A Bit of Trivia – Big Boy
This is mostly a C&P as taken from Justin Frantz’s article One of the World’s Largest Steam Locomotives Is About to Make a Triumphant Return It is a fun post with a tad of economics tied to it.
It was not seventy years ago and may be more like sixty years ago when I took the train with my father out to Buffalo New York. I remember seeing the old steam driven locomotives in Chicago. I do not think one of them made the pull to Buffalo. It would have been kind of cool if one did. I think I was all of 5 then.
Seventy years after the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, the steep Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Utah were still giving the Union Pacific Railroad trouble. The mountains were too steep for a one engine pull.
Despite having the massive steam engines, the Union Pacific being one of the largest railroads in America struggled to move heavy freight trains over the mountains and would often have to use multiple locomotives to get cargo to its destination. This practice required more workers, more fuel, and more cost. In 1940, the Union Pacific’s mechanical engineers teamed up with the American Locomotive Company to build one of the world’s largest steam locomotives. A new class of engine simply known as “Big Boy.”
Now, six decades after the last Big Boy was taken off the rails, the Union Pacific is rebuilding one of the famous locomotives in honor of the upcoming sesquicentennial celebration of the first Transcontinental Railroad. It’s a project so ambitious that Ed Dickens Jr, a Union Pacific steam locomotive engineer and the man leading the rebuild, has likened it to resurrecting a Tyrannosaurus rex.
The Big Boy locomotives weighed more than one million pounds and were 132 feet, 9 inches long. Stood on its end, one would be the equivalent of a 13-story building. Each one cost approximately $265,000 to build, or about $4.4 million in today’s money. In the railroad world, the Big Boys were known as 4-8-8-4 articulated type locomotives. That designation meant the locomotive had four wheels in front, two sets of eight driving wheels (the large wheels connected to the pistons that make the locomotive move) in the middle, and four trailing wheels, all underneath one enormous boiler.
Union Pacific purchased 25 of the Big Boys between 1941 and 1944. According to Trains Magazine, the steam engines were originally going to be named “Wasatch,” after the mountains they were built to carry freight over. In 1941, an American Locomotive Company shop worker wrote “Big Boy” in chalk on the front of the locomotive and the name stuck. Below the steam engine’s new name, the unknown laborer also scratched a “V,” a popular symbol for victory during World War II, a conflict in which the Big Boy locomotives would soon play a pivotal role.
Locomotive No. 4000 and the first Big Boy left the American Locomotive Company factory in Schenectady, New York in the summer of 1941 bound for its new owner. The enormous steam engine garnered attention wherever it went and by one count more than 500 newspaper stories were written about it before it arrived on the Union Pacific’s tracks in Omaha, Nebraska on September 4, 1941. According to the historian John E. Bush, a self-described “Union Pacific steam locomotive nut” and author of numerous train books and a Trains Magazine blog about the locomotives; Locomotive No. 4000 and the other Big Boys were quickly put into service just as the Allied war effort was heating up. Between 1941 and 1945, the steam engines helped move millions of tons of war supplies and other materials.
Bush; “Without the Big Boys, the Union Pacific could never have moved all that material for the war effort.”.
Modern Cities Owe Their Cleanliness to These Innovative Old Sewers. The Union Pacific used the Big Boys until 1959, when they were replaced with diesel-electric locomotives, which were easier and cheaper to maintain, although arguably less impressive than a noisy, smoke-belching steam engine with its symphony of moving parts. Most of the Big Boys were scrapped, but eight were put on display around the country.
Although some steam engines still operate at museums and heritage railroads, for decades railroad enthusiasts believed the Big Boys were simply too big to ever run again. For one, the infrastructure needed to maintain such a massive locomotive had been torn down at the end of the steam era, and even if someone did rebuild one, there were few rail lines that could handle a machine of that size. But in 2013, Union Pacific announced that it was reacquiring a Big Boy in hopes of restoring it for the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In spring 2014, Big Boy No. 4014 was moved from Pomona, California, where it was on display at the RailGiants Trains Museum, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Union Pacific keeps and maintains two other historic steam locomotives for special events and excursions.
Railroad historian John Bush was lucky enough to ride the Big Boy No. 4014 when it was hauled back to Wyoming by a pair of diesel-electric locomotives. He says highways along the rail line were packed with onlookers watching the unrestored steam engine roll down the tracks.
“It was awe-inspiring, it was a dream come true for many.”
Since the locomotive’s arrival at Union Pacific’s shop in Wyoming, mechanics have been slowly rebuilding it, which requires the disassembly, inspection, and repair of every single part of the locomotive. The steam engine will also be altered so that it can burn oil which is easier to acquire than the coal it once burned back in the 1940s and 1950s. “This is a massive ground-up restoration,” Dickens says.
