Colossal steam engine rumbles the rails

Reatha Cox and her mother, Gladys Zumwalt, were among the multitude of train fans who got up close and personal with Big Boy No. 4014 Monday. “Big Boy started rolling the year I was born,” said Zumwalt.

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. The Big Boy class was developed by Union Pacific (UP) and the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) to handle the 1.14% eastbound ruling grade of Utah’s Wasatch Range. Because of their great length, the frames of the Big Boys were “hinged,” or articulated, to allow them to negotiate curves.

Photo by Hannah Richardson

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

Big Boy No. 4014 workers photographed as the train made a stop in Natchitoches at the Texas and Pacific Railroad Depot Aug. 23.
Photo by Hannah Richardson
Motel 6

There are seven Big Boys on public display in various cities around the country. They can be found in St. Louis, Mo; Dallas, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Denver, Colo.; Scranton, Penn.; Green Bay, Wis.; and Cheyenne, Wyo. 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.

This article published in the Aug. 26, 2021, print edition

Union Pacific reacquired No. 4014 from the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, Calif., in 2013, and relocated it to Cheyenne to begin a multi-year restoration process. It returned to service in May 2019 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s Completion.

Steam engines were phased out in the mid-20th century in favor of diesel- and electric-powered models.