On the road with Big Boy No. 4014: Minnesota (?!)

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, July 22, 2019

There was an air show in Duluth, Minn., last weekend. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels stunt team was the featured attraction. Estimated attendance: 65,000. On the same weekend, there was a special event at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth. Union Pacific’s Big Boy locomotive was the featured attraction at the Festival of Steam.


A Big Boy in Minnesota … in Duluth … on the shore of Lake Superior. It’s about as much of a fish out of water tale as there is. Duluth is more than 1,000 miles from the western most part of Big Boy territory. While the 4-8-8-4 simmered on display, Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range, a 1906 Alco 2-8-0, No. 332 put on a show with four trips daily. The museum hosted a gala event Saturday night that included music, food and drink, and a tour of the UP exhibit car and office cars. Estimated paid attendance for all the railroad events at the museum, 12,000 to 15,000. How many other people saw Big Boy in the region or on its way from St. Paul to Duluth is a good question, but it is safe to say that thousands more viewed No. 4014 as the giant locomotive traversed BNSF rails to reach its display location via trackage rights. 


I point out the two juxtapositioned events not to embarrass the good folks at Lake Superior Railroad Museum but to compliment them: American culture long ago ceased to be railroad-based. It’s a car and aviation culture with the exception of the Northeast and a few big cities. The fact that between 12,000 and 15,000 people — most of them average Joes and Janes and not enthusiasts — chose the world’s largest operating steam locomotive over F-18 Hornet jet fighters is a feat in this era.


Three notes from the Minnesota leg of No. 4014’s Midwestern tour and then a programming note:


• UP deserves tremendous credit for taking its celebrity locomotive far from home and landing it in an excellent venue. Lake Superior Railroad Museum took full advantage of the opportunity. And BNSF Railway did itself proud as host for the inbound and outbound moves, even taking the time to adjust a tight wye track in Superior that bound up No. 4014 on Friday. The locomotive slid right through (at a snail’s pace) on Sunday afternoon. 


• UP’s exhibit car strikes the right tone to tell the story of the modern railroad. No. 4014 is great at catching the public’s attention, and the exhibit car is a great way to bring the story up to date. I hope that when UP isn’t using the exhibit car with No. 4014, the car finds a popular railroad museum where it can continue to tell the story.


• While the dream side-by-side match up of UP’s Big Boy with the Missabe Road’s Yellowstone was impossible … the museum’s wonderfully preserved locomotive is positioned so that its drivers can turn periodically, and it would be a task to unseat it … No. 4014 did pose with Missabe 2-8-0 No. 332, a 1906 product, like the Big Boy, of Alco.  


Now for that programming note. We live stream more of No. 4014’s Midwestern tour on Thursday and Friday and on July 30, all on the Trains Facebook page. Meanwhile, don’t forget that our 100-page special issue, Big Boy Back in Steam, and our 1-hour 53-minute video of the same name are available along with other great Big Boy items at www.kalmbachhobbystore.com/shopBigBoy




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