Union Pacific Big Boy 4014

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014

In 1862, the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) was formed at the dawn of a technological leap. The railroad is famous for the 1869 First Transcontinental Railroad that first connected the East and the West of the United States; it was the first quick and practical mode of transportation. One hundred years of mergers brought the railroad to dominance. In 1996 UP merged with another giant, the Sothern Pacific. The UP’s long history with the steam locomotive ended in the late ’50s, but the legend of steam-powered transportation remains alive with Union Pacific Big Boy 4014. The giant and powerful steam locomotive is a testimony to a lost age of steam-power as part of the UP’s Heritage Fleet operating out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, today.

It is hard to understand how the advent of steam power influenced so many aspects of life. Before the “Age of Steam,” the bulwarks of industry and transportation were horses, oxen, windmills, and water-wheels. A simple steam engine consists of water heated to steam to push a piston with an armature turning a flywheel; then, exchanging power to work, various forms of gearing were used. By the 1840s, practical steam engines were well developed and widely used, especially with railroads.

up 4014
Jonathan Lee

UP’s Big Boy locomotives are the end of an era that was dominated by steam power. UP 4014 remains operational and put to some practical use providing excursion services around the United States.

The American Locomotive Company built the first series of the Big Boys in 1941. The locomotives were massive, and so long it had to be “articulated” (hinged). The ability to pivot allows long engines to adapt to curves in the tracks. The Big Boys were too long to not “bend.” The massive 4014 has 12 axles in a 4-8-8-4 pattern notation. The Whyte Notation counts wheels in three categories. In this case, four wheels are leading (pilots) and four trailing (supporting). These wheels support the engine’s stability on the tracks. The two center numbers are the power wheels that provide the needed traction and drive the train. In the center is the point of articulation.

How long is UP 4014? The total length is 132 feet and weighs over a million pounds. Twenty-five Big Boys were built to the UP’s exclusive specifications, and it was 1941 when the first Big Boy took to the rails ready for use. Used primarily in Utah and Wyoming, the Union Pacific Big Boys could take steep mountain grades and haul very heavy loads that lesser engines could not.

The Wasatch Range

Union Pacific needed a locomotive to take on the Wasatch Range and its eastbound 1.14% grade and carry heavy loads. Designers at UP took the older Challenger locomotive 4-6-6-4 design, adding two more traction axles. With four more traction wheels, the new Big Boy heavy load capacity was maximized. Also, improvements were made to the firebox. UP 4014 used an articulation model from the so-called “Mallet” locomotive design to add two more axles and increase power. The engineering strategy is to have two engines joined in one basic hinged framework and acting as one engine.

up bigboy
Jonathan Lee

The advantage gained in adhesion and load-bearing was ideal for rail lines transiting mountain range inclines. On shallow inclines and flatlands, the Union Pacific Big Boys could clip along at 80 MPH, an impressive speed for a steam locomotive. Traction for steep inclines peaks at 10 MPH, and maximum horsepower is achieved at 35 MPH. The design has proven to be safe and stable. Coal-fed boilers created steam. Coal was inexpensive on the open market in the 1940s, and Union Pacific owed some coal mines near the operational areas of the Big Boys. The Wyoming coal mines produced a low-quality fuel, but it was easily obtained. Union Pacific Big Boy proved to live up to its name.

Union Pacific Big Boy – Years of Service

From 1941 to 1959, 4014 was put into full service along with the19 other Big Boys finished in the early 40s. Ultimately, UP produced a total of 25 Big Boys. In revenue service (passengers and freight), the Big Boys demonstrated the advantages of the model. In the face of looming coal miner strikes at the Union Pacific mines, it was contemplated to convert the boilers to fuel oil. The idea was abandoned after some failed experimentation and when labor relations improved. This was an indicator that the economy and technology were rapidly changing.

The Union Pacific Big Boy model was, in a manner, representative of a lost age which was astonishing in its time. Steam-power allowed the miracle of fast, cheap, and convenient transportation. The heavy drag power of the Big Boys was a boon to industry and freight efficiency.

union pacific bigboy
Jonathan Lee

War Time Service

World War II changed the nation’s people and technology while UP 4014 kept riding the rails. Early in the war, a labor shortage required adjustments in hiring practices. In those days, the railroad only considered “able-bodied men,” but the war drew young men into the growing military. Women were discounted out of hand – a fast-disappearing practice as labor demands required rethinking the age-old practice.

The Union Pacific found the Big Boys, advanced for their time, easy to run by almost anyone. The railroad began hiring men who were unable to meet military standards of strength and health. The railroad’s replacements soon mastered the new skills required to run the Big Boys. The war effort started a slow but steady technological change for the railroads. The Union Pacific, and all railroads, were being fully utilized as possible. Troops were moved across the country, raw materials were transported to factories, and finished goods were taken to points of debarkation.

