church on the payment of those workers for the work that they had done to build the railroad? They didn't have any money. 

For those of you that may not know, the building of the Transcontinental Railroad literally bankrupted the railroads. It was a huge, huge cost, and the government didn't have the money to pay it back. 

Well, Brigham Young, being the good leader that he was, decided to just accept the fact that they weren't going to get paid on the railroad and just moved on. They bought materials and supplies, got the railroad put down here, and everything ended up working out okay. 

Very interestingly, a couple of years ago, Stephen Ambrose was working on a history book about the Transcontinental Railroad, and it was revealed that the church, indeed, had never been paid for the work that they had done. 

A couple of Union Pacific executives in the area found out about the story. They approached the railroad and asked if they could have the money to pay the church back. About fifteen years ago, the Union Pacific Railroad settled its debt with the LDS faith for about $250,000 for the work that had been done. It took 130 years to get that debt resolved and taken care of. 

It's a neat little story, and it's neat to see and understand how important the railroads were to the creation of Salt Lake City and the areas that we live in. 

Many of you have been up to see the locomotives at Promontory. These locomotives are actually replicas. 

Can you believe that they scrapped the original locomotives at Geneva Steel down in Provo, Utah, during World War II? Many of you may remember that during World War II, we had a huge scrap drive. We needed a lot of material to keep the war effort going. The two locomotives were found, taken down to Geneva and scrapped. 

The locomotives that are at Promontory today were built by O'Connor's Locomotive Works in the early '70s. Both of these have code boilers on them. They are brand new locomotives, but they look identical to the originals. They were built, maintained and kept serviceable from those original drawings from way back when. 

Just a couple of years ago, my company had the great opportunity of doing the 15-year inspections on these locomotive boilers. We took all the boiler tubes out, rebuilt them, put some new flanges on them, and did a bunch of work on them. We then redecorated, repainted and polished up the jackets to make them look really nice again. 

If you ever get the chance to go up there and look at those locomotives, it's really worth the time and energy. 

Most of us hear that the laying of the golden spike was done at Promontory Point, Utah. Have any of you ever heard that, Promontory Point? It's actually not true. It's actually called Promontory Summit. 

Promontory Point is the peak of the mountain. If we were standing right at the locomotives, the mountain is directly behind them, which would be to the east of Promontory. That's Promontory Point. 

The laying of the golden spike took place at Promontory Summit. 

Now, here is something really fun for you guys. Wouldn't you imagine that as the two tracks were coming across the nation, that somebody would have gotten together and said, “Hey, Fred, does your track match our track?  Because when we get there, we are going to have to put these together to make them work.”

It was generally assumed that somebody already had that conversation, but it had never really taken place. 

I don't have a way to draw it for you, but when you imagine a regular railroad track, you are going to imagine the ball of the rail on the top, a web through the middle, and then a web base, or foot, on the bottom.

The track that the Central Pacific used in building the railroad from the west to the east, and the track that the Union Pacific used building the railroad from the east to the west, were two totally different shapes, weights and sizes. 

The Central Pacific rail was much more bulbous with a lot more curves in it. The Union Pacific rail was much more square, strict and rigid, and not quite as curvy. 

This gets us into why the Code becomes so important. If you look closely at this picture of the Temple being built, you will notice down here some boxcars that were taken right into Temple Square for the building of the Temple. So this picture obviously is taken after 1869 and after the railroad makes it down to Salt Lake. 

For those of you that may be interested, the Temple in Salt Lake City took forty years of volunteer labor to build. 

Here is another picture, just the wide streets in Salt Lake City and kind of the industrial nature of the city. 

But we want to talk for just a minute about the Code and why the Code became so important. Back in the old days of steam, steam locomotives were actually assigned to one or two men to take care of. 

Today in railroading, the locomotives are maintained in a great big pool. Whatever locomotive is on your train, you get on it, and you go. 

Back in the day, Harry and Fred were assigned this locomotive, and Harry and Fred were welders from Kentucky. Fred one day came out and said, “Hey, Harry, my wife went and bought me a brand new shirt at that Walmart store, and it came with two hangers. And we have got a leak in the boiler, so I'm going to jump up there and I'm going to weld the boiler with the extra hanger I got from the Walmart store that my wife bought for me.” 

So they weld and fix it. 

The locomotive is rolling down the track one day, and it explodes. We start to look at why it exploded, and we all figure out that Fred and Harry used the extra hanger from the Walmart store to weld the boiler together, and so it blows up. 

