Union Pacific to resurrect ‘Big Boy’ locomotive

Big Boy 4014

Railfans can’t help but love this Associated Press description of a Union Pacific locomotive that once hauled freight over the Rocky Mountains.

“In its prime, a massive steam locomotive known as Big Boy No. 4014 was a moving eruption of smoke and vapor, a 6,300-horsepower brute dragging heavy freight trains over the mountains of Wyoming and Utah.”

Even better for train aficionados, Big Boy No. 4014 is coming back to life after sitting silent for the past half century. Union Pacific is embarking on a years-long restoration project that will put the behemoth back to work pulling special excursion trains.

The locomotive is one of 25 monsters built by the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., during World War II.

Earlier this month, Big Boy was moved from the RailGiants Train Museum at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, Calif., to a Union Pacific shop in Colton, Calif.

A crew at Colton will begin Monday towing it across Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to Union Pacific’s steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyo., where it is scheduled to arrive May 8, according to the wire service.

“It’s sort of like going and finding the Titanic or something that’s just very elusive, nothing that we ever thought would happen,” said Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains, a magazine that covers the railroad industry.

“Something that’s so large and powerful and magnificent, we didn’t think any of them would ever come back,” he said.

The locomotive lives up to its nickname. It’s 132-feet long, including the tender, which carried coal and water, and weighs 1.2 million pounds with a full load of fuel.

Because of their length, the frames of the Big Boys were 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.

They were engineered to reach 80 mph, although the Union Pacific never intended the giants to reach that speed in regular use.

They were the largest steam locomotives ever to work the rugged terrain of the American West, and by most standards the largest anywhere in the world, according to Gordon McCulloh, an historian of Union Pacific steam power.

Restoration is expected to take three to five years. The railroad would like to have the Big Boy operating by 2019 for the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Utah, which linked the Union Pacific with the Central Pacific and completed the first transcontinental railroad.

Of the 25 Big Boys produced by the American Locomotive Co., 17 were scrapped after they were pulled from service with the arrival of diesel locomotives, but eight survived and were put on display on various locations around the country.

The other surviving Big Boys can be found in St. Louis, Dallas, Omaha, Denver, Cheyenne, Scranton, Penn., and Green Bay, Wis.

Union Pacific chose the 4014 for restoration because it’s been in the friendly climate of Southern California since being retired in December 1961.

Ed Dickens, senior manager of Union Pacific Heritage Operations, declined to say how much restoration will cost, but it might not be as much as one would expect for something the size and complexity of Big Boy because the railroad can do much of the work in-house, the Associated Press speculated.

Graphic showing how Big Boy 4014 compares in size to diesel locomotive and Boeing 747 jet. Source: Union Pacific.

Graphic showing how Big Boy 4014 compares in size to diesel locomotive and Boeing 747 jet. Source: Union Pacific.

3 thoughts on “Union Pacific to resurrect ‘Big Boy’ locomotive

      • The age of steam was still going strong when I was a child…and a couple of years ago we found a steam locomotive laid up in the old banana port of Golfito on the southern Pacific side of Costa Rica; I made enquiries and someone was kind enough to send me a photograph of the same locomotive steaming along in the fifties…

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