What is it like to ride the cab of Union Pacific No. 4014?

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, May 05, 2019

I have thinking all day about how to describe to you all how it feels to ride in the cab of Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014. I had the chance to ride some 60 miles in the locomotive Sunday.  I hope I do it justice.

I have been riding locomotive cabs since age 12. In September 1973, engineer Dan Ranger invited me into the cab of Graham County Railroad Co. Shay No. 1925 for a ride I will never forget. Since then, either as a fan or as Trains editor since 2004, I’ve been lucky to ride many cabs, including Pacifics, Mikados, and a 4-8-4s Nos. 611, 4449, and 6325. Some have been quiet as any antique machine can be. Some have been rough as riding a bronco. Some have been filthy messes, and some have been spotless (winner of the “you could eat off the floor” contest is still Canadian Pacific No. 2816 between Calgary and Lake Louise).

The ride I made Sunday, from Rawlins, Wyo., to Wamsutter, Wyo., is the impossible dream. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Or as I joked to engineer Ed Dickens and fireman Austin Barker, we didn’t have to die to get here (a suitable facsimile of the great beyond for a steam locomotive enthusiast).

And so, I found myself working my way up the ladder to the deck of the Big Boy Sunday morning as the guest of the UP. The room I entered is best described as a living room. I’ve bumped into other people in locomotive cabs half this large. Big Boy’s cab is practically stadium-sized with seats for the crew, two others, and standing room for yet more. The all-weather cab was comfortable on this day, neither hot nor cold, just right in the Wyoming spring.

We get underway about 8:24, backing out of the Rawlins yard onto the mainline. One thing is immediately apparent as we negotiate switch after switch to move from yard to main line: No. 4014 is the definition of riding like a battleship. No jerking. No yawing. Just movement in the direction of travel.

Appropriately at 8:44 a.m., the switches are lined, the signal ahead is green, and Ed Dickens reaches for the throttle. “Here we go,” he announces. Soon, we are galloping along, drawing dirty looks from a nearby bull. Our progress, however, is not to be far. We slow and stop to service the passenger cars. Barker has the fire set at 295 psi when the pops go off for their morning test. A few minutes later and we are off.

Big Boy quickly settles into a rhythm that is neither labored nor evocative of a machine itself designed and built to wrestle tonnage freight across a 65-mile grade and then move that same freight at 70 mph across the desert. Austin says he’s still learning the sweet spots for firing and we both marvel at the whirring sound of the turbine on the exhaust steam injector. On hills, Big Boy’s exhaust becomes a muffled roar, but the immensity of the giant is apparent when you look out the side and peer down the tracks. They are a long way ahead, and it is a long way down to the ballast.

We pass one grade crossing after another that is packed with fans and curious locals. Our progress is only impeded by a stop to check on No. 844’s blow down. That gives me the chance to climb into the spot above the tender and look ahead over the cab roof. The top of a Big Boy is amazing in its own right with domes, dynos, and twin stacks. But we can worry about these attributes another day. Let’s return to the cab where the crew is learning more about its charge. For a time, the trailing diesel is placed in full dynamic braking to simulate a load. No. 4014, at 35 mph, doesn’t even notice. In fact, the locomotive begins to accelerate. With grade of less than 1 percent, we cruise along effortlessly.

Nobody has ridden in a Big Boy cab in 60 years. I’ve been fortunate to experience this. As I climb down from the cab, and cannot believe what has just happened. The king of steam has returned. And I was there to greet him.

 

 

 

 

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