Kaleidoscope: King of the rails Big Boy may operate in a few years

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Within the next five years, Americans might see one of the largest steam locomotives from the 1940s back in operation on the rails in the western United States.

From 1941-44, the American Locomotive Works in Schenectady, N.Y., built 25 Big Boy locomotives for the Union Pacific Railroad. At 600 tons (body and tender) and about 900 tons with wheels, the model is considered to be the second heaviest built in the U.S. Some experts believe it was the grandest.

Eight of the Big Boys are on static display throughout the U.S., but none of them are operational. If Union Pacific's plans become reality, that could change.

On Jan. 26, UP Big Boy 4014 left the Rail Giants Train Museum in Pomona, Calif., where it had resided since 1962. Towed by a 4,300-horsepower diesel locomotive, it was moved 56 miles to UP's yard in West Colton, Calif.

From there, it will head 1,293 miles to Cheyenne, Wyo., where restoration will begin later this year at UP's Heritage Fleet Operations headquarters. Plans are to have it up and running within three to five years.

"Our steam locomotive program is a source of great pride to Union Pacific employees past and present," said Ed Dickens, senior manager for UP's Heritage Operations in a press release. "We're very excited about the opportunity to bring history back to life by restoring No. 4014."

UP reacquired 4014 last summer from the Southern California chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. UP had donated it to the group in 1961, and the locomotive arrived at the Rail Giants museum at the Los Angeles County Fairplex on Jan. 8, 1962.

Built in 1941 by Alco, the nearly 7,000-horsepower 4014 operated for about 20 years (more than 1 million miles) hauling freight over the Wasatch Mountains from Ogden, Utah to Cheyenne. It made its last run July 21, 1959, and was retired Dec. 7, 1961.

The 4014 and its sister locomotives have a 4-8-8-4 wheel alignment -- four small pilot wheels in front, four small trailing wheels under the cab and two pairs (eight in each pair) of 68-inch driver wheels in between.

The Big Boys were the only steam locomotives with that alignment. They are articulated, or hinged, to better negotiate curves. The engine and tender are 133 feet long.

The articulated style of locomotive was developed by Anatole Mallet (1837-1919), and locos employing his design became known as mallets (pronounced mallays). Big Boys are not mallets since they use simple steam instead of compound steam.

During the 4014's journey from southern California to Cheyenne, Union Pacific plans "whistle stops" so the curious public can get a closer look at the locomotive and tender. The restoration will include conversion from coal to No. 5 fuel oil.

MORE INFORMATION

Other existing Big Boys are on static display at the following locations:

4004 -- Holiday Park in Cheyenne; 4005 -- Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver (was involved in a derailment April 27, 1953 near Red Desert, Wyo., killing three crewmen); 4006 -- Museum of Transportation in St. Louis; 4012 -- Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa.; 4017 -- National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wis; 4018 -- Museum of he American Railroad in Frisco, Texas; and 4023 -- Kenefick Park at Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Neb.

The largest and most powerful operating steam locomotive in the U.S. is Challenger 3985, built by Alco in 1943 for Union Pacific. It was one of 105 built for UP, and last operated in regular service in 1957.

The Challenger was stored in a roundhouse in Cheyenne until 1975, then was restored to running condition in 1981. It also is articulated, with a 4-6-6-4 wheel alignment. It was converted to No. 5 oil in 1990. Its tender can hold 6,450 gallons of oil.

Challenger's body and tender weigh about 534 tons, and its wheels add about another 314 tons. It is used for special excursions. In 2010, it pulled the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus train from Cheyenne to Denver.

In addition to the 3985, UP's 4-8-4 No. 844 -- body and tender weigh about 454 tons -- also is used for special excursions, and the restoration of Big Boy 4014 will give the railroad three operating classic monster "iron horses."

The 2-6-6-6 H-8 Alleghenys are considered to be the heaviest steam locomotives made in the U.S. Chesapeake & Ohio Railway bought 60 of them and the Virginian Railway eight, all made from 1941-48 by Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio.

Only two of them still exist -- 1601 is at the Henry Ford (museum) in Dearborn, Mich. and 1604 is at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore. I hope to see the 1601 on a trip to the Henry Ford soon.

The Alleghenys are 125 feet long with tender, and were used to pull heavy coal trains over the steep grades of the Allegheny Mountains, especially between Hinton, W.Va. and Clifton Forge, Va. They occasionally pulled coal to Columbus.

C&O began replacing the Alleghenys with diesels in 1952, and all were retired by 1956, when the 1601 was donated to the Henry Ford. The body and tender weighed about 604 tons, with the wheels bringing the total weight to more than 900 tons.

Allegheny 1642's boiler blew up in June 1953 in Hinton, W.Va., killing all three crewmen. The engineer's widow received $10,000 in compensation from C&O.

The largest steam locomotive operating in the eastern U.S. is former Nickle Plate Road 2-8-4 Berkshire 765, owned by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society. It has pulled excursion trains for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in recent years.

It was built in 1944 by the Lima Locomotive Works. It operated freight and passenger trains until its retirement in 1958, and was restored in 1979 and overhauled in 2005. Its body and tender weigh about 401 tons.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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