By Paul Holley
The Iron Horse still has a lot of friends in Racine County.
Onlookers – young and old – jammed rail crossings and bridges Friday morning for a glimpse at (and the chance to photograph) Union Pacific’s Big Boy, the largest operating steam locomotive in the world.
The massive machine didn’t disappoint with whistle blaring and black smoking billowing into the sky. The Big Boy, pulling a 10-car train of bright yellow and silver passenger cars, rolled along the 15 miles of Union Pacific mainline tracks through Caledonia and Mount Pleasant in just a few minutes shortly before 10 a.m.
Locomotive number 4014 is one of 25 Big Boy models built exclusively for the Union Pacific in the 1940s. At 132 feet long and 600 tons, the locomotives were designed to tote long, heavy freight trains across mountainous terrain in Wyoming and Utah. The 4014 was retired in 1961 to a California railroad museum after 20 years of service. The Union Pacific reacquired the locomotive in 2013 for a multiyear restoration project at its shops in Cheyenne, Wyo. The railroad hasn’t disclosed the restoration costs, but some rail enthusiasts have put the price tag at $4 million.
The 4014 once again operated under its own power this spring. In May, it pulled a special train to Utah for a celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. This summer, the locomotive is on a goodwill tour along parts of the 32,100-mile Union Pacific system, including visits to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
The special train on Friday was bound for the Chicago area. It will be on display this weekend at the Union Pacific Larry S. Provo Training Center, 335 Spencer St., West Chicago.
To learn more about Big Boy 4014, including a video of its restoration, click HERE