The Legendary Union Pacific Big Boy

There was a time when the large steam locomotives pulled people and freight all over the great expanses of the American West. Some of these great locomotives found a place in history and there is perhaps no better one than the “Big Boy” series of 4-8-8-4 steam engine.

The Big Boy locomotives represent some of the largest ever manufactured. The Union Pacific Railroad has done an excellent job in working to preserve their old equipment for historical purposes.

Old Union Pacific Locomotive 4018

The ALCO 4000 Locomotives Built for the Union Pacific Railroad

The Union Pacific Railroad acquired twenty-five of these massive six hundred ton locomotives and today several are on display around the U.S.

The locomotives were 132 feet in length from the front of the cowcatcher to the end of the tender car. They were built to pull a 3,600 ton train and pull it over steep mountain grades. The National Defense Act during the early 1940’s encouraged the building of ever more powerful locomotives.  When you stand next to a 4000 series locomotive it will look larger than you may ever had imagined.

Reportedly there are eight of these steam engines that have survived to this date. A side note is that the Union Pacific was the only railroad purchasing these coal fired steam engines which were manufactured between 1941 and 1944 by the American Locomotive Company commonly referred to as ALCO. ALCO, established in 1901, also got into the automobile building business in 1906 but exited in 1913.

Another interesting side note about the American Locomotive Company was while they acquired a lot of fame for their powerful steam locomotives such as with the 4000 Series, the company produced the first commercial diesel-electric locomotive in 1924.

One set of Big Boy Locomotive drive wheels

ALCO 4-8-8-4 Classification Locomotive

The 4-8-8-4 is a classification regarding wheel arrangement. In this instance, there are four leading wheels, two sets of eight driving wheels and a set of four trailing wheels. The 4000 series of ALCO locomotives could keep a speed of some 70 MPH which was obviously considered quite fast and they were steady riders.

The speed and traction power made these 4000 locomotives important especially during the war years when cargo and troop transportation was crucial. The role of the 4-8-8-4 locomotives was simply to haul more gross tonnage at a higher speed and without helper engines. This role they accomplished.

Where To See the Big Boy Locomotives Today

Big Boy Locomotive 4018 is now at the new location of the Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. The 4018 locomotive made the trip from near downtown Dallas to Frisco over August 18th and 19th, 2013. For years this locomotive was at the museum in Dallas before being moved to Frisco which will offer a much larger space for the railroad exhibits.

4018 Big Boy cab and tender car

Locomotive 4023 is on display at Kenefick Park in Omaha Nebraska.

Locomotive 4004 is displayed at Holliday Park in Cheyenne Wyoming.

Locomotive 4005 is at the Forney Transportation Museum in Denver Colorado. This museum is fascinating displaying everything from vintage cars and tractors to steam locomotives.

Locomotive 4006 is now at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis Missouri. This is a comprehensive transportation museum featuring everything on wheels and more. Locomotive 4006 has more mileage than any of the other surviving steam engines.

Locomotive 4012 is displayed at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton Pennsylvania. Administered by the National Park Service, this venue comprises forty acres of the Scranton railroad yard of the old Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Train rides are available.

Big Boy Locomotive and bell

Locomotive 4014 is on display at Fairplex in Pomona California.

Locomotive 4017 is displayed at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay Wisconsin. This is one of the oldest railroad museums in the U.S. with a large display of locomotives and rolling stock.

Four of the eight 4000 Series locomotives are displayed along the old historic Union Pacific route. These are the exhibits in Cheyenne, Denver, Pomona and Omaha.

The link below is to the permanent display in Amarillo Texas of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s historic steam locomotive 5000, referred to as a “Texas Type”, a 2-10-4 configuration on our Western Trips site…

The Santa Fe 5000 Locomotive

On our Trips Into History site see our article and photos on the 1911 Baldwin 2-8-0 Locomotive.

Union Pacific Railroad 4018 tender

A Step Further Than the 4-6-6-4 Locomotives

ALCO built the 4-6-6-4 steam locomotives beginning in 1936. These they named the Challenger series. These really were the precursors to the 4000 Series featured above.

