One of the holy sites to steam locomotives in the United States is the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is a building where Union Pacific’s legacy steam locomotives are stored and maintained (and in one case fully restored).
It’s most notable locomotive is the FEF-3 4-8-4 Northern locomotive #844 know to many fans across the world as the “Living Legend”. 844 is notable because it had never been retired since she was built in December of 1944. UP had keep 844 running as an ambassador for the company. As the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad neared, (where the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific met at Promontory Summit in Utah) Union Pacific had plans, big plans!
They chose the ambitious task of restoring to full operation one of the largest examples of a steam locomotive ever built, the 4-8-8-4 Wasatch type, known to rail fans as the Big Boy. 25 of these massive locomotives were built for the Union Pacific to tackle the the grades between Cheyenne, Wy and Ogden, Ut. There are eight Big Boys still in existence, all on static display, until now.
The steam crew looked at all of the existing Big Boys and decided that #4014, which was on display in the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California, was the best candidate for restoration. 4014 had been retired in December of 1961 after logging 1,031,205 miles while in service.
The Big Boy was moved, by rail, from California to the Steam Shop in Cheyenne. From 2016 to 2019, 4014 was restored at the Steam Shop and had her first “maiden” run after six decades on May 4, 2019.
So here I stood on the walkway of Highway 180, which spans the tracks and yard in Cheyenne, looking down at the Steam Shop, hoping to get a glimpse of the recently restored monster. Three and a half bay doors were open. In one stood the Living Legend herself, 844!
I later returned to find that the last bay door was fully opened, revealing the tender of Big Boy 4014! Well her backside will have to do.
Outside of the bay door where 4014 was stabled, there was an extra tender coupled to a UP EMD #4015. It looked like some crew members where making some adjustment to the tender. I didn’t know it at the time but this was a sign that 4014 was soon to be on the move. Two days later, 4014 and it diesel/electric helper an SD70M #4015 indeed were on the move as the crew took the Big Boy out on an unannounced test run from Cheyenne to Denver on July 8 and 9th. This was a test run for the month-long, multi-state tour that 4014 would begin on August 5.
It was hard to believe that I was so close to seeing 4014 in action but had no idea until after the fact, that the Big Boy was strutting out on the mainline. “Ugg!” As Charlie Brown would say.