On July 21, 1959, Big Boy No. 4014, a steam locomotive of the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) completed its final revenue excursion.
Diesel-electric engines were rapidly replacing steam locomotives in the 1950s and 1960s.
No. 4014 was officially retired from the railroad in 1961.
It was one of just 25 locomotives of its type, which were built in 1941 and 1944.
They were the largest steam locomotives ever built.
Only eight exist today. Of those, only No. 4014 roams the tracks, having returned to operation just last month.
The locomotive will make a stop in Denison on July 15 as part of the UP Great Race Across the Midwest, which will take it through Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
No. 4014 spent 51 years as a static display at the RailGiants Train Museum at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, California, before UP reacquired it in 2013.
“When the first 4000 was built in Schenectady, New York, one of the workers nicknamed it ‘Big Boy’ and they wrote ‘Big Boy’ on the firebox door,” said James Rogers, who is a UP locomotive engineer and a 1997 Denison High School graduate.
The firebox on a locomotive is where the fuel is burned to produce the heat used to boil water and generate steam.
Rogers hired on with Union Pacific in 2004 as a freight conductor and then advanced through the engine service ranks. He lives outside of Woodward.
“I’ve always had an interest in the railroad,” he said.
Some of his ancestors worked for the railroad, but his father’s enthusiasm about trains is what got him started.
Rogers said he finds Big Boy No. 4014 interesting because it is a piece of history.
“It’s a fascinating machine,” he said.
The railroad wanted something special to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the United States, which took place on May 9.
No. 4014 was the best candidate for restoration because it remained well preserved in the dry weather of California.
In 2014, the locomotive was hauled to the UP roundhouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it awaited restoration for two years.
“Back in the day, Cheyenne was a big steam engine terminal and those Big Boys ran back and forth west of Cheyenne,” Rogers said. “UP maintained part of the roundhouse and they have a backshop that they kept for their steam engines.”
On May 1 of this year, the locomotive moved under its own power for the first time since it was retired.
No. 4014 is one of three steam locomotives maintained in operating condition by UP.
The “Living Legend” Northern No. 844, which was the last steam locomotive built for UP and has visited Denison in the past, is one.
The other is Union Pacific 3985, which was restored in 1981 and ran until 2010. It is currently in Cheyenne awaiting a complete overhaul.
According to the UP fact sheet on No. 4014, the locomotive and tender are nearly 133 feet long and weigh just shy of 1.2 million pounds.
“Anytime any kind of steam engine is running, it’s fascinating to watch,” Rogers said. “It’s amazing that you can take steam pressure and convert it to power and move that much weight.”
The length of the locomotive necessitated an unusual design.
“The wheel arrangement is a 4-8-8-4, which means it has four guiding wheels on the trucks, a set of eight drivers, another set of eight drivers and four trailing wheels underneath the firebox,” Rogers said.
The engine is articulated, which means the frame is hinged.
“Since it’s so long, the frame is hinged between the sets of drivers so it can go around the curves, but the boiler is all one-piece construction,” he said.
No. 4014 was originally built as a coal-burning engine but was converted to burn oil when UP restored it between 2016 and 2019.
The conversion was made to address fire safety issues with burning coal and to provide cleaner operation.
“The biggest reason they wanted to convert to oil is because it’s dry out west and they don’t want to cause any wildfires,” Rogers said.
He expects a big crowd will be on hand when No. 4014 stops in Denison.
“Every time one of the UP steam engines comes through Denison on the old C&W double main, it always attracts a crowd,” he said. “I assume this will be one of the bigger crowds you’ll see. I’m sure there will be a caravan following it across Iowa.”
For years, railroad enthusiasts dreamed of a 4000-series engine being restored, but the high cost made it seem unlikely, Rogers said.
“But UP did it,” he said. “For a lot of people, it’s a dream come true.”
Big Boy No. 4014 is scheduled to stop at the Main Street crossing in Denison at 10:45 a.m. on July 15. It will depart 45 minutes later.