Chief Engineer in charge of the rebuild Ed Dickens hopes to have No. 4014 completed and operating on its own power before May 10, 2019, the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. The first trip is expected to take the locomotive to Ogden, Utah, not far from where the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory in 1869.* The ceremonial spike joined the rails of the Union Pacific from Omaha with the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento, connecting the East Coast with the West Coast by rail for the first time in American history. Today, Promontory is a national historic site.
Bush expects train enthusiasts and history buffs from around the world to line the tracks from Wyoming to Utah when the Big Boy makes its first run in 60 years.
“I cannot think of a bigger way to celebrate this anniversary than restoring a Big Boy locomotive. This is something railroad enthusiasts have dreamed about for more than a half-century.”
References: One of the World’s Largest Steam Locomotives Is About to Make a Triumphant Return.
One of my childhood memories, from the Korean War era, was watching big cab forward steamers blasting through town carrying tanks on flat beds to the Oakland Port Of Embarcation. Usually trains slowed to pass through town. Not this time. They shook the ground.
I was heading eastbound to visit relatives in New York at Christmas time.
On my way to work, as I was getting off Rt 95 in Providence the 1976 Freedom train was pulling out. I had to stop and watch it. I was 15 minutes late for work.
When I was in elementary school I wanted to be an industrialist. Machines just do it for me. Electronic not so much. My daughter and I loved the Battleship Mass. One time around 6 yrs old, we spent an hour seeing how long of a curly que we could cut as I was turning down a piece of stock. Showed her how to use a mic. She loved it.
Down the road from me in elementary grade school era was a gentleman who had a steam club. It is now the New England Wireless and Steam museum. Every Thursday volunteers show up to work on the engines (industrial stationary engines from RI and NE). I have a few more years to go, but when I retire, I will be there.
I just love big old mechanical things. I know it’s why I’m so fascinated with WW2. It represented the pinnacle of the mechanical approach to controlling a action.
My brother and I had multiple Erector Sets. Lego’s don’t come close.
In Boston, you have a Destroyer (“Young”) also. The Constitution was in drydock. We were there playing soccer in a tournament. We took a tour of the Young being aptly guided by a CPO. I had explained some of the difference between the armament to the boys and the CPO explained the 5 incher main armament. I was used to the 155s in the Marines. It is impressive and it is also small in scale when you think they had to live on it. My dad served on a DE.
The 1 thing I was most surprised about the Battleship Mass (besides that the gear reduction drive was the most expensive item on the ship) was the deck. 4 x 4 mahogany. In todays world, there is a fortune right there!
There are now PT boats, a Russian built corvette, a destroyer, and a submarine.
New Jersey deck, I believe was teak.
I have had the awesome experience of watching, and following for more than 20 miles, one of these monsters hauling a freight train at speed in Wyoming. He was running about 60mph. It was a truly breathtaking experience.
I was nine or ten when we lived in Belen NM, on the AT&SF railroad. That was a point at which freight trains, and some passenger trains, had “helper engines” added for the run up the pass to Mountain Air NM. The helpers were mostly 2-8-4 Berkshires; massive buggers in their own right, and freights would often get as many as eight of these babies added on.
Us kids used to go stand by the track when these big guys blasted past at 50mph or so and see who could stand closest to the track. Some of us could stand with toes touching the ends of the crossties and not move. You had to be pretty crazy to do that.
They do move some air when they go by and you are standing there.
My train story is a little different.
New Years eve, 1957 taking the overnight train from Berlin to Frankfort.
At each stop in East Germany — not sure why we stopped — the train was surrounded by East German armed troops to make sure no one tried to board the train to escape from East Germany. It was a great demonstration of the difference in life under communism.
I had not such in Eastern Europe under the control of the communists. I do know crossing back into the US from Mexico in Juarez is a long affair and customs is not friendly. The vendors scatter when the guards dressed in black walk between the cars.
Iff’n the topic is train trips then here is my contribution.
Back in late 1944 or early 1945 my mom sold the house and moved us kids to Alaska. We took the train from Redding CA to Seattle. I remember looking out the window in Klamath Falls at track workers in the snow and looking mighty cold. Then when passing through southern Oregon seeing a woman behind a team plowing a field. What was interesting was that she had only one arm.
It is trivia and your story is welcome.
Not to mention the side rods thrashing wildly a few inches in front of your face. I can still remember the moments of terror and the determination not to let it force me to move. I was much admired for my insanity.
Engineers didn’t like us doing it, and would often blow their whistles at us, which was part of the fun, of course. One guy found the trick, though. About 100 yards before he got to us he would open the cylinder drain cocks. That would send us fleeing for the woods!
That was in a time when safety had a different meaning. Engineers would let us catch a ride in the locomotive up to Mountain Air, at which point the helper engines were cut out. Sometimes they would be cut into down bound trains to help brake by “running compression,” but other times they “ran light,” which meant running with no train back down to Belen. Doing that was a kick, because they would run fast, and looking out at those side rods thrashing was more than a bit frightening.
I never did such. We walked the tracks and ducked down the sides of the embankment to get away from the diesels. We were not that bold.