Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Waiting for Big Boy: Historical train moves across the country, stops in Kansas

Audience members wait for the arrival of Big Boy No. 4014 as it enters Coffeyville.

It was 3 p.m. Saturday, and they were waiting at the Coffeyville depot. Parents with babies in strollers. Older folks, some using walkers. Young people with their coffee. Couples with curious dogs. High-spirited youth who scrambled to collect leftover railroad spikes from rocky areas along the tracks. Locals and out-of-towners, a few setting up lawn chairs and settling in. People who had chased the train as it made previous stops in Oklahoma. The gathering had begun.

The cause of all this excitement was the anticipated arrival of Union Pacific’s grand old steam locomotive, Big Boy No. 4014. One of 25 Big Boy locomotives built for the UP Railroad, No. 4014 was in operation from 1941-61 and logged over 1 million miles. In 2013, UP bought back No. 4014 from the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, Calif. The train was then relocated to Cheyenne, Wyo., for restoration and returned to service last May in honor of t the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Big Boy No. 4014, one of 25 Big Boy Locomotives  steams past attendees.

Big Boy is 132 feet long and weighs 1.2 million pounds. The frame of the locomotive is ‘hinged’ to more easily negotiate curves in the tracks. It has 24 wheels. The first four wheels serve as pilots to guide the engine, followed by two sets of eight driver wheels and another four wheels to support the back of the locomotive.

It was nearing 4 o’clock, and still they came to the depot. Social media reports streamed north from followers in Oklahoma. Big Boy was reported at Claremore, then stopped at Nowata, and running behind schedule. The stated time of arrival at Coffeyville, 4:30, came and went without No. 4014. Folks lined the tracks, gazing south through the trees. Straining to see a light, to hear the whistle. UP workers and police worked up and down the rails, shooing people back and warning of a scalding steam bath should anyone get too close.

Now the time was almost 5 p.m., with a lavender sky and darkness encroaching. It was getting chilly, with all watching and waiting. The reports were still flowing in – now north of Delaware, north of Lenapah … and finally, a steady glowing light could be seen as Big Boy made its way on the tracks along U.S. 169. The low, husky whistle sounded – and there at last was the majestic locomotive steaming and ringing through the twilight.

A multitude of cameras and cell phones captured No. 4014 as it rolled up the tracks and parked, letting off ample bursts of steam. The crush of people assembled around the engine, held their cellphones up for that perfect photo and lifted children to their shoulders for a closer look.

As evening fell, the crowd continued to mill around the mammoth train and savor the shared experience. Once people started to filter out of the depot, their empty parking spots were swiftly filled with new arrivals. Big Boy would not lack for company on a Saturday night in southeast Kansas.

Big Boy 4014 comes to a complete stop and the crowd is allowed to mill around the locomotive for a closer look.

UP’s Great Race Across the Southwest continues with stops throughout Kansas this week. View the schedule at this link: