May 17, 2014

An Important Event for Railroad Fans...

One of the Big Boys in action

I grew up in Schenectady, New York.  When I was a child, Schenectady declared itself to be "the City that Lights and Hauls the World."  This was because it was the home to the main plant of the General Electric Company (GE) and the main plant of the American Locomotive Company (ALCO).  Throughout World War II, it was a bustling place, as machinery, tanks, guns, and locomotives were produced at record rates.  Among the most spectacular products to be produced in my home town were the locomotives numbered 4000 through 4024 built for the Union Pacific Railroad.  These were the largest steam locomotives ever built and earned the nickname "Big Boys."  

ALCO built 20 of these giants in 1941 and another 5 in 1944.  Each locomotive connected to its gigantic tender weighed 1.2 million pounds!
The Big Boys last saw service in July, 1959.  The UP kept them ready for service until 1962, at which time they began scrapping or giving them to museums.  Fortunately, because of their unique place in railroading history, lots of museums wanted one.  Remarkably, of the 25 locomotives built, eight still survive.  Until recently, they were located at:
4004: Holliday Park, Cheyenne, Wyoming
4023Kenefick ParkOmaha, Nebraska

Union Pacific had developed the "Challenger" locomotive to pull long freight trains over the Wasatch Mountains.  However, the climb eastward from Ogden, Utah into the Wasatch Range reached 1.14%.grade, and the railroad had to double up it's locomotives to pull sizeable trains over that grade.  Their solution was to acquire larger engines that weighed more, had more power, and sufficient traction to be used solo over these mountains.  The Big Boys met that challenge.  

The locomotives had a so-called 4-8-8-4 configuration.  A heavy 4-wheeled "truck" guides the front of the locomotive.  It is followed by two sets of eight 68-inch diameter driving wheels.  Each set of eight has its own pistons and power cylinders.  And these wheels are able to pivot under the locomotive frame in order to negotiate curved track.  Finally, there is another hefty 4-wheel truck that supports the mammoth firebox, made even larger by UP's need to burn low-grade coal that came from their mines.  With their tenders, each of the Big Boys was just shy of 133 feet in length!  A most impressive sight when underway pulling a 600-car freight train.

A couple of years ago, the Union Pacific decided they would re-acquire one of the Big Boys and restore it as part of their corporate steam restoration and preservation program.  They negotiated a deal with the RailGiants Museum in Pomona to get 4014 in return for some other locomotives.

Recently, after several months of meticulous preparation, Big Boy 4014 left Colton, California under tow by three modern diesel locomotives (one of which bore the number 4014) and proceeded to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it will receive the full restoration treatment.  4014 will roll again under its own incredible power!  I couldn't be happier.

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