LEXINGTON — There were some in the crowd along the rail tracks in Lexington who remembered the sound of a steam locomotive’s horn. They got to hear it again on Thursday, July 11 when the world’s largest, heaviest and most powerful steam locomotive made a stop in town.
The Union Pacific Big Boy locomotive No. 4014 had been displayed at Fariplex Rail Giants Train Museum in Pomona, Calif., for many years until it was aquired by Union Pacific in 2013. It was restored to operational condition and then placed on excursion service in May 2019, its base being Cheyenne, Wyo.
As a part of the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad completion, Union Pacific has started touring their restored locomotive.
According to the Union Pacific Heritage site, “The Big Boy’s return to the rails is the product of more than two years of meticulous restoration work by the Union Pacific Steam Team. No. 4014 is the world’s only operating Big Boy locomotive.
No. 4014 hit the rails on July 8 and will be touring throughout Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The locomotive will be on display several times throughout its Midwest run, including Omaha Railroad Days. It will return to Cheyenne on Aug. 8.
The locomotive will also return to where it was displayed for so many years in California as a part of a special passenger excursion on Oct. 12-13.
The Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive was built between 1941 and 1944 by the American Locomotive Company, a total of 25 was produced. They were operated solely by the Union Pacific Railroad. Their cost to produce in 1941 was around $265,000, equivalent to around $4 million today.
The locomotive was originally supposed to be called the “Wasatch” series, but got the Big Boy nickname after an unknown worker scrawled the words on the front of the first locomotive of the series. No. 4014 bares the same chalk mark in honor of this.
No. 4014 was retired from service in December 1961, having traveled 1,031,205 miles in its 20 year service, according to the UP Heritage website.
The locomotives were built to haul freight over the Wasatch Mountains between Ogden, Utah and Green River, Wyo. By the late 1940s they were reassigned to Cheyenne, Wyo., where they moved cargo to Laramie, Wyo.
The locomotive was large, even to its contemporaries, each was 123 feet long and weighted 1.2 million pounds. It could achieve 80 mph, producing around 6,290 horsepower at 41 mph.
They were the only locomotives in the world to use a 4-8-8-4 arrangement. The four leading wheels ensured for stability when entering curves, two sets of eight driving wheels and four wheels for the trailing truck to support the large firebox needed for the massive locomotive.
The locomotive was held in high regard by its crews, and found it to be more reliable and “user-friendly,” than other motive power, according to the book Union Pacific Volume II. Steam locomotives were slowly phased out following post-World War II increases in coal and labor. Diesel-electric became more cost effective.
There are eight surviving Big Boys today, most are finding their final stop at museums. No. 4023 is on display at Kenefick Park in Omaha. No. 4014 is the only operation example of the type.