The challenge so to speak of the Challenger locomotive was to pull tonnage over mountain ranges. No easy task to say the least. Helper engines were often utilized to get this done. The need was such that the Union Pacific Railroad purchased 105 of these 4-6-6-4 Challenger engines. Other railroads would buy the 147 additional Challengers produced. Out of this total of 252 4-6-6-4- steam engines manufactured, the American Locomotive Company built 227 Challengers and the Baldwin Locomotive Works 25.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)


Three Historic Train Rides

Below are listed three historic rail lines that today offer scenic rides that relive the history in their respective areas. All of these railroads were once a part of a larger system that ran over these same rails during the height of railroad expansion in the late 1800’s.

All three of these historic railroads make excellent additions to your vacation planners if your travels take you to northern California, northern New Mexico or southern Colorado.

niles canyon railway california

Niles Canyon Railway Sunol Train Depot

Niles Canyon Railway / California

The  Niles Canyon Railroad history goes all the way back to the year 1862, seven years before the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad’s history includes both the building of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Western Pacific Railroad.

As it’s name implies, the Niles Canyon Railway runs through scenic  Niles Canyon. Today’s scenic rail line runs between Fremont California in San Francisco’s East Bay area to the town of Sunol. The town officially began with it’s first post office in 1871 which at that time was renamed Sunolglen. The name was changed back to Sunol in 1920. Sunol is located 17 miles north of San Jose and about 32 miles southeast of San Francisco proper.

california scenic railraod

Niles Canyon Railway

Steam locomotives began traversing the canyon as early as 1865 via the Western Pacific Railroad. The Western Pacific started to build from San Jose north and eastward. As was the case with most railroads, mergers, acquisitions and new routes would emerge through much of the latter 1800’s.

Eventually, the Western Pacific Railroad was bought out by the Central Pacific and the Central Pacific was taken over by the Southern Pacific.These acquisitions and mergers were commonplace during the late 1800’s all over the west. The Southern Pacific focus was more to the north around Martinez California and as a result the Niles Canyon railroad line became secondary. Having been a part of the legendary Central Pacific Railroad, today’s Niles Canyon Railway line runs over what was once part of the transcontinental railroad.

Another interesting fact is that the Niles Canyon route was the very first line for trains running eastward from the San Francisco Bay. It wouldn’t occur until 1879 that the much shorter route from the Bay Area to Sacramento would be completed which ran through Benicia to the north.

sunol california

Scenic Sunol California

The Pacific Locomotive Association has an excellent collection of railroad equipment that has been accumulated since the 1960’s. The locomotives and rolling stock collected went through restoration programs and train restoration continues as an ongoing project. The collection is found at the association’s Niles Station located in Fremont.

This is the location you want to visit to see some spectacular restored rolling stock. The steam engines at Fremont’s Niles Station includes a great exhibit of old Southern Pacific steam locomotives.

Just to give you an idea of some of the other rail cars collected by the Pacific Locomotive Association, they include, but are certainly not limited to, a 1904 80 foot Pullman Business Car, a 40 foot 1911 Pullman RPO (Railroad Post Office) Car, a 1907 69 foot Observation Car, q 1923 Pullman Interurban passenger car, a 1926 Pullman Heavyweight Sleeper, a 1923 60 foot Pullman Business Car and a 1926 Pullman Heavyweight Dining Car.

vintage diesel locomotive

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad vintage diesel locomotive

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad

Another very popular attraction in Alamosa itself is the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. This excursion train rides from Alamosa to La Veta Colorado and a connection to the Cumbres and Toltec Railway which offers scenic rides to Chama New Mexico. The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad route takes you through fascinating mountain country that’s not seen from the highway. The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad excursion train rides take you through breathtaking mountain valleys and passes on miles and mile of historic trails.  The steam and diesel trains transport you to charming and historic western towns from the heart of the San Luis Valley.


rio grande railroad

Rio Grande Scenic Railroad vintage rolling stock

The train runs from Alamosa to the charming art town of La Veta. A  two-hour stop for lunch allows passengers to relax in the park, do some shopping and gallery exploring, or enjoy a great meal at one of La Veta’s local restaurants and cafes. La Veta in Spanish means “the mineral vein”. This twon name was given to it’s association with mining claims such as the abandoned mining camp of Ojo, which is located a few miles from the town and whose concrete foundations are still visible.

