Union Pacific Railroad steam locomotive No. 4014, “Big Boy,” one of the world’s largest, visited in Caliente May 1, as it was traveling from a museum in Los Angeles to Cheyenne, Wyo., where it will undergo a complete restoration that is anticipated to take a minimum of five years. The engine has not been on the rails since it was retired from service in 1959.
However, it was quite a surprise when the train pulled into the former depot in Caliente. Instead of puffing heavy black smoke from the boiler, and sounding a sharp train engine whistle, 4014 was towed in by a UPRR diesel. No memories this time of the days gone by of steam whistles and loud chugging engines.
One of the crew said the reason the giant locomotive was being pulled, like a car behind a truck with the gear in neutral, was because “it was not fired up and had little or no water in the boiler.”
Engineer Ed Dickson, who drove the last steam locomotive to visit Caliente in December 2011, said 4014 has been “out of service since 1959 and is in need of a massive restoration before it can operate again under its own power.”
Built in 1941 in Schenectady, N.Y., it was one of 25 such engines. When fully loaded with coal and water, they weigh 1.2 million pounds and are 132 feet long, about the same length as a UPRR diesel engine, standard school bus, and passenger sedan, all in a line.
Only eight of the original 25 still exist, and are on display around the nation, the others were scrapped.
Big Boy was about 2½ hours late in arriving at the Caliente depot. Dickson said that was because of other commercial rail traffic on the line they occasionally had to wait for, to pass. Nevertheless, there was a good crowd, mostly older adults, on hand at the depot to welcome the train.
Fans were at various other places the engine passed by on its way from Vegas to Caliente. One bystander said the engine also made a stop at the Elgin School House down Rainbow Canyon, where about 30 people were on hand to watch as crew members spent about 45 minutes giving the engine a grease job.
After the train left Caliente, other people said there was a whole line of cars following, all the way to Modena, in Utah.
When the restoration is completed, UPRR plans to use 4014 for special excursion tours.