|Curiosity Corner : The tale of the travelling train station|
|March 09, 2012 Gretchen Deter|
The original Gering Depot, which became the South Mitchell Depot, in transport in 1963.
Things often get moved from place to place. A grocery store might move to a new location or a lawyer’s office might move from one place to another but one might wonder just how many times a train station gets moved?
Actually, there are probably very few depots that have ever been moved at all. Now mind you, we are not talking about building a new structure and relocating but more like picking up the old building and moving the whole thing. This is the story of the “traveling train station” and that station is the century old Union Pacific train depot from Gering.
When the town of Gering was first founded by Oscar Gardner and his friends, their hope was that Gering would be an important line for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1887 businesses were attracted to Gering with promises of railroad access but a formal agreement between the town and the railroad was not forthcoming until after the turn of the century. However, in 1900, the Burlington Railroad built a rail line to Scottsbluff while Gering still had no railroad. This was a pretty harsh blow to the townspeople south of the river.
Finally, in 1910, the Union Pacific purchased land on the south side of the North Platte River and by 1911 the railroad had finished laying track and the first trains started arriving in Gering. The plan was to connect North Platte to Gering and eventually extend to Medicine Bow, Wyoming. This was the beginning of a huge controversy that nearly split Gering apart. One faction of the community lead by Harry Thornton wanted to position the Union Pacific depot on property owned by Mr. Thornton near what is now 7th street. This did not sit well with businessmen who feared a location at that site would be certain disaster for their businesses on 10th Street.
The General Manager of the Union Pacific, A.L. Mohler decided that the best location for the depot was the 7th Street site. The first Gering Union Pacific Depot was built on Mr. Thornton’s property and by January, 1912, it was open for business.
Angry residents wrote letters and signed petitions to get the depot moved to 10th Street. The schism in the town had reached a boiling point. The pleas to the Railway Commission by the 10th Street businessmen finally convinced the commissioners to relocate the depot from 7th Street to 10th Street (then known as Lincoln Avenue).
On Oct.12, 1913 the R.R. Commissioners ordered the Gering depot moved and that it must be done by May 14, 1914. According to the Gering Courier “…the Union Pacific depot is now travelling merrily on its way westward to its new location …”. It was actually rolled on huge logs 1200’ west from the original location to its new location. One could say that the depot was “merrily rolling along.”
The old Gering depot served Gering as a passenger and freight station until March, 1928 at which time plans were made to build a new two-story brick structure at a cost of $70,000. Now the problem was-what to do with the old original depot? Instead of tearing down the building, the Union Pacific opted to move the depot to a new station site just south of Mitchell. So, merrily rolling along, the old depot travelled to south Mitchell and was put in place in June of 1929. The train station was then known as the South Mitchell depot.
From 1929 until 1963 the old Gering/South Mitchell Depot stood by the Union Pacific rail tracks in south Mitchell. The structure was then over 50 years old and had seen a lot of rail traffic pass by. The depot had been maintained and was still in pretty good condition but, by the 1960s, there just wasn’t much use for it any more.
In February 1963 Berggren Construction Company purchased the building and it was “on the road again.” This time the depot was to be moved to a construction site on an island in the North Platte River about six miles west of the city of Scottsbluff. It was to be repurposed as an office and parts department for Berggren’s.
The depot building was cut in half and put on trailers to travel to its new location on the river. It was about a 10 mile trip but the old depot made it without incident except for the need to cut down some trees and move some power and telephone lines. Once it arrived, it was reconnected, reconditioned, and served as an office and shop for the Berggren construction company. There have been three owners of the old depot since it was moved to the island and all have taken great pride in preserving the integrity of the building. H. Jerry Berggren was so careful to keep the style and sense of purpose of the depot. Dominion Construction now owns the old depot and Mike Olmstead has done a great deal to research the history of the building and has kept a photo journal of its travels.
The old Gering Union Pacific depot is now 100 years old and it looks even better than it did in 1912 when it started its journey as the “traveling train station.” From almost tearing a town apart to now proudly sitting by the ever so unpredictable North Platte River, this depot has quite a few stories to tell. So as one can see, this is a curious tale that just had to be told.