Western Maryland 1309 update: Drivers and front engine reunited

Posted 3 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Steam locomotive restorations are agonizingly slow, especially when the subject locomotive has been well used in its working life and exposed to the elements during its preservation life. Such is the case with Western Maryland Scenic’s former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309. The engine only ran from 1949 to 1956 in coal service near Logan, W.Va., but by that time the Chessie knew it was heading toward dieselization and that steam upkeep could be minimal. Years of storage at Russ...

On the road with Big Boy No. 4014: Where to park it

Posted 12 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 is on the last lap of its 1,500-mile Midwestern tour. It’s on display all day in North Platte, Neb., before the last two days that will take it to Sidney, Neb., tomorrow and home to Cheyenne, Wyo., on Thursday. Due to North Platte’s importance to the UP system and its role as the world’s largest rail yard, you’d think it would be easy to find a track on which to display the world’s largest operating steam locomotive. But I wouldn&rsquo...

What shall we worry about in railway preservation now that B&LE 643 is safe?

Posted 13 days ago by Jim Wrinn
One of the great lingering mysteries in the world of railway preservation has been solved: What will become of Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 No 643, the powerful (more than 100,000 pounds of tractive effort with the booster cut in) but perpetually stranded (earnest efforts to get the engine to preservation began in the mid-1970s and continued through 1995 when there was a serious attempt to move it to Scranton, Pa., and make it part of the Steamtown collection) Texas type that seemed destine...

On the road with Big Boy No. 4014: Of people, public relations, and the future

Posted 19 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Big Boy No. 4014 began the last lap on its Midwestern tour Tuesday with a trip from West Chicago, Ill., to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As it has been since leaving Cheyenne on July 8, every move of the locomotive has been followed by thousands. At some display locations, the number of people who came out to see the world’s largest operating steam locomotive has been staggering: 12,000 in Duluth, Minn., 20,000 in West Chicago. And thousands more trackside at rural grade crossings, in small town...

On the road with Big Boy 4014: Safety is in our hands

Posted 25 days ago by Jim Wrinn
I’ve noticed something about the crowds of people who are coming out to view Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 on its Midwestern tour. They are excited to see the world’s largest operating steam locomotive, which is great. Having this celebrity come to your part of the world is nothing short of a miracle. But as warm is their reception, it’s also disturbing to see their lack of appreciation for trackside safety. As the train approaches, they’re not afraid to stand close to...

On the road with Big Boy No. 4014: Chicago ahead!

Posted 26 days ago by Jim Wrinn
Watch out Chicago! Big Boy is heading your way!    Yes, Union Pacific No. 4014 is making its way across Wisconsin today, tomorrow, and Thursday. The 4-8-8-4 will cross the Cheddar Curtain into Illinois on Friday on its way to a three-day display in West Chicago at the Larry Provo training center. It’s going to be the King of Steam in America’s Railroad Capital Saturday, Sunday, and Monday!    And it may be the first time a Big Boy has visited Chicago under s...

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

Posted 27 days ago by Jim Wrinn
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. D...

The day when two icons met in Iowa: Big Boy and the electric

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
There are certain events that bring dissimilar characters together for brief but unforgettable moments. They give us iconic moments. They give us lasting memories. One of those moments for Train World took place Tuesday in Mason City, Iowa, a place known as the hometown of “Music Man” playwright Meredith Willson and for its Frank Lloyd Wright hotel. Shortly before 2 p.m., Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014, traveling on the former Rock Island Spine Line, where no Big Boy has gone befo...

On the road with Big Boy No. 4014: When numbers just won't do

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
Railroads love to quantify everything. The obsession with the operating ratio is a perfect example. Aim for that magic number under 60 and you’ve got real gold. Steam locomotives on Class I railroads and excursions with them are harder to quantify their value to the numbers people. Yes, you can break down the cost per mile, the fuel consumption, factor of adhesion, you name it. But what you cannot quantify is the value of the emotional connection between spectators and locomotive and cre...

On the road with No. 4014, Grand Island-Omaha

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
OMAHA, Neb. – Big Boy No. 4014 is in residency today at UP’s Homeplate display outside the baseball park where the College World Series is played. Even at this early hour for a weekend, crowds are already making their way into the display for the city’s Railroad Days festival. Late Friday we watched No. 4014 and its canteens, backup diesel and three tool cars arrive, link up with their passenger train, and take a zig-zag route across downtown to reach this location. It was the ...