Alamosa Colorado is located about 85 miles north of Taos New Mexico and about 70 miles west of Walsenburg Colorado on Interstate 25 via U.S. Hwy 160. Alamosa is also a two and one half hour drive north of Santa Fe New Mexico which makes it a good addition while vacationing in Santa Fe.

cumbres and toltec railroad cars

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad coal tender

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, originally built in 1880, offers all day excursions on their narrow gauge train powered by a coal burning steam locomotive. The route the train travels is a very scenic one which is common in this beautiful area of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Terrific views are offered of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain Ranges. Along it’s route, this scenic railroad runs over the 10,000 foot Cumbres Pass.

Two additional Trips Into History photo articles you may enjoy are listed on the links below…

Historic Railroads of Texas / The Frisco

The Vintage Pullman Car

The Historic Rocket Trains

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach / Photos and History

antonito colorado trains

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad water tower in Antonito, Colorado

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad offers excursions from the train depot in Chama New Mexico as well as the depot in Antonito Colorado. Trains depart each morning from both depots. Passengers can ride all the way between both towns or return to where they departed on the other train at Osier, an old stagecoach stop, where lunch is served. The steam locomotives used by the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad are engines that once worked on this line and on the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

All three railroads described above are only a few of the many found across the United States. If your future travel plans take you to any of the areas above, I believe you’ll find these train excursions to offer fun and educational experiences for the entire family.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)

Historic Steam Engine Exhibits


The steam engine could arguably be The most significant invention ever invented by man. Although we think of the steam engine coming into being on the old steamboats and railroad locomotives, history tells us that experimenting with steam goes back many centuries. Interest in steam didn’t begin when the steam from a tea kettle was first noticed. It’s interest goes back as far as the first century.

beam steam engine

Beam steam engine. Diagram from the public domain.

Did you know that the first steam engine manufactured is still operating as of this writing? This is a steam engine that today is over two centuries old. The steam engine was manufactured in 1812 by the Boulton and Watt company of Birmingham England.

It is considered the world’s oldest continuously operating beam steam engine and is still fed with hand stoked coal. You could refer to this engine as one of the many antique steam engines displayed around the world but in this case this engine is still doing the job it was built to do.

A beam steam engine uses a pivoted overhead beam to apply force from a vertical piston  to a vertical connecting rod. These engines were also used to drain water from mines.

The Boulton and Watt steam engine is both working and on display at the Crofton Pumping Station near the town of Great Bedwyn in county Wiltshire. The engine provides water for the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Visitors can view the beam steam engine at the Crofton Pumping Station. It is open everyday during the summer. For more detailed information on planning your visit see website

donkey steam engine

Donkey Steam Engine

The Donkey Steam Engine

There’s a reason why this steam engine is referred to as a “donkey engine” or a “steam donkey“. The steam donkey engine got it’s name from the work it did on old sailing ships.

The donkey engine operated as a winch. It was considered a relatively small secondary engine and could help load and unload cargo as well as help to lift the sail rigging. Something this small and transportable had many other uses.

The steam donkey engine was used widely in the logging industry. The typical logging steam donkey engine would have a boiler and winch and could be moved by skids built under it. The logging engine would have a cable attached which would be taken out and secured on a log. When the donkey engine operator would open the valve the steam power would drag the cable (and log) toward the engine. The donkey engine would lift, drag, and move logs from the stump to an accumulation point  Donkey engines were also used to load logs on rail cars that transported logs to distant mill sites.The steam power generated from the boiler could move massive logs.

donkey engine

Piston mechanism of the Donkey Engine

The Magic of Steam Power

Unlike an internal combustion engine requiring petroleum, a steam engine uses water and heat to produce power. Two easy things to acquire…water and fire. You can’t produce steam without water which is why water filling tanks would be placed at railroad stations and other sites for locomotives to refill their tanks.

With a steam engine, the high pressure steam produced forces a piston to move. When the piston moves a connecting rod then power is transferred. There is also a double acting steam engine which alternately allows steam to be put on both ends of a piston.

