- Associated Press - Thursday, November 20, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - While Big Boy 4014 rolled into Cheyenne several months ago, work has been slow on the iconic machine.

Original projections for getting Big Boy up and running were 3 to 5 years, though now it looks to be more like 5 to 7, according to Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis.

The hope though, is that the train would be ready by 2019. That would be the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The list of completed projects so far includes things like the cleaning and inspection of connecting rods and lube lines, both of which were done before the engine was moved to Cheyenne.

Ed Dickens, the senior manager for heritage operations at UP, said there has been a lot of time spent documenting the condition of the train and mapping out which parts will be need to be ordered or manufactured.

Actually, most of the work done so far has been at the UP Steam Shop, which houses Big Boy and the rest of the company’s heritage and excursion fleet.

Built nearly 100 years ago, the shop had been modified over the years to suit diesel engines.

Unfortunately, many of those changes just get in the way of steam work. Changes to the shop so far include removing a false ceiling to offer more head space, while other projects, like improved heating and new windows, are coming as well.

Dickens said there were also plans to install cranes to help move the heavy machinery.

Dickens points to the metal bays, installed in 1957, as a key example of diesel equipment getting in the way of current operations.

Once those are removed, the scale and speed of work on engines like Big Boy will dramatically increase.

“Pulling them out will allow us to work on two sides of the engine at once and on multiple engines at once,” Dickens said. “Right now, track four is the only one with floor-level concrete on one side. That makes it hard to access the large components and we have to re-arrange the trains to do work on the other side. It’s a big use of time.”

These changes will hopefully carry the shop ahead for the next 30 years, while returning it to its former capabilities.

The shop may be a focus for the moment, but Big Boy is still the star.

Its hulking figure dominates the middle third of the building and Dickens talks about it in nearly hushed tones.

It’s clear that he and his team have relished the time spent with this monster of the High Plains and are looking forward to getting up and going again soon.

The saga of 4014 started when it was removed from the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona, California this spring. One of the largest engines ever to ride the rails on the High Plains, the activity stirred a lot of excitement as crowds gathered to see the engine during its 1,300 mile trip to Cheyenne.

Dickens said 4014 was selected for many reasons, which have been confirmed since they got it back to the shop.

For one thing, it was the 15th engine off the production line, meaning it had extra modifications that may not have been reflected in the drawings and plans. For another, 4014 was well taken care of before its retirement and was one of the last out there still working.

“That tells you it was a good machine,” he said. “We can fix wheels and alignment, but that other stuff tells you about the life cycle of the engine.”

Because of the nature of restoration, Dickens and his team must manufacture some parts. It’s actually a large part of what the shop does because harvesting older parts from other engines isn’t exactly a long term solution.

“We manufacture a vast majority of parts in-house, including making tooling, fixtures and dies to support that process,” he said. “If the component is a one-of-a-kind, for example, we tool up and duplicate it from original drawings on site with our newly rebuilt machines. Nearly every component from the smallest spring located inside the air brake system up to the very large components will be rebuilt as needed or made brand new if necessary.”

If there are duplicate parts that need to be replaced, UP works with machine shops or foundries to mass produce them to specifications.

Union Pacific continued to decline requests for their cost estimates to rebuild 4014 as well as the repairs to the shop.

Davis said that public viewing of Big Boy’s progress would likely not be permitted, since the shop was a working and potentially dangerous environment.

He said there could be special occasions down the line, though.

“Things like Depot Days, for example, may be a chance for it to be pulled out,” he said.

Dickens said his entire crew was excited about working on the train and there had been interest from around the world on the project.

“The 4,000 class is legendary,” he said. “You don’t have to be an aficionado to appreciate the Big Boy.”


Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide