The past few days have been a sight to behold reminiscent of the 1940s as the giant steam locomotive Big Boy 4014 crossed the state of Missouri. The Big Boy is on a 10 state tour that started in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Aug. 5, 2021. Crowds gathered near the tracks in Scott City, St. Louis, Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, California, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Pleasant Hill, Lee’s Summit and Kansas City…all while maintaining a safe 25 feet from the tracks. We stopped by Jefferson City last night but with the Covid delta variant out and about and so many people gathering – we decided to just shoot from a distance. But after returning home and still having train envy, we decided to study the maps and set out on a morning adventure! #choochoo
We left the house just before 7 am from Columbia Missouri to get in position west of Jefferson City…out in the country. As we were driving we found the perfect little spot. Only two other people joined us at our location to witness the sights and sounds of this beautiful steam locomotive. Big Boy was supposed to leave the capitol city around 8 am but after eating all our snacks, the train was still sitting still as 9 am approached. While we waited, we enjoyed the sounds of the wind, a few cattle in the distance and the good conversation of other choo choo train watchers – one gentleman was 92 years old! We checked Union Pacific’s tracking app and soon we saw it on the move. Around 9:24 am we could hear the whistle in the distance and all of a sudden Big Boy rounded the corner with all it’s magnificent steam and the roar of the black iron machine moving down the tracks. It blew past us in just 34 seconds. After that we decided to chase the train to California, Mo. What a fun day of making memories with the family!
Here’s a little history on these amazing machines for anyone that might like to know a few more facts.
The massive steam powered engine was delivered to Union Pacific in December of 1941. It was one of 25 Big Boys built exclusively for Union Pacific Railroad. The locomotives were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million pounds. Because of their great length, the frames of the Big Boys were “hinged,” or articulated, to allow them to negotiate curves. Big Boy 4014 served the railroad for twenty years before being retired in 1961 after traveling 1,031,205 miles.
Union Pacific ordered these locomotives in preparation for World War II because bigger was better in the eyes of the Union Pacific Railroad—especially when it came to a new locomotive for the Wasatch Mountains. Located in eastern Utah, the Wasatch Mountains were troublesome along the Union Pacific route. Because of the steep slopes, a traffic bottleneck was forming and with World War II looming on the horizon, the bottleneck became a significant challenge that needed attention. The answer was a single locomotive that could pull a 3,600-ton train, unassisted, over this stretch. Big Boy was that locomotive. A massive machine measuring nearly half a football field long and weighing in at over 600 tons, Big Boy easily surmounted the Wasatch. The locomotives were tested at speeds between 70 and 80 m.p.h. In regular service, Big Boys were limited to a top speed of 55 m.p.h. From the time the engineer applied the brakes, until the time the Big Boy and train came to a complete stop was between 1 to 1.5 miles.
There are seven Big Boys on public display in various cities around the country. They can be found in St. Louis, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Cheyenne, Wyoming.
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