The Dangers of Early Steam Power

Harnessing steam as a power source came into being before a great deal was learned about it’s characteristics. Pressure from a boiler could cause disasters, and it did, many times. Calculating the strength of a boiler needed to withstand a certain amount of pressure was in it’s infancy. You could say it was learned by trial and error. The many steamboat disasters, especially from the 1840’s onward, are good examples.

sultana explosion

Drawing of the 1865 Sultana steamboat explosion near Memphis Tennessee, photo from the public domain

Among all the dangers a steamboat might face…snags, collisions with other vessels, running aground, boiler explosions were the most devastating. Thousands of lives were lost on the Mississippi and other rivers. Two of the most deadly were the Sultana explosion in 1865 just a few miles north of Memphis Tennessee and the Saluda explosion just a few yards from the dock in Lexington Missouri in 1852.

These were among steamboat disasters that prompted the federal government to finally get serious about rules and regulations for steamboats. Boilers in a wooden steamboat were typically below the decks. You can imagine the destruction and carnage caused by boiler explosions beneath wooden decks of often times overcrowded steamboats.

Some of the early steam boiler explosions on steamboats occurred because the boilers were not monitored properly. Sometimes they were left unmonitored for periods of time. Also, the pressure gauges were not used as they should have been and the gauges themselves were not up to the standards we have today. Uniform training of boiler operators and improvements in boiler construction were the main goals of the new federal laws. As years passed more was learned about boiler construction and the monitoring gauges were greatly improved.

Below are links to photo articles on our sites that you’ll find interesting.

The Baldwin Locomotive

The River Steamboats

The Donner Pass Steam Locomotive

Two excellent books about steam engines and steam power include The Most Powerful Idea in the World by author William Rosen and Water Trails West published by The Western Writers of America.

steam bus

A French Steam Autobus from 1875, public domain photo

Exploring the World of Historic Steam Engines

As mentioned above, the world’s  first steam engine is on display in England at the Crofton Pumping Station near the town of Great Bedwyn in county Wiltshire.

The Donkey Steam Engine shown in this article was displayed at the San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park on the west side of the Fisherman’s Wharf area. To get detailed information on current exhibits there see website /

Another great site to explore some of the more famous steam locomotives is the California State Railroad Museum in the Old Town section of Sacramento. Among other things you can view one of the first locomotives used by the Central Pacific Railroad, the western link of the first transcontinental route.

horizontal steam engine

A very small horizontal steam engine on display at the California State Railroad Museum

The New England Wireless and Steam Museum is located in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. This is strictly a volunteer museum and generally handles groups. They are only open a few days a week so if you want to visit this very interesting five building museum you’ll probably want to call in advance.

For more information see the website  Among the may exhibits are the world’s oldest surviving wireless station and a collection of stationary steam engines.

(Articles and photos copyright Trips Into History. Steam Autobus and Saluda steamboat images from the public domain)

Santa Fe Railroad and Santa Fe

Santa Fe New Mexico, “The City Different“, can claim many unique attributes. For one thing Santa Fe’s 7,000 foot elevation makes it the highest state capitol in the United States. Santa Fe can also lay claim to being the oldest city in the U.S. being founded by the Spaniard Conquistadors in 1610.

cross of the martyrs in santa fe

Cross of the Martyrs, Santa Fe New Mexico

The Spaniards remained in control of this region up until the Mexican’s rebelled in the 1820’s, with the exception of the period of the Pueblo Revolt beginning in 1680 that expelled the Spaniards from the territory for some twelve years.

The Cross of the Martyrs pictured at left is in memory of those lost during the Pueblo Revolt.

Santa Fe New Mexico

Santa Fe evolved from being a rather sleepy southwest trading center to a modern day tourist destination of international acclaim. The way in which this occurred is a very interesting story. It’s a story that interweaves the opening of the west with the expansion of the transcontinental railroads. The Santa Fe Railroad, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe, promoted both Santa Fe and the southwest culture.

Santa Fe’s prominence in the earlier part of the 1800’s was the fact that it was the final destination of the famed and important Santa Fe Trail. The trail that ran from Missouri through the Great Plains then into mountainous New Mexico was the first real commercial trade route between the U.S. and Mexican ruled New Mexico.

