The largest steam locomotive ever built is back in its home of Wyoming after a cross-country trip that took it through six states.
“Big Boy,” the refurbished steam engine returned to the rails by Union Pacific in May, was greeted by crowds of train enthusiasts in Pine Bluffs on Thursday as it returned to Wyoming after a trip that took it through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The locomotive, the only one of its kind to travel the rails since the model was retired in 1961, left Wyoming on July 8 for the tour dubbed the “Great Race Across the Midwest.”
Crowds who met the train as it pulled into Pine Bluffs marveled at its size.
“If you look at a baseball field, home plate to first base is 90 feet,” said Joe Partoll of Castle Rock, Colorado. “(The Big Boy) is another 42 feet past that. It’s a pretty incredible size engine.”
The very size of the locomotive — which weighs in at more than 600 tons — had many doubting the Big Boy could be restored, said Ed Dickens, manager of Union Pacific’s Heritage Operations.
“There was a groundswell of pessimism as we announced the project,” he said. “When you look at the locomotive right here and look at how big it is, it’s just a massive machine. So I can understand a little bit of pessimism that ‘Hey, that’s just too big…’ Well, here we are right now in downtown Pine Bluffs and we’ve got this awesome Big Boy.”
Some 25 of the Big Boys were built in the 1940s to pull heavy loads up steep grades between Utah and Wyoming. Only eight remain intact and the one in Cheyenne, referred to as “No. 4014,” is the only one running.
The history attached to the huge locomotive was responsible for drawing some members of the crowd to Pine Bluffs.
“It’s part of America,” said Rob Davis of San Francisco. “America would not be what it is today without the trains.”