Two park engines that won’t make you cringe

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Friday, September 25, 2015

UP 2-8-0 No. 480 in Memorial Park in North Platte, Neb., has a sign out front, left, to tell its story to visitors. Jim Wrinn photo.

I usually steel myself before visiting any park engine display. Over the years I have come to expect the worst from steam locomotives that were retired from active service, put in city parks more than a half century ago, then left to rot and ruin over the course of the years. That, happily, is not the case in North Platte, Neb.

This city has not one but two displays that are worthy of note. In the city that houses the world’s largest railroad yard, Bailey Yard, and that is synonymous with UP, it is entirely appropriate that the locomotive displays are first class.

Here's how  you're greeted at North Platte's Cody Park to visit 4-6-6-4 No. 3977. Jim Wrinn photo.

No. 3977 is on display on a curve that shows off its articulation. Jim Wrinn photo.

The first display I came upon is Union Pacific 2-8-0 No. 480 in Memorial Park, just off U.S. 30 as you drive in from the east. The engine has a sign out front that gives its history – in first person, no less, as if the locomotive wrote the note about itself — and a second dedication plaque commemorating the donation of the engine in 1956. Amazingly, while it’s behind a chain link fence to fend off vandals, it is without a roof or canopy from protection from the elements. Graffiti and broken glass are one thing; rust and decay are another, potentially more lethal problem for engines like this. Still, I found the engine to be in good condition with a decent paint job and lettering.

Check out No. 3977's complete — and labeled — backhead. Jim Wrinn photo.

Across town at Cody Park is the real prize, UP 4-6-6-4 No. 3977 in gray and yellow passenger paint that absolutely shines. The display is staffed nearby, the engine appears to be well cared for, and a set of study steps allows a visit to the cab, which is complete. I had along thought that UP Challenger No. 3985, on the active roster of the UP steam program, was the railroad’s only 4-6-6-4 to survive. I am truly glad that another one is still around, and while it doesn’t run, it certainly looks great. The 1943 Alco is cleverly parked on a curved piece of track to show off its articulation — the boiler swings out when the running gear follows the tracks around the bend. Two passenger cars, a caboose, and a DD40X diesel, round out the display. Alas, there’s no roof, but I cannot tell that the engine is deteriorating because of the lack of a cover. It is that well kept.

Again, the information sign out front is written as if No. 3977 was talking to you.

Thank you to everyone at UP and North Platte who keep these engines in good shape and impressive so that another generation will come to appreciate them.

A Union Pacific Challenger in passenger gray and fresh paint is a thing of beauty. Jim Wrinn photo.

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