Tips for seeing Big Boy No. 4014

Posted by Justin Franz
on Thursday, May 23, 2019

People take pictures of Union Pacific 'Big Boy' No. 4014 in Ogden. Photo by Justin Franz
Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 is coming to a town near you and I have a couple pieces of advice for those of you who didn’t see the 4-8-8-4 on its inaugural run earlier this month. My first piece of advice? If you can, go and see it for yourself.

While details of its upcoming tour are still limited — so far we only know that the locomotive will be leading an excursion to benefit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum on July 15 — you can be sure that this is just the beginning of a summer-long tour for the new king of steam.

Now you could stay at home and watch the Big Boy from afar online, maybe flip through the pages of Trains Magazine’s upcoming special issue or pop in the companion DVD — both of which I’m sure will be great. But none of it can really compare to standing next to No. 4014 as it rips up the main line at speed.

When I first saw No. 4014 quietly simmering at Ogden Union Station a few weeks back, it was an impressive sight, but not quite as impressive as the crowds that were swarming it. I had the same thought in mind the following morning, May 12, when I was set up just west of Morgan for my first shot of Big Boy No. 4014. My travel companion and I arrived to our predetermined spot shortly after dawn and the crowd was already starting to build. By the time the train departed Ogden and began to roll through Weber Canyon, hundreds of people had gathered along the tracks to see the show.

A woman takes a selfie with Union Pacific No. 4014 in Evanston. Photo by Justin Franz
And what a show it was. My awe at the crowds was quickly overshadowed by No. 4014 (and, let’s not forget, 4-8-4 No. 844) as it roared into view. In a matter of seconds, I went from having a passing interest in Union Pacific steam to being a dyed-in-the-wool fan of any and all things that boils water while wearing the UP shield.

To prepare you for your own trip, here are a few thoughts on seeing Big Boy No. 4014.

There will be crowds, deal with it: If you’re thinking you’re going to wait a year or two before seeing No. 4014 in hopes of the people  losing interest in it, I have news for you: They won’t. As Jim Wrinn has said countless times, Big Boy is the railroad world’s version of Elvis and the King of Rock and Roll always played to sold out rooms, even in his twilight. After following the locomotive for two days across Utah and Wyoming, I’m convinced that wherever No. 4014 goes, a crowd will follow it. Especially as the locomotive ventures toward more populated areas (If you thought a 6-mile-long traffic jam through Echo Canyon was nuts, wait until No. 4014 visits Southern California!)

A family enjoys Union Pacific No. 4014. Photo by Justin Franz
Find at least one spot and enjoy the show: Because of those crowds, don’t even bother chasing it. Or if you do, select one or two spots ahead of time and stick with them. If you try and get it every 5 miles, you’re going to end up frustrated and with little to show for it. In fact, if the schedule permits, really take your time and just enjoy exploring a new area. One of my favorite steam chases was a few years back, when a good friend of mine and I chased Southern Pacific No. 4449 from Portland to Bend, Ore. We set up for one shot of the train in the Columbia River Gorge before having a leisurely lunch and an afternoon beer before skipping ahead of the crowd and setting up for another shot that afternoon. After all, you’ve probably taken some time off work to take this trip, so you might as well relax while you’re at it.

Get up close: Once your leisurely chase of No. 4014 has come to an end, make sure you take some time to see the locomotive up close. It is a massive machine and, like a fine piece of art, it’s one you’re going to want to study for more than a fleeting moment.

Just enjoy it… all of it: My last piece of advice is to enjoy the entire show, including the massive crowds that are coming out to see the world’s largest steam locomotive. Rarely does the general public pay attention to a passing train and this might be one of the only times in our lives that railroading provokes this type of response. Drink it in.

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