The Union Pacific had to expand its fleet to fulfill the demands of the war effort. First, the railroad was able to get war procurements to build five more engines in addition to the original 20 Big Boys.

up 4014
Jonathan Lee

Still, it was considered to build newer diesel locomotives, but the steam-powered Big Boys prevailed for the time being. Diesel motors run generators to power electric motors that drive the locomotive. The steam-powered Big Boys had won the decision because they were considered up to the tasks of the war effort, but steam power was soon to be superseded.

The end of the war and the early 1950s saw increased workers’ costs, and the increased expense of coal created economic pressures against steam power. Diesel and gas were relatively cheaper, and the new designs required less labor. The Big Boys were fast becoming relics of the past, but still, they lasted until the end of the decade. By 1962, after many stages, the last Big Boys were taken out of service. UP 4014 was retired in 1959. The era of steam locomotion was in its twilight.

In what was believed to be the last stop, Union Pacific donated 4014 to the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society located at Pomona, California. The society’s outdoor displays called the RailGiants Train Museum, received 4014 after having traveled over one million miles on the rails. Only eight Big Boys existed, and none were in service.

Union Pacific 4014 was, even in those years, very well known to railroad enthusiasts. For most visitors to RailGiants, seeing the scale of 4014 was very impressive compared to other displays. For 52 years, there stood an example of the apex of steam-powered locomotion. It was one of the heaviest engines ever built, coming in at 1.2 million pounds. The Big Boys were all muscle and brawn built to drag the heaviest loads. Number 4014 was long considered a legend before its removal from the Pomona display in 2013.

locomotive 4014
Jonathan Lee

The railroad was considering buying one to press into excursion service after extensive restoration. In that year, the railroad announced that they would like to obtain 4014. In 2013, the Historical Society agreed to transfer ownership to the Union Pacific. The restoration project required moving 4014 to the railroad’s steam shop at Cheyenne, Wyoming. The first leg was getting the old locomotive to the Bloomington, California, rail yard. The move required a temporary track, porting on a local commuter rail, and a lot of time. At Bloomington, 4014 was put on display for several months. Then a Southern Pacific diesel locomotive arrived at the yard, and the trip to the steam shop began. A week later, the old Big Boy arrived and had a two-year wait while the shop made renovations to accommodate the large locomotive.

Restoration began in earnest by 2016 with Union Pacific’s Heritage Fleet Operations department directing the work. In 2017 the locomotive was thoroughly dismantled. Some parts had to be fabricated. Instruments and valves suffered damage over the years with no maintenance. The wheels were sent to Pennsylvania to be repaired. The project was restoring 4014 to the original with an exception; it was upgraded with a fuel oil burner. This modification was attempted on another Big Boy in 1946, but that attempt failed because of inconsistent heating. At this point, railroads had many years of experience with the fuel oil system, and the upgrade proved successful. By early 2018, the parts were fabricated or repaired and readied for reassembly.

In nine months, the long process was nearing its end. While the engine was on hiatus for decades, a new federal mandate required positive train controls (a system to avoid a myriad of accidents). The railroad approached federal officials regarding a waiver to operate without the system. However, officials found that a waiver was not necessary for the intended uses. Still, Union Pacific installed electronics for safety that had proven of great value. The overall systems passed test after test. In May 2019, Union Pacific 4014 made history again and moved under its own power, and then the test runs began the very next day.

To this date, there are six Union Pacific Big Boys on static display in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, and Missouri.

Excursion Service

From late May 2019 to date, 4014 has been on excursion service. The locomotive became the largest steam-powered locomotive at work in the world. Another steam-powered engine was later removed from the fleet of three steam-powered heritage engines. Apparently, timed to mark the 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental tracks being laid and finished, several celebrations brought 4014 back online. The first trip was to Ogden, Utah, and then 4014 went on to the Midwest and Southwest. Excursion service continued until the pandemic interrupted service in March 2020. This allowed installing modern positive train controls before resuming excursion service. By August, 4014 was back on the rails traveling to Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, and Missouri.

All and all, a review of 4014 is a history of change. The first Big Boys were, in 1941, a culmination of human innovation and technological development. Travel by rail was a significant innovation in the 19th Century, but railroads would never have been practical without steam power. In fact, railroads were ideal for steam power. The rails could take the weight of the power train, water load, and fuel (coal or wood). To drag loads, the engines had to be heavy to gain traction.

bigboy drivers
Close-Up of Big Boy Drivers. Jonathan Lee

As railroads developed, they became as impressive as space flight is to recent generations. Before human flight was achieved, the railroads stood out as an ideal form of personal transportation and freight hauling. In just a few words, people were astonished at the leaps forward steam-power provided. Imagine a time when going from coast to coast took months. Then in a matter of a generation, horse-drawn wagon trains became obsolete.

Today, we have the ability to go back in time. Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 is scheduled for many more trips. Enthusiasts and families can tour many parts of the nation just as folks traveled over 150 years ago. Steam power has come and gone, and 4014 is a living legend and prime example of old technology at its height.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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