Chasing Big Boy 4014, Day 2: Thank You, Union Pacific!

Barry Lewis

Wednesday, May 8: I ran into a film producer out here who had interviewed Steve Lee years ago, when he was head of the Union Pacific’s steam program. He had said, “Steve, I have to ask you: Will a Big Boy ever be restored to steam?” And Steve had replied, “There’s a better chance that dinosaurs will roam the earth again.”

Today I, along with thousands of others, saw a dinosaur roar: Big Boy 4014 double-heading with FEF-3 844, hauling the UP Heritage passenger train and a backup diesel for good measure. Man, were we smiling! A lot of people checked an item off their bucket list today.

Thank you Union Pacific, for doing something that would make most corporate bean counters throw up. Thank you for dedicating an enormous amount of corporate resources to a steam program that is unique in all the world, with two (soon to be three, when Challenger 3985 is back in steam in 2021 or 2022) magnificent examples of the best of American ingenuity and engineering.

Thank you for hiring employees to preserve the skills and knowledge of another era that might otherwise be lost. Thank you for making room in the constant flow of traffic along your transcontinental artery for a train whose main mission is fun — when virtually every other American Class 1 railroad bans steam trips as a nuisance. Thank you for restoring a Big Boy to the route it was built for: the main line over Sherman Hill from Wyoming into Utah.

That’s what you can do when you’re the biggest railroad in the country with the clearest view of the 150 years it took to get where you are. Sure it’s good PR, but there are countless cheaper ways to get just as much good publicity. This is visionary, and we should all hope this commitment to steam continues for generations.

Check out my video below of the Big Boy run by!