Big Boy: A Giant on the Rails

Big Boy: a Giant on the Rails

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If you’re a train enthusiast or just love history, you’ll love learning about the history of Big Boy, the Union Pacific’s 4000-series steam locomotives. This year was the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which has brought “Big Boy” to the news and on display across the country! Here is what you need to know about Big Boy: a Giant on the Rails.

Big Boy: a Giant on the Rails

Big Boy: a Giant on the Rails

The History of the Transcontinental Railroad

To begin, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869, is easily recognized as one of this country’s greatest achievements and a source of pride. As a result of this momentous occasion, Leland Stansford, President of the Central Pacific Railroad (and later Southern Pacific Railroad), drove the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, officially connecting the East and West.

Workers built the The Transcontinental Railroad to link together the eastern and western halves of the country creating a direct route across the country to improve trade, commerce, and travel. The expansive 1912 mile (3077 km) railway took six years to construct almost all by hand.

150th Anniversary

It has been 150 years since the driving of the Golden Spike, and above all, Union Pacific wanted to make it an occasion to remember. To accomplish this, they brought the world’s biggest and strongest steam locomotive back to life: Big Boy 4014.

Those with a flare for American history and nostalgia for the meticulous nature of steam engines will enjoy reading about the rich history of Union Pacific’s Big Boy 4000- series steam locomotives.

Big Boy Video

More About Big Boy 4014

This generation is fortunate enough to have a real life Big Boy locomotive completely restored and fully operational. Big Boy 4014 was one of the first trains delivered to UP in 1941, and it was officially withdrawn from service in December 1961. In its 20 years of service, 4014 travelled an extraordinary total of 1,031,205 miles.

Union Pacific purchased Big Boy 4014 in 2013, from the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona, California. After several years of restoration by the Union Pacific Heritage Fleet Operations crew, Big Boy 4014 was showcased in the 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and is the only train of its kind in operation. The 4014 then took a six-month tour across the country and finally stopped back in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Big Boy 4014 is now part of Union Pacific’s Heritage Fleet and will operate in excursion services. In other words, it will be used for public and private events and celebrations.

History of Big Boy

Between 1941 and 1944, the American Locomotive Company built 25 Big Boys exclusively for the Union Pacific Railroad. First, in 1941, when production for World War II was at its peak, the first train was delivered . Weighing over 1.2 million pounds, Big Boy is heavier than a Boeing 747. At 132 feet long, Big Boy is longer than two busses! Big Boy is an articulated train, one where the front end moves independently of the main frame, and is specifically designed to go around curves, such as in the mountains.

Big Boy v. the Challenger

Unlike the Challenger locomotive (with a 4-6-6-4 wheel arrangement), Big Boy has a 4-8-8-4 configuration. The 4 wheels at the front are called pilot wheels and guide the engine. Next are two sets of 8 wheels, called drivers, and the final 4 wheels support locomotive’s rear. Big Boy is the only engine to use this configuration, which makes it the most powerful operating steam locomotive in the world.

In addition, Big Boy was designed exclusively to navigate and haul freight over the Wasatch mountains between Ogdden, Utah and Green River, Wyoming. In contrast,the Challenger, with the 4664 wheel configuration, was just not powerful enough to make the journey on its own. Union Pacific Railroad needed a giant to handle the load. Rumor has it that Big Boy was called Wasatch but an unknown worker scrawled “Big Boy” in chalk on the front of No. 4000, and the name just stuck.

This giant of the rails was designed to travel smoothly and safely at 80 miles per hour although it typically operated well below 60 miles per hour. While 60 miles per hour may not seem fast to car drivers, consider this. From the moment an engineer applies the breaks, however, it takes approximately 1 to 1.5 miles for Big Boy to come to a complete stop.

So what happened to the Big Boys? After an increase in the price of coal and labor, the emergence of the diesel engine led to the end of Big Boy. Finally by 1962, all Big Boy trains were retired from service.

Other Special Train Spots

Of special note are two places every train enthusiast should visit: Omaha, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

If you’re visiting Omaha, Nebraska like I just did, be sure to check out where one of the 7 remaining Big Boys (No. 4023) and Centennial No. 6900, the largest and most powerful diesel-electric engine are on display. Also, don’t forget to explore the Durham Train Museum as well!

In addition, if there is ever a perfect location for a train museum, it is in Cheyenne, Wyoming. To learn more about the impact the Transcontinental Railroad had on the development of our nation, visit the Cheyenne Depot Museum.

Big Boy Fast Facts

For train experts and enthusiasts alike, check out Big Boy’s stats:

  • Wheel Configuration: 4-8-8-4
  • Gauge: 4’ 8.5” (1435 mm)
  • Leading wheel diameter: 36in. (914 mm)
  • Driver wheel diameter: 68in. (170cm)
  • Trailing (rear) wheel diameter: 41 in. (1067mm)
  • Wheel base: 72 ft 5.5 in.(22.09 m)
  • Locomotive length: 85 ft. 7.8 in. (26.11 m)
  • Overall length: 132 ft 9 7/9in. (40.48 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 2.5 in. (4.94 m)
  • Adhesive weight: 540,000 lb (244,940 kg)
  • Locomotive weight: 762,000 lb (345,637 kg)
  • Tender weight: 342,200 lb (155,219 kg)
  • Total weight: 1,250,000 lb (566,990 kg)
  • Maximum speed: 80 mph (130 km/h)
  • Power output: 7,000 hp (5,200 kW) @ Drawbar
  • Where to Find Big Boy

    There are still seven Big Boy steam locomotives currently on display throughout the United States. The rest were disassembled and used for parts. You can check them out in the following cities. You’re sure to enjoy your adventure with Big Boy: a Giant on the Rails after visiting these iconic steam locomotives throughout the country!

  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Scranton, Pennsylvania
  • Green Bay, Wisconsin
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming

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