Trading on the Santa Fe Trail

palace of the governors

Palace of the Governors off Santa Fe Plaza

There was a great deal of trade going on between American’s and New Mexican’s prior to the breakout of the Mexican-American War. This was how northern New Mexicans received supplies that they couldn’t get elsewhere. It was a much easier trade route than having to rely on supplies from the very distant Mexico City government.

The United States Takes Control

The United States took control of New Mexico during the 1846 Mexican-American War and named it a U.S. Territory after the war,s end. General Kearney’s troops took over Santa Fe and New Mexico without firing a shot and the tale is that Kearney stayed in the inn which was then at the very site of today’s La Fonda Hotel on the plaza. The hotel was renamed the United States Hotel.

The territory’s capitol was Santa Fe and this new Union territory was vast in size. Essentially it comprised all of present day New Mexico and Arizona. The principle trade route to the new Union territory remained the Santa Fe Trail.

In Comes the Santa Fe Railroad

new mexico rail runner

New Mexico Rail Runner Train

In the coming years the railroad would be the engine of growth, not only for the New Mexico Territory but for the entire western U.S. in general.

Because of the railroad’s place in economic expansion, railroads had a tremendous amount of power and influence. What better industry was there to not only transport people to the west but also to urge them to make the journey. The railroad also offered the first “comfortable” way to travel west. There were stagecoaches long before the transcontinental railroad but people traveling long distances by stagecoach did it out of necessity rather than by choice. If you read any pieces about the rigors of long distance stage travel you’ll understand what I mean. Stagecoach travel was not only less comfortable than by rail but the stagecoach was more susceptible to highwaymen (bandits).

The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad

The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was in a position to promote the beautiful southwest. The geologic formations in the American southwest are truly unique as are the cultural characteristics of a town like Santa Fe.

santa fe steam locomotive

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Steam Locomotive

While Santa Fe did not lie directly on the AT&SF rail main line, and is connected to it by an 18 mile spur line, the railroad’s namesake town was the most publicized AT&SF destination by far.

The AT&SF of course was integral in the promotion of the Grand Canyon with not only it’s link from Williams Arizona via the Grand Canyon Railroad but also it’s building of the El Tovar Hotel at the Canyon’s south rim. The El Tovar was managed by Fred Harvey who had a very successful association with the railroad.

Fred Harvey has often been credited with helping to civilize the west. Interestingly enough, the southwest including Santa Fe had originally been advertised back east for it’s health benefits. Prior to it’s emphasis on Native American art and culture, the area was thought to be quite beneficial for tuberculosis patients (called consumption during the era). This was the subject of AT&SF’s first promotion of Santa Fe. The dry mild weather and the high elevations were considered to be a relief, if not a remedy, for consumptive sufferers. Both Santa Fe and Albuquerque and much of the southwest were destinations for people afflicted with the malady.

Promoting Santa Fe the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Way

The powerful and inventive combination of the AT&SF and Fred Harvey worked magic in the promotion of Santa Fe. While the Santa Fe railroad had it’s line into New Mexico decades before, the turning point for it’s promotion of Santa Fe began in 1925 when it purchased the La Fonda Hotel.

la fonda hotel in santa fe new mexico

Present day La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe NM

The La Fonda was unique, being situated at the very end of the famed Santa Fe Trail and also immediately adjacent to the Santa Fe plaza. The site had been operated as an inn for many decades under various names and ownership. At one point in the early 1900’s it had been destroyed by fire and then rebuilt by local investors. The hotel’s expansion and promotion however took off when the railroad bought the hotel in 1925.

At that time rooms were added and the Fred Harvey Company applied it’s expertise of quality hospitality. Nobody did more than Fred Harvey to standardize the quality of westward travel. Harvey’s expertise had it’s roots when he traveled extensively as a railroad freight agent and had the experience of sampling the less than terrific dining fare along the rail lines. He saw a great need for better quality and filled it. His association with the AT&SF gave him the resources to make his ideas a reality. He put his ideas to work all along the railroad’s line and eventually far beyond with his many Harvey House Hotels.

The Santa Fe Railroad, AT&SF, can rightfully be credited with making Santa Fe the tourist mecca that it is today. It was the railroad’s access to the town which spurred the arrival of artists. Many credit the railroad for the initial building of Santa Fe’s art community.

Old Santa Fe Railroad Depