At 3:05 p.m. Monday, a loud train whistle could be heard along the Union Pacific railroad tracks coming into Jefferson City from the east.
The whistle triggered a large crowd in the bottoms area just down from the state Capitol to begin aiming cameras and cell phones toward the tracks.
A few minutes later, what they all came to see slowly went by. The largest steam locomotive in the world — Union Pacific’s Big Boy.
The crowd was made up of young school children as well as retirees, many of whom either worked for or had relatives who worked on the railroads.
Bonnie Jones is originally from Minnesota, but lives in Olean. She said she came out because her husband is a train fanatic. But when she saw the train come in, it brought a sudden flow of memories from her childhood.
“It’s nice to see all the ages come out today,” Jones said. “It’s great that they come out to see this beauty.”
Jones said her brother grew up with model trains, which kept his interest going with the real things.
“He had them set up in our basement, and I think he still has them in his house,” Jones said.
Ron Walters was standing next to Jones and overheard her say something about model trains. That prompted him to pull out his cellphone to show his collection to Jones who gasped, “Oh my gosh, you’re really serious about it.”
Walters laughed and said it was that love of model trains that brought him out Monday as well as wanting to see a piece of history.
“There are not a lot of these giants around that you can see, especially running,” Walters said. “You might never get to have an opportunity like this so I wanted to make sure I was here.”
The crowds started forming around mid-day in the state parking lots along West Main Street. Many waited patiently in lawn chairs while others scouted out spots where they thought they could get a good shot of the big machine.
Along with many local residents, there were also people from as far away as Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska who were there to see the train. Some said they had been following the train on its journey across the country.
Once Big Boy had come to a halt near the Kirkpatrick State Information Center parking lot, crews began the task of taking care of the engine before it could be shut down for the night. The tasks included bringing in a tractor-trailer full of oil to give Big Boy needed fuel. They also got grease for all the gears, along with water, after a full-day of travel. The train had started its journey from St. Louis and made several stops along the way before coming to its overnight stop in Jefferson City.
Ed Dickens is the Big Boy engineer and senior manager of Union Pacific Heritage Operations. After the train stopped, he used a piece of ice to help cool down his face after having the wind blow through the cab of the engine all day.
“Some of the crowds that have come out have even surprised us,” Dickens said. “There’s a certain wave of enthusiasm that proceeds this locomotive wherever it goes. The people seem fascinated with the story of the Big Boy, and how and why they were built.”
Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific, the first of which was delivered in 1941. The locomotives are 132 feet long and weigh 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 have a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement, which means they have four wheels on the leading set of “pilot” wheels which guided the engine, eight drivers, another set of eight drivers, and four wheels following to support the rear of the locomotive. These engines normally operated between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming.
This 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.
No. 4014 was reacquired and restored to operational shape by Union Pacific, then placed in excursion service in May 2019 at its new home in Cheyenne.
“When Union Pacific announced they would restore Big Boy, the railroad fan community met that announcement with skepticism,” Dickens said. “They thought it was just too big to do. Well, here we are, and we’ve got about 14,000 miles this Big Boy has traveled now.”
Union Pacific has restored other steam locomotives, bringing them through Jefferson City in years past, and they too have generated much interest. However, Dickens said there’s something different about The Big Boy.
“It not only is it a beautiful machine to operate, as it has many modern devices to help it, it’s also a beautiful machine to see operate,” Dickens said. “People are just fascinated with this locomotive’s size and power.”
Dickens said they have not had any problems with the big engine since they left Cheyenne almost a month ago on their tour of the south-central U.S.
“This locomotive was meticulously restored, but we’ve got a lot of work to do every night before we can call it a day,” Dickens said. “That’s why the steam locomotives were replaced. They are much more labor intensive machine than the locomotives we’re accustomed to today.”
Dickens said it takes a couple of hours at night to do the work and inspect the machine when they shut the locomotive down, and then it takes three hours in the morning to get it ready for the next trip.
“Our plan is to maintain the Heritage Program in its present state,” Dickens said. “From year-to-year, we announce where we’ll be going with the locomotives, and we get that word out about three to four months ahead of time. We want to do a tour like this every year.”
Dickens and other members of the train crew took pictures of the crowd as they came in Monday. After the crowds were allowed to get close to the locomotive, he and other members of the crew answered many questions about the historic machine.
“I’ve done that on every stop, and we’ve had almost 90 stops so far,” Dickens said. “Likely a million or more people have been captured by my camera and captured by Big Boy.”
Big Boy is scheduled to depart at 8 a.m. today, stopping briefly in California at 9 a.m. It will eventually end its day at Kansas City’s Union Station at 6:15 p.m.
Originally Appeared Here