The ‘Big Boy’ returns in style!

Michael Rhodes reports on ‘Big Boy’s steam comeback after a 60-year hiatus, as the famous locomotive spearheaded the ‘Golden Spike’ celebrations at Promontory Summit, Utah, to mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.

Many would argue that an ‘A4’ is the most iconic steam engine in the UK, and there is no doubt the Union Pacific ‘Big Boy’ takes that accolade in North America.

‘Big Boy’ No. 4014 at rest, having arrived at Rawlings on the evening of May 5, on the trip from its base in Cheyenne to Promontory Summit, Utah. EIKI SEKINE

Twenty five of the class were built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) for Union Pacific (UP) between 1941 and 1944. Originally, the engines were supposed to be called ‘Wasatch’ after the mountain range they were designed to conquer, until some wag in the ALCO factory scrawled ‘Big Boy’ on the boiler. The name stuck! 

The locomotives, complete with tenders, weighed in at 600 tons and were 132ft long. They ran on low-quality Wyoming coal from UP-owned mines, generating about 7,000HP. They were capable of a maximum speed of 80mph, as they hauled 4,000-ton freight trains between Cheyenne and Ogden until their replacement by diesels in 1959.

A ceremonial Golden Spike is tapped in by VIPs at Promontory, Utah, re-creating the 1869 ceremony. UNION PACIFIC 

Eight examples of the class were saved, but none of them were operational. Static exhibits in Cheyenne, Denver, St Louis, Scranton, Green Bay, Frisco, Omaha, and finally Pomona, California, were all in various stages of disrepair when Ed Dickens, head of the UP heritage fleet, received the go ahead in 2013 to restore a ‘Big Boy’. 

Read more and view more images in the June 2019 issue of The Railway Magazineon sale now!

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