So, this is what Big Boy No. 4014 looks like climbing Wasatch grade

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, May 12, 2019

EVANSTON, Wyo. – See Elvis on the stage where he first performed? Go to the Beatles original performance venue? If you could, you know you would, especially, if the king or the original Fab Four were there. And so it was for those of us fortunate enough to be in northern Utah and western Wyoming Sunday, where Big Boy No. 4014 made a triumphant return to the route for which it was designed, the legendary Wasatch grade.

There’s been much talk over the last week about how the UP steam crew is taking it easy on the locomotive, and they should: Only finished a little more than a week ago, No. 40141 is still being broken in. Also, they had a big obligation to get both No. 4014 and 4-8-4 No. 844 to Ogden for the Golden Spike 150th anniversary event on Thursday. Now, the pressure is off – the big celebration where Nos. 4014 and 844 posed nose to nose like the Jupiter and No. 119 was a success. The 150th gig was a rousing success. The big wigs have gone home. On Sunday it was time to open up the Big Boy a little so everyone could see the King of the Rails on home turf: the very grade for which the Big Boy was designed: 65 miles of uphill grade between Ogden and Wahsatch.

We watched the two locomotives ease out of Ogden Union Station with a glorious plume of steam and cylinder cocks open. My vantage was the same location where I’d watched the dead in tow No. 4014 depart 5 years ago. Despite no commuter train passing on the flyover behind and overhead, the departure was one to savor, full of sights and sounds. A Big Boy was headed toward Wasatch grade.

If anyone had doubts about the engine’s capabilities, they were blown away by the time the train passed me near Peterson, Utah, running at a steady clip (I loathe trying to estimate the speed) with an exhaust reaching up to the snowcapped mountains that serve as a backdrop.

I’d wanted to experience the alpha to omega of this route, so to avoid the 12-mile-long motorcade, I went straight to the top of the grade at Wahsatch and walked over to the spot where you can feast your eyes on the abandoned summit tunnel on the 1916 relocation, the deep cut that replaced it in 1943, and the original 1869 line that is today’s westbound main. No. 4014 and No. 844 came by again at a steady clip but this time Big Boy was working. It was a steady roar not unlike that of standing at the end of a runway as a jet airliner takes off overhead. With that moment, I knew I had come to the right place to see No. 4014’s return to Wasatch grade. Elvis and the Fab Four were back!

I look forward to chasing No. 4014 on its route Monday from Evanston, Wyo., to Rock Springs, Wyo., where it will layover for two days. Be sure to follow our progress with Facebook live reports sponsored by Railfan Depot and Nevada Northern Railway Museum.

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