By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A resurrected giant of the rails built specifically to conquer the steep grades of the Rocky Mountain West will roll through Wyoming once again beginning Saturday.
The Big Boy locomotive, the largest steam engine ever built, will take off from Cheyenne’s Union Pacific Depot on Saturday morning, bound for Utah and the 150th anniversary of the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railway.
In an event to be attended by hundreds of train enthusiasts from around the world, the “Big Boy” will be christened at 9:30 a.m. Saturday before leaving for Ogden, Utah. Ogden is about 30 miles from Promontory Point, where the “golden spike” was driven in 1869 to link the Central Pacific’s line built east from Sacramento, California, with the Union Pacific line built west from the Missouri River. UP no longer has lines near the site.
This will mark the first time since 1961 that any of the 25 Big Boys built between 1941 and 1944 has been in active service for Union Pacific and the event is drawing rail fans from as far as Norway and Australia, said Bob Krieger, a former steam locomotive engineer who now runs the UP Historical Society in Cheyenne.
The attraction for many, Krieger said, rests in the allure of steam engines themselves.
“A steam locomotive is a living, breathing piece of machinery,” he said. “You can see its muscles. You can hear it breathe as it pulls a grade. All steam engines do that. The Big Boy is just the biggest.”
Weighing in at more than 1.2 million pounds, the Big Boy is 132 feet long and hinged in the center so it can negotiate turns in the rails.The Big Boy was created primarily to haul large loads up the Wasatch grade between Ogden, Utah, and Evanston, Wyoming.
“As the railroads expanded and grew their business, the train got longer and heavier and they had to have more powerful engines for the grades,” Krieger said. “The Big Boys, when they were designed, were actually going to be called the ‘Wasatch Class,’ but on the first one to come out, somebody had chalked on the smoke box ‘Big Boy.’”
Of the 25 Big Boys created, only eight remain intact on display around the country. Union Pacific obtained one from a transportation museum in California for refurbishment to take part in the “golden spike” celebration.
The locomotive was brought to Cheyenne, the headquarters for UP’s Steam Division, to be restored. There, crews relied on old schematics to recreate machinery parts that were no longer available for the locomotive, which was retired from UP’s roster in 1961.
After more than two years of work, the Big Boy — now fitted to burn oil instead of coal to generate steam — is ready for the trip to Promontory Point. It will be joined for the trip by UP’s “Living Legend” locomotive, the last steam locomotive to be built for the railroad.
The christening itself is a ticketed event and tickets have been sold out for weeks. However, the locomotives will be stopping at several points along the route before reaching Ogden, Utah, on May 9. (For details, see the schedule at the bottom of this story or visit Union Pacific’s website).
The locomotives will be viewable in Harriman, Laramie, Medicine Bow and Rawlins on Saturday.
Or, for a look at a smaller version of the world’s largest steam locomotive, a visit to the Frontier Mall in Cheyenne might be in order, where a model train version of the Big Boy holds a place of honor in the Sherman Hill Model Railroad Club’s layout — atop a trestle passing over a deep canyon.
Krieger, a member of the club, said the fact that up to 500 people visit the layout each weekend shows how popular trains remain for Americans.
“It’s a part of Americana,” he said. “During the (WWII) years, the railroad was the mainstay for moving freight, troops and supplies. A lot of us, when we were young, were very interested in watching trains run.”
The popularity of the layout translates well for the club’s annual railroad show at the Frontier Park exhibition hall, where several thousand will visit on the weekend of May 18-19. The event will feature nine model railroad layouts and 43 vendors.
Schedule for the “Great Race to Ogden”
To be traveled by the “Big Boy” and “Living Legends” locomotives
Saturday, May 4:
10 a.m.: Depart Cheyenne
11:15 a.m.: Arrive Harriman, depature 11:30 a.m.
12:30 p.m.: Arrive Laramie, departure 1:15 p.m.
2:30 p.m.: Arrive Medicine Bow, departure 3:15 p.m.
4:45 p.m.: Arrive Rawlins.
Sunday, May 5:
8 a.m.: Depart Rawlins
9:15 a.m.: Arrive Wamsutter, departure 10 a.m.
11:15 a.m.: Arrive Rock Springs
Monday, May 6:
4 a.m.: Depart Rock Springs
4:55 a.m.: Arrive Green River, departure 5:10 a.m.
6:15 a.m.: Arrive Granger, departure 7 a.m.
8:45 a.m.: Arrive Evanston
Tuesday, May 7:
Full day in Evanston, no public display.
Wednesday, May 8:
8 a.m.: Depart Evanston
9:25 a.m.: Arrive Echo, Utah, departure 9:40 a.m.
10:20 a.m.: Arrive Morgan, Utah, departure 10:35 a.m.
11:35 a.m.: Arrive, Ogden, Utah.
Thursday, May 9:
10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.: Free public display at Ogden Union Station
The location of the Big Boy can also be tracked via GPS at the UP website: https://www.up.com/forms/steam-trace.cfm