Union Pacific No. 844

If Southern Pacific’s Queen of Steam is 4449 then Union Pacific’s Royalty must be 844.

The FEF class (4-8-4) No. 844 is known as “The Living Legend”. This class of passenger locomotive is a legend for it’s design and motive power but I want to stress the word “Living” because 844 is the only steam locomotive that has never been dropped from UP’s roster, making it the only steam locomotive, owned by a Class I railroad, that has never been retired.

The FEF-3 was designed to be a high speed passenger locomotive and 844 pulled such Union Pacific passenger services as the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose, and Challenger. 844 really had three phases of life. First as a passenger locomotive, secondly, as diesels replaced steam on passenger routes, 844 hauled freight in 1957.

At the end of the age of steam, when steam was being replaced by diesel, Union Pacific had the foresight to preserve one of it’s classic locomotives and 844 entered into her third life as an ambassador to one of the world’s largest railroads: Union Pacific.

I was 10 years old when I first encounter Union Pacific 8444, as she was known then, at the offical opening of the California State Railroad Museum in 1981. She had to be renumbered because there was a diesel locomotive given the road number 844. For the event, two of the most emblematic survivors of the Northern class (wheel arrangement 4-8-4) were in attendance. Southern Pacific’s GS-4 4449, newly repainted in her Daylight livery and Union Pacific’s 8444. On the tracks outside the museum, which paralleled the Sacramento River, these two Superstars of Steam came pilot to pilot. What a sight to see!

844 is not as streamlined as 4449 but the 844’s steam deflectors, also know as “elephant ears”, gives this 4-8-4 a very unique appearance. The steam deflectors help to loft steam exhaust from the chimney or smoke stack to improve the engineer’s visibility and also to keep the exhaust out of the cab.

It was an echo of the famous photograph taken at the uniting of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. 4449 represented the Central Pacific, later Southern Pacific and 8444 represent, and still does, Union Pacific.

Union Pacific’s steam ambassador has been all across Union Pacific’s rail network. She is a locomotive that brings people to the tracks to see her in action. One annal excursion is Cheyenne Frontier Days from Denver to Cheyenne. In May, 2019, 844 played second fiddle on the inaugural run of the recently restored Big Boy 4014 from Cheyenne to Ogden, Ut to commemorate the 150 Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Of course the Big Boy was on point as the lone example of the largest locomotive in operation.

At the ceremony, 844 and 4014 came pilot to pilot, echoing the the famous photograph taken 150 before when Central Pacific’s engine “Jupiter” and Union Pacific’s engine No. 119 came pilot to pilot on May 10, 1869.

The Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming . This is about as close as I got to seeing the “Air force 1” of Union Pacific: FEF-3 #844 on a visit in the October of 2017. The only sign of steam is the UP yellow tender outside one of the bay doors.

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