Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Big Boy

The Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014

"Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad's Completion, Union Pacific's historic steam locomotive – Big Boy No. 4014 – is touring the Union Pacific system throughout 2019 to commemorate the transcontinental railroad's 150th anniversary.

The Big Boy's return to the rails is the product of more than two years of meticulous restoration work by the Union Pacific Steam Team. No. 4014 is the world's only operating Big Boy locomotive.

Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific Railroad, the first of which was delivered in 1941. The locomotives were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million pounds. Because of their great length, the frames of the Big Boys were "hinged," or articulated, to allow them to negotiate curves. They had a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement, which meant they had four wheels on the leading set of "pilot" wheels which guided the engine, eight drivers, another set of eight drivers, and four wheels following which supported the rear of the locomotive. The massive engines normally operated between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyo.

There are seven Big Boys on public display in various cities around the country. They can be found in St. Louis, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Big Boy No. 4014 was delivered to Union Pacific in December 1941. The locomotive was retired in December 1961, having traveled 1,031,205 miles in its 20 years in service.  Union Pacific reacquired No. 4014 from the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California, in 2013, and relocated it back to Cheyenne to begin a multi-year restoration process."

        From the Union Pacific Website

I headed out of Milwaukee on Monday, July 22nd, to Hudson, WI, in order to scout out locations for viewing The Big Boy. As it turned out, viewing in Hudson seemed like it was going to be problematic so I moved my search on down the road to Roberts, WI, where I found a bridge overpass I liked for tomorrow's viewing. I also found a nearby hotel and got a good night's sleep so I would be ready early the next morning.

On Tuesday, July 23, The Big Boy departed the St. Paul Union Depot about 35 minutes late at 8:35 a.m.

Meanwhile, I left my hotel after breakfast and drove to the spot in Roberts that I thought was best: a highway overpass that would give me a aerial shot of the train. However, as I was parking my car, I noticed that the road to my left ran into town a bit and was very near the railroad tracks.

I drove over there and decided to settle in with my back to a railroad crossing sign. I had a chance to talk with some of the other locomotive chasers for about an hour before the train showed up.

One thing we discovered: no matter how early you get somewhere, no matter how small the town, this train was going to attract a lot of attention. Someone was always going to be in your picture. I would estimate that in this small town, just at this crossing, there was probably 50 people waiting to see The Big Boy. 

My first glimpse at The Big Boy

I learned a few things early. The smoke from The Big Boy is visible before you see the train. The whistle can be heard for miles away. All of this gets your blood going, trust me.


Trust me--when you are sitting on the ground about fifteen feet from this giant as it roars by--you are freaking out. It was an amazing piece of engineering to have the privilege of seeing on the move.

After we pulled ourselves together, we all said goodbye and good luck to each other. Then it was time to jump in our vehicles and begin the chase.

I decided I was going to head down Highway 12 to Baldwin, WI, where the train was scheduled to arrive at 9:45 a.m. for a 45 minute layover where it would be greased. Public access to this was not certain but I thought, "What the heck?"

A few observations: some people, eager to catch a train, will violate all the laws of the highway; no matter where I go the rest of the day, there are going to be a lot of people trying to do the same thing I am.

Highway 12 was a snake of cars heading southeast after the train. Oddly, I got ahead of the train but got cut off at a crossing by--the train itself. Being stopped third in line at the crossing, if afforded me the opportunity to step out of my van and fire off these shots of The Big Boy.


When I got to Baldwin, the town was overrun with cars and people walking in the streets. It just seemed too nuts to try and see the train.

Instead, I drove out of Baldwin to find a place to shoot more photos. As I was heading down Highway 12 I saw on my GPS a country road that ran over the tracks and I decided to check it out.

When I arrived, there was a storage garage right by the tracks so I parked in there. When I got to the bridge there was maybe a half-dozen people on the bridge. A half-hour or so later when The Big Boy pulled out of Baldwin, the bridge was so overrun with observers that traffic could not safely cross to the other side. Here are the photos from that bridge:



Jumping in my van, I took Highway 12 East but traffic was miserable at this point, especially when we got to a point where Highway 12 was detoured because of sewer work. We got dumped onto Highway 94 so I decided to just head to Altoona where the train  was scheduled for a public viewing from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.

I got to the area in Altoona where the train stopped at about 1:30 p.m. The train appeared to be already to be on display so I joined the crowds cueing up to see this giant. Here are the photos from there: 

It was interesting to see who was interested in The Big Boy

The Big Boy looks equally good in color or in black and white


Despite the crowds, if patient, the opportunity to shoot one-on-one with The Big Boy was offered

On Friday, July 26th, The Big Boy left Butler, WI, outside Milwaukee and roared right through town a few miles from my house.  Denice and I went over to see the train come by the crossing at 60th and Beloit.

I did not take my camera.

This was a time to just use all five of my senses to appreciated the creative effort it takes to make a machine this big originally--and to make The Big Boy run once again.

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