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‘Piece of living history’ – a special ride on UP’s Big Boy

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This story was originally published on Dec. 2, 2019.

FreightWaves photographer Jim Allen recently went on a ride-along with Union Pacific and the historic Big Boy No. 4014 locomotive. Delivered to UP in December 1941, No. 4014 was used for 20 years and traveled more than 1 million miles until its retirement in December 1961. 

One of seven Big Boys on public display, No. 4014 — which weighs 1.2 million pounds and is 132 feet long — is wrapping up a 10-state tour. 

Allen met up with Big Boy a couple of times during its trip through Texas. Here are his photos and comments.

Sunday, Aug. 15: Fort Worth, Texas. “I arrived at sunrise. The crowds were already gathering for an 8 a.m. departure local time.

“The first impression while walking alongside Big Boy is the overall mass and all the supporting maintenance cars and all the team members it takes to keep the operation moving. I boarded at Fort Worth. It was like climbing into a piece of living history. Being a train lover since I was a kid made this a special treat. We departed Fort Worth on my ride to Ennis, Texas.”

Traveling from Fort Worth to Ennis. “We had two stops on our way to Ennis, at Midlothian and Waxahachie.

“Along the trip, we passed a modern Union Pacific diesel-powered train on the track next to us. It was very interesting to see the two different-era working trains side by side.”

“I got off the engine at the Waxahachie stop and boarded the Heritage cars. This was an amazing experience in itself. I walked and photographed the entire length of the cars. It was a rare opportunity to photograph these cars without passengers because the cars were empty due to COVID protocols.”

“One other thing that I found interesting is they installed positive train control [a modern-day safety technology] on Big Boy. It was a little odd seeing this technology on this 100% authentic restoration.”

Arrival: Ennis. “This little town of less than 20,000 had a really big turnout. I had some time to sit and talk to locals while I was waiting for my ride to pick me up. They really knew their history of steam engines and they were fascinated with the restoration of Big Boy. This is where I noticed the placement of coins on the track to be smashed by Big Boy and later collected by the fans. There was so much of it that it was likely that you didn’t get your coin back and picked up someone else’s.”

Wednesday, Aug 18: Houston (Amtrak station, departure to Huffman, Texas). “The engine is so long that it had to be built with the ability to articulate around curves.”

Arrival: Huffman. “At these small stops, the Union Pacific police had more trouble managing the crowds than they do at major stops where barriers have been pre-set. It was interesting to see the train just stop at a crossing and allow the crowds to get up close even if it’s for a few minutes.”

FreightWaves reporter Joanna Marsh contributed to this report.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. If there are topics that you think would be of interest, please send them to [email protected]