There's more to Big Boy No. 4014's May 12 excursion than you realize

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, April 11, 2019

When Union Pacific announced Wednesday that it will offer a limited number of public seats on the May 12 doubleheader of newly restored Big Boy 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 and 4-8-4 No. 844 between Ogden, Utah, and Evanston, Wyo., the news was overwhelming: This is a totally unexpected first opportunity for anyone to ride behind the restored No. 4014 immediately after its completion.

 

But it’s even more than that. As big of a deal as the excursion announcement is, it’s still underselling the significance of the trip. Let me make two points, and afterwards I think you’ll agree with me that May 12, 2019 is going to be one of those memorable first time events. I will wager that it will land on the same order as August 1976 when Southern Pacific No. 4449 made its first public excursion from Atlanta to Alexandria, Va.; years later people will ask each other if they were on board or trackside.

 

First, let’s talk about how rare this is. In the steam era, there were UP excursions with 4-8-4s, 4-6-6-4s, and even UP 4-12-2 No. 9000, but there were no, and I mean zero, zip, nada, Big Boy excursions in the waning days of steam in the 1950s. None. This is the first ever Big Boy excursion.

 

Second, this is the territory that the Big Boy was built for as a freight-hauling machine. The famous Wasatch Grade, some 60-plus miles of uphill running from Ogden to the top at Wahsatch, Utah (note the “h” in the place name) was the reason that UP and Alco developed the locomotive in 1941. If you were going to take a ride on Big Boy anywhere, this is the place you’d want to ride it. Add in the spectacular scenery of Weber and Echo canyons and the chance to ride through the hidden mainline flyover at inaccessible Curvo, Utah, and you’ve got an incredible opportunity.

 

One word of caution: Between now and Monday, when tickets go on sale at the Spike 150 site, check your credit card’s spending power. This one-way ride with a bus return won’t be cheap. Tickets for diesel and steam excursions in Colorado and Nebraska in the last two years have ranged from $200 to $500. At least the money goes to two good organizations keeping the flame alive, the UP Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Spike 150, the organization coordinating all of Utah’s celebrations about the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.

PS: I asked Jim Reisdorf, who co-wrote the book on UP steam excursions, if there had been a Big Boy excursion and he reminded me how there almost was one. Here's what he wrote:

No, there was never a railfan excursion operated with Big Boy while it was in regular service. The UP tried to set one up with the Rocky Mt. RR Club at the time that the Club had already set up an excursion with UP regarding a one-time fan trip using the original UP 4-12-2 No. 9000. For some reason, UP tried to back out of using No. 9000 (possibly on account of the maintenance needed for a 9000) by offering to substitute a Big Boy for the 9000. However, Club officers declined the offer, saying that a lot of riders had already bought tickets on the understanding that the 9000 would be pulling the train. So, the excursion went ahead as scheduled, on March 11, 1956, for a Denver-Cheyenne roundtrip, using the 9000. So, that is my understanding of the one opportunity in which there could have a Big Boy excursion in the regular UP steam era. Of course, it was still a rare trip for being the last revenue run of a UP 4-12-2. Anyway, that's the Big Boy excursion that might have been but never was. (It's ironic of course that the 9000 and 4014 were out there together at Pomona. And now 4014 will finally get to pull a Big Boy fan trip that the 9000 got to pull instead about 63 years earlier.

 

 

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