The railroads are starting to notice that we are putting railroads together and building this great big rail network, and we have got all these locomotives that are being managed by individual people, and some are blowing up and some aren't, some derail and some don't, some burn coal and some don't, some burn wood and some don't. We need to have some kind of a standard. 

The railroads began to develop their own individual standards. 

If you think the Code is tough to interpret sometimes, you ought to sit down and read some of these old historic railroad codes. You sit back and scratch your head and say, “Really?” 

These guys wrote this thing after they left the Walmart store with their extra hanger. There is no other way they could have done it, right? 

So the Code is becoming more and more important because we are seeing all of these railroads come together, and there is no standard format for how this is being done. 

Welding was very critical. It develops and becomes recognized very quickly as a faster means of repair. 

If I have to put a patch in a boiler, I have to put a flange and five rivets in it, and drill the holes and rivet them; or I can go out there with my hanger from the Walmart store and just weld it up. Which one is the railroad going to pick? 

The Walmart hanger, right? It's a lot faster. So we are seeing this decline in the quality of repairs. 

The railroads took a very active role in participating with ASME in the early days of standardizing and building these codes, eventually making it one standard code. 

A number of years ago, we lost what we felt was that important piece of the Code, Section L or PL (you can look at it a couple different ways) — the locomotive code. 

For those of us in the industry, we felt it was so important that we had lost that code, that we brought it back. That's how we ended up forming a committee to bring that particular piece of history back. 

We were talking today at our committee meeting about why we did what we did – in some ways, to preserve the historic boiler practices of days gone by. You guys know as well as I do that we continue to lose these pieces of history. 

One of the most touching parts of your talks today was the relationships that you had with these people who are no longer with us. 

I told our committee today I wish we had all of the people that are no longer with us in our committee of just fifteen years ago, because we lose, and we continue to lose on a daily basis, a little bit more of that history. 

Any of you guys remember Bob Schueler? Neat guy, right? Have you ever been in a meeting with him, and his pen?       

He listens patiently to everybody and all of the garbage that's being spewed in the meeting, and then he sits up with his pen:  "Not in my code will this take place." 

We have lost that. We have lost the Bob Schuelers and the people that remember what it takes to really get these things done in the Code. 

At any rate, I wanted to share with you guys just a few pieces of that history today. I hope that's meant at little bit to you, and I want to take just a few minutes now to answer some questions. 

Because we have gone over a bunch of different things:  Church history, city history, railroad and code history. I am more than happy to answer any questions about any one of those items. 

Let's do a few minutes of Q and A, shall we? It will be fun. 

MEETING ATTENDEE 1:  How did they get them to tie together?

MR. RIMMASCH:  For the joining of the rails with the golden spike, they actually went a little bit past, I believe, the Union Pacific's track so they could have the ceremony. Then they made what we call compromised joints, which are very common today in railroading, which join the two different rails together. 

Now, the interesting thing about Promontory, Utah, even though the rails join there, the railroad only ran through that area for a short time. In fact, I believe it was less than fifteen years before the tracks were realigned and went different directions and different places. Promontory, Utah, was really only used for a short period of time before it was redone and reconfigured.

The good news is they used the same track gauge for everybody's track, so the trains were able to roll over the tracks in both directions.           

MEETING ATTENDEE 2:  For the new boilers that they built, were they actually riveted?

MR. RIMMASCH:  The new ones?


MR. RIMMASCH:  No, the new ones that were built…

MEETING ATTENDEE 2:  That was just to look that way?

MR. RIMMASCH:  Yeah, that's exactly right. The new boilers that O'Connor's built are fully-welded boilers. 

My company, as was mentioned earlier, builds historic boilers, so we build these new boilers nowadays to PL and Section I, and we use all the right stuff. We use a little bit higher safety factor, and we allow less stress on stables. 

Once our boilers are designed, we actually do install welded rivets around the bottom of the mud ring or where it's going to be shown.

And here is a neat trick for you guys. I'm giving away trade secrets now.          

We make those rivets look real by fillet-welding them onto the boiler. It's just a fixture on the outside. We take a rivet gun, heat that boiler up before the whole project is done, and then hammer it onto the boiler just like it was riveted, which blends the weld line in. It looks like that's a real rivet there, because you can't see the weld anymore.

For the general Joe that looks at it, he thinks that these are real riveted boilers built in 1819, and I pat myself on the back and say that we did a good job. 

MEETING ATTENDEE 3:  Wasn't at one time the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section III, the locomotive code?

MR. RIMMASCH:  Yeah, it was.

MEETING ATTENDEE 3:  When did that change?

MR. RIMMASCH:  I can't go over the whole history with you, but I'll give you some pieces and aspects of it. It did change.

A lot of the biggest changes that we see in the code related to locomotives happened between the 1930s and the 1950s, and here is why. 

We got welding coming up. The biggest high-pressure boilers that we have in the nation are running around on railroads, so we see a lot of development there. 

We are seeing a lot of alloy steel welding coming up. Some of the first original railroad boilers that were built were very high-end nickel, so you have a lot of change going on between the '30s and '50s. 

From the mid '40s to early '50s, we started to see the diesel locomotive come in, and the railroads are starting to say, “Hey, ASME, thanks for your code, we really appreciate it. Got to go over here and buy me some new diesels.”

So we see the railroads leaving the Code, but we see this organization, ASME, sitting here as a group saying that we still have to preserve this code, we have to keep going. 

And the Federal Railroad Administration is saying the same thing:  Well, you people are still running the steam locomotives. How are you going to maintain them? We are losing all of this knowledge. 

In about the 1960s, early '70s, the Federal Railroad Administration decided that they were going to continue to use steam locomotives, but they are for fun, they are not real transportation anymore. 

Same thing kind of happened in ASME at the same time: If the FRA is not going to recognize these as real things, we won't either. 

And in the late '60s, early '70s, we saw the L Code vanish off into nowhere. 

The guys that brought the L Code back were around in the industry in the '70s and watched all of that go away. They went back to the FRA in the early '90s and got it all put back in the federal code, and then their second step was to get it all put back in the ASME Code. 

It is a crude timeline, but that gives you kind of a picture of how it went away and came back again. 

There are people in this room much smarter than me that can give you actual dates and times as to when all that happened. 

MEETING ATTENDEE 4:  One thing that I noticed is, not necessarily the technology, but the method in which they built them back then, that history or that knowledge is being lost. Are you still doing any of that at your shop, and is there anything moving forward to keep this old method of doing this going?

MR. RIMMASCH:  Yeah, I work very, very hard as an owner of my business to bring in as many young people as we can, and I work very, very hard as the owner of my business to go and include as many of the older guys as I can. 

My job and responsibility is to make sure that I pull every ounce of information out of the old guys that I can. 

The sad reality in my life is the minute we lose one of those old guys, everything that's in there is gone.  It's gone. So all I can do is extract as much of it as I can. 

You guys might be shocked to hear I go home from work day after day sitting down saying that I wish I would have listened to that old guy a little bit more.

So I have two things to preach about right now. 

For you younger guys, which are those of you that are my age, 29 or younger, listen to the old guys, okay? 

For you old guys that are 88 and older, share it with the young guys. Write it down, give it to them, do something to make sure that it gets passed on. 

We do lose it, and you wish sometimes that you have more of it or that you would have listened more. 

My last soap box for all of you: When you do your inspections, and you see that young guy that wants to stand over your shoulder and listen to what's going on, you take that young guy and you say, “Come here, let's take a few minutes with you and let's put you in this boiler with me.”

Teach this young guy how we are going to do this. It's very important to do that. 

We are losing this younger generation to our phones. They want to play on their phones, do their video games, and do everything else. When you get with a young person that wants to listen or learn, exploit the opportunity. Do everything you can to keep that young person involved in what you are doing. 

One more quick question? 

Thank you very much, by the way. It's something I am very passionate about.           

MEETING ATTENDEE 5:  The two replica locomotives, were they designed to fire the same fuel that they were designed originally to fire?

MR. RIMMASCH:  No. Originally, O'Connor's built the locomotives to burn diesel fuel. The National Park Service about seventeen years ago decided to put them back to their original fuel service. 

The Jupiter -- I have to get this right. 

MEETING ATTENDEE 5:  It was a wood burner. 

MR. RIMMASCH:  The Jupiter is the wood burner, and the 119 is the coal burner, yeah.

The coal is sourced locally out of Utah, and they get it in big lumps. For the wood, I believe that they like to burn cedar, and it comes from a little bit further east of here. 

Folks, love railroading, love being here. It has been a lot of fun. I really wish my mom could have attended today.  If any of you see her, will you let her know what she really missed out on today. 

But I've had a great time with you guys today. I will be hanging around for a little while. If any of you want to come and chat with me or ask me questions later, I would be happy to answer any questions. 

Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.