The most famous Big Boy photo you'll never see ... and one that you will right now!

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
Some days begin well and end rough. Others start out on the wrong foot and end up in a waltz. Today was one of the latter as many of us chased Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 on its eastbound trek across the Midwest. The day started off at one of the most iconic locations on the Omaha-North Platte, Neb., route, the s-curve known as Buttermilk Curve, about 20 miles east of North Platte near the village of Brady. We arrived early and enjoyed a procession of one freight train after another in bot...

Will Big Boy run Thursday? The rail and rain gods will say soon

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
Here’s a quick note from North Platte, Neb., on Wednesday night. Whether Big Boy runs to Grand Island on Thursday, as scheduled, will remain a mystery until tomorrow morning. There’s still flooding at Gibbon, Neb., where the Wood River is overflowing due to locally heavy rains. I stopped by the site Wednesday on the drive in to watch the work. It appears that UP had to remove the pavement leading up to a crossing to let water drain. I saw several trains walk through the site wit...

Who are the rockstar railfans? Besides you, of course

Posted one month ago by Angela Pusztai-Pasternak
Before I had a mortgage, I went to A LOT of concerts. It was and still is one of my favorite activities. In my top 10 performances is Paul Simon and Bob Dylan when they toured together in 1999. I scored tickets for their July 4 show at the former Marcus Amphitheater (now American Family Insurance Amphitheater) in Milwaukee. (I can't believe that was 20 years ago!) Their performance felt American, spiritual, appropriate for the holiday. I felt privileged to be breathing their same air. This w...

Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014's Midwestern tour and what the trip means

Posted one month ago by Jim Wrinn
Big Boy No. 4014 goes out on the road again next week. It’s the first time for the newly restored locomotive to tour a big chunk of the Union Pacific system, and this time we’ll see a Big Boy in steam in places we don’t associate with a 4-8-8-4: Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. OK, it’s not the rugged west. There are no Wasatch Mountains, Peru or Sherman hills to climb. But this outing does have its attributes. It’s a 30-day, 1,500-mile extravaganza that will see t...

What does Genesee & Wyoming's sale mean for railfans?

Posted one month ago by Brian Schmidt
There are a lot of unknowns around the $8.4 billion sale of shortline holding company Genesee & Wyoming to Brookfield Infrastructure. What railroads will be sold or retained? Where will the headquarters be? How will the locomotives be painted? The list goes on. One change I fear is the tightening of information around the railroad operations. As a publicly traded company, G&W has historically provided great access to financials and traffic figures aggregated from its component rail...

Report from Colorado: narrow gauge, the Zephyr, a new museum, and a visit to two favorites

Posted 2 months ago by Jim Wrinn
I was in Colorado late last week and early this week. Here are notes and observations I made from a short visit to the Centennial State, which, for once, was green and flush with snowpack and rushing streams.   Colorado Railroad Museum. I was honored to be a part of a day-long symposium on the transcontinental railroad last Saturday. The videographer of our made for PBS video, Journey to Promontory, Rich Luckin, put the program together with museum education curator Elizabeth Nosek. It w...

Thoughts on Big Boy No. 4014's return: The day after

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
It is over. The long-awaited debut of Big Boy No. 4014 is in the books. By all observations, it was an amazing success. Even though the restoration came down to the last hours before the May 4 debut, the UP did it. On May 19 when the UP steam crew shepherded their charge off the main line and into the shop at Cheyenne, they’d come more than 1,000 without a serious mechanical problem or schedule delay. Even the derailment of two driver wheels in Rawlins on the return trip was handled with...

Big Boy, Peru Hill, and Green River with the Trains chase van

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Big Boy locomotives were made for Wasatch grade in Utah. They later migrated east to include Sherman Hill in their regular assignments. Those are well known challenges to these muscular steam locomotives. But there is a third grade that was synonymous with the Union Pacific 4000s: Peru Hill. This grade begins at the bridge over the Green River in its namesake city and ends five miles to the west after a twisting and curving climb with a .82 percent grade. You are familiar with this grade wh...

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

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
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 ...

A quick look at Spike 150: The first transcontinental railroad anniversary, May 10, 2019

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
It was a day for prayers, speeches, music, and thought-provoking words. It was the 2-hour Golden Spike 150th anniversary celebration at the National Park Service site at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 2019. More than 10,000 spectators attended, drawn by the need to be where history was made in 1869. Here's a quick look at the ceremony that attracted anyone and everyone interested in railroad history. Performers present a live musical, "As One."  Traffic on the entrance road to th...

