Union Pacific’s Big Boy steam engine was greeted by a crowd in Omaha on Friday evening, an arrival that resulted from more than two years of restoration work.
Big Boy No. 4014 was retired in 1961 after traveling 1,031,205 miles. The railroad obtained the locomotive from the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona, California, in 2013 and sent it to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for restoration.
No. 4014, the only operational Big Boy left, rolled out of the shop in May, according to Union Pacific.
Flooding in south-central Nebraska had halted the steam engine’s trip across the state this week, but after a detour to Grand Island, Big Boy continued its journey Friday, with stops in Central City, Columbus and Fremont before arriving in Omaha near 12th and Cuming Streets about 6:30 p.m.
Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains magazine, described running a Big Boy steam locomotive in 2019 “akin to bringing back a T. rex (dinosaur).”
“It’s been said for the last 60 years that (renovation) could not be done, was too big, etc. But here it is,” Wrinn wrote in an email to The World-Herald.
Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific Railroad, the first of which was delivered in 1941. The locomotives were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million pounds.
In their operating history in the 1940s and 1950s, the massive engines were creatures of the Cheyenne to Ogden, Utah, area, Wrinn said, pulling heavy tonnage freight trains in the Wasatch Mountains initially, and later Sherman Hill near Cheyenne.
Scott Moore, Union Pacific senior vice president, said a small fan base for the locomotive started in 2012, when U.P. announced the restorations.
“The affection has only grown,” Moore said. “It brings generations together.”
Victor Little and his girlfriend, Rosanne Lewis, traveled eight hours from Parker, Colorado, to see the Big Boy.
The couple have been following the steam engine’s progress since it was brought in pieces to the Steam Shop in Cheyenne.
“It seems like the past has kind of caught up with us and some of the old engines from back in the 1800s just aren’t in existence anymore,” Little said.
“For this to be back on the track and actually rolling, I just think that’s awesome. This one’s on the track and the other ones are in the museums.”
While in Omaha, Big Boy No. 4014 will be stationed at Union Pacific Home Plate, outside TD Ameritrade Park at 12th and Cuming Streets.
With a Railroad Days pass, visitors can view Big Boy at Home Plate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday.
World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.