Carolyn L. Braun (carolynlbraun.com)

Big Train Comin’…

The Big Boy 4014 steam locomotive

Yesterday we travelled over 100 miles to see the Big Boy 4014 steam locomotive as it passed through the Northfield (MN) area. We are very familiar with the area – so we thought we could easily park in a somewhat remote location. We were wrong! We arrived about 25 minutes early … and found several photographers set up – tripods ready to go – and people sitting in lawn chairs or in the back of pickups along the crossing. We saw people all along the track on the way to this site.

People along the track, waiting patiently for the Big Boy

Keep in mind – I am a little like someone that train personnel refer to as “foamers.” A “foamer” is someone who ‘foams at the mouth’ when he or she sees a train – or a railfan who has gone “over the top.” I don’t think I have gone over the top – but I have been known to break out in a dead run to catch a picture of a train. My oxygen hose now keeps me from running after the trains. That might be a good thing.

The Big Boy 4014

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. (Click on the red text for more information from Union Pacific on the 4014. This paragraph is from that page.)

Unlike many others, we did not set up a tripod. I took photos from the window of our van; my husband was standing a few feet from the tracks. The 4014 was about 45 minutes late – but, when it arrived, it was like a thunderous flash. The ground rumbled as it came around the curve. Steam was billowing everywhere. The sound – the wonderful sound – is indescrible. It was loud and powerful – the clanging bell, the whistle, the sound of the steam, the sound of the engine, the wheels on the tracks, and more. The 4014 – as it whizzed through the intersection – was simply majestic.

Whizzing through the crossing

I managed to get a few good (not outstanding photos); my husband only took two. He was buffeted by the force of the wind, the vibration and noise. He had all he could do to stay standing.

Before the train arrived, however, he put a quarter on the rail – thinking he would have a souvenir of the day after the train flattened it out. Unfortunately, the quarter was no where to be found – but it did leave an impression on the track. We watched others putting items on the track – perhaps they were coins. I wonder if they found their treasures.

The impression left on the rail from the quarter placed there.

To add to the excitement, there was a helicopter flying around the site. Later we heard (on TV news) that the helicopter flies ahead to check the track. If at all possible they need to avoid any incidents because steam engine parts are very expensive; you can’t purchase them. They must be hand-crafted.

I was a little surprised and delighted about the continuing television coverage of the 4014. It is heart-warming to know that people are interested and value this wonderful piece of history.

“It ought to be plain how little you gain 
by getting excited and vexed. 
You’ll always be late for the previous train,
and always on time for the next.” 
― Piet Hein

Thanks for reading! I hope you return.

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