A look at Big Boy's home turf on the eve of No. 4014's return

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
WAHSATCH, Utah – While Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 laid over in Evanston, Wyo., Tuesday, we went west to explore the original grade for which UP designed these locomotives. We stood at the top of Wasatch grade and then drove Echo and Weber canyons through which it passes in a most model railroad-like landscape. It is a heavy-duty railroad with an abundance of scenic charms – steep canyon walls, red rocks, boulders that seem to defy gravity. The combination is alluring and unbeatab...

The value of five minutes and Big Boy No. 4014

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
What is five minutes worth? On Monday, I found out twice today while following Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 on its trip from Rock Spring, Wyo., and Evanston, Wyo. The first occasion took place at Green River, where I’d set up to try for a dawn shot of the doubleheader with 4-8-4 No. 844 at the classic bridge shot with Castle Rock in the back ground. The place has been photographed since the construction of the original transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s. Big Boys were often ph...

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

Posted 3 months ago by Jim Wrinn
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 ...

Fear the Deer; don’t fear Milwaukee’s streetcar The Hop

Posted 4 months ago by Angela Pusztai-Pasternak
No actual deer or bunnies were harmed during the making of this blog. Parental guidance is advised.  “Hey, kids! Wanna ride The Hop Easter weekend?” I asked with enthusiasm a few days ago. And, cue the crickets. Ah, well. We did it anyway. Today, we rode Milwaukee’s The Hop streetcars from Milwaukee’s Intermodal Station stop to the northeast end of the line at Burns Commons, which is part of the Milwaukee Parks system, and return. The 2.1-mile line, which opened...

What celebrities might show up to watch Big Boy this year?

Posted 4 months ago by Steve Sweeney
Well, Trains Nation, here's the day dream: "Imagine you think you know which celebrities and "famous" people like trains or model trains — and who might have the time, money, and inclination to splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime event. Who do you think will be on-scene, in person, for the biggest railfan party in history in May?!" I'm of course talking about the expected first runs of Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 since the 1950s in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontin...

Brightline photography, a cautionary tale

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
Before you set out to photograph Brightline/Virgin Trains USA, here are some tips you may find helpful: The trains are quiet, and all the crossings are quiet zones. Sometimes, the only advance warning I had that a train was imminent was the “singing” of the rails ahead of it. If you are close to a crossing, you will have a little more warning if you can see or hear the gates go down. The non-traditional locomotives lack common visual cues we use to frame railfan pictures, like ...

Flagler’s legacy: steam locomotives and space travel

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
It was pure serendipity. I was having dinner tonight in Cocoa, Fla., when I overheard some of the restaurant staff talking about the upcoming SpaceX launch at Cape Canaveral. The launch, scheduled for earlier in the week, would be Thursday evening now. So I hightailed it to the beach to watch. It was a great experience and there were lots of people on the beach to share moment. I turned to leave and saw on a street sign the railroad connection. I had inadvertently chosen the public beach acce...

If you build it, they will build

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
If you want to see the progress that Brightline has brought to southeast Florida, look up. There are new buildings going up around the stations in West Palm Beach and Miami. In the coming days I’ll have more observations and thoughts on the Brightline experience, but this was the most striking observation of the days. The large tower nearest the West Palm Beach station, just across the street in fact, has housing for lease and also parking for passengers. It soars above the station and ...

Big Steam in 2019

Posted 4 months ago by Jim Wrinn
Did I tell you I won the Power Ball? Yeah, I’m that guy who picked up millions by buying a lottery ticket at a convenience store in New Berlin, Wis. Now, after waking up rebuilders Scott Lindsay and Gary Bensman to start working three shifts a day until their done on my top 20 list of locomotives I want to see run (another topic in itself), I still have stupid money to go watch big mainline steam this year. Here’s what I plan to do.   I start off next month in Wyoming and Ut...

Rail suppliers highlight shortline industry’s innovation, endurance

Posted 4 months ago by Brian Schmidt
The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s CONNECTIONS meeting brings together railroads and suppliers each year. This year’s show in Orlando runs April 6-9 and features a number of both new and traditional industry suppliers. CorrSolve Corrosion Solutions is a first time exhibitor at the show. The company was founded 30 years ago to supply the aerospace industry and is getting more involved in the rail industry. Inside Sales Manager Leonel Rodriguez says that the...