The race for steam: 4014 and 1309

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Union Pacific astutely dubbed its 150th celebration of the Golden Spike “the race to Promontory” to give credit to both the UP and Central Pacific construction crews that built the first transcontinental railroad and to make it interesting for us to study. This year, in a manner, we have another similar competition: The race for steam. The contestants: UP Big Boy 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 at UP’s steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 at its shop in Ridgeley, W.Va.

Both big engines have been the subject of intense interest: A Big Boy, one of the largest (1.2 million pounds) and most powerful steam locomotives ever built (7,000 hp), hasn’t run since 1959. The C&O Mallet, the last steam locomotive that Baldwin made for domestic use in 1949, hasn’t turned a wheel under its own power since 1957.

Both will, no doubt, be impressive: Twin-stacked Big Boy is set to debut on the Cheyenne-Ogden route that made it famous in the 1940s and 1950s, including legendary Sherman Hill and fabled Wasatch Grade. No. 1309 has 17 miles of mountain railroad, most of it the spectacular Western Maryland Railroad main line via Helmstetter’s Curve, where it can romp as often as management sees fit.

Both are on a tight deadline. UP wants Big Boy in Ogden on May 9 with 4-8-4 No. 844 to celebrate the transcontinental railroad anniversary. Western Maryland wants its engine to run in July to start earning back its whopping $2.7 million price tag.

Both steam crews, no doubt, are more than ready to see their pile of bolts, boiler plate, valves, etc., in one piece, emitting steam and capable of moving under their own power. They’ve both worked tirelessly for long hours. Be sure to thank them when you see them.  

Who will win?

UP posted an update earlier this week confirming that it’s just about ready to squeeze No. 4014’s boiler for the critical hydrostatic test that every steam locomotive must pass. In that test, the boiler is filled with warm water, and a pump raises the pressure to 25 percent above the maximum allowable working pressure. In the case of the 300-psi boiler that Alco placed on the Big Boy, that means raising the pressure to 375. Crews will check for and repair leaks or broken staybolts. Once everything is buttoned up, it’s time to install insulation and jacketing. )The photo above was made last June showing the front tube sheet and work going on in the firebox.) UP also has to install and test the oil burning apparatus that will replace No. 4014’s coal firing grates. There’s an urgency to all of this: If No. 4014 is to make a roundtrip journey of more than 800 miles, it needs to begin testing, break in, and to determine its fuel mileage.

Western Maryland successfully steamed No. 1309 last September (and pictured above about a week before the test fire), but still has to wheel the engine with drivers that were machined at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and returned in December. (UP placed No. 4014’s drivers, repaired at Pennsylvania’s Strasburg Rail Road, under the locomotive last month). Earlier in January, Western Maryland Scenic Executive Director John Garner said to expect to see No. 1309 out testing in late February or early March. He says he’d like to put a few hundred miles on the engine before declaring it ready for service. Again, there’s the time it takes to turn wrenches, and bolt items on, and then there’s time to try it all out and adjust, fix, adjust, and fix some more.

Both engines are close. And in some respects, both engines have a ways to go. It will be an interesting winter and spring in Cheyenne and Ridgeley. Good luck to both crews.



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