The world’s largest steam engine is making its way across the country, attracting crowds in cities and small towns wherever it goes. The steam engine’s name is Big Boy, and he is a very big boy.The occasion for Big Boy’s restoration was the 150th anniversary of the completion of the 1,900-mile Transcontinental Railroad in Promontory Summit, Utah. Big Boy steamed into Ogden, Utah, for the festivities in May, and then continued his journey. You can track his progress on this interactive map.
Big Boy is 132 feet long and weighs more than a million pounds. That is a lot of feet and pounds! ALCO produced 25 Big Boy engines starting in the early 1940s, but only eight are still in existence, and only one—the Big Boy, No. 4014—is in operation. Union Pacific acquired the retired engine from a museum in 2013 and spent the past several years restoring it. The engine had previously had been out of commission for six decades, which makes his journey this summer a very big deal to “railfans.”
Big Boy is a tremendous hit wherever he goes. In West Chicago, Illinois, Union Pacific estimated that 45,000 people came to see the behemoth; town officials had initially planned for fewer than 10,000. Suburban Chicago’s Daily Herald reported that some small communities along Big Boy’s path have seen their populations triple as he rolls through town. “Thousands turned out to view the engine, whether it was children on their way to Sunday school or travelers from across the continent and around the globe,”
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.
I decided to post this after I spoke with a couple today who got up at 2.00 am and drove 9 hours to visit with Big Boy! Can’t see my wife getting up at 2.00 am to see a steam loco. But, you never can tell.
To finish this off I’m adding my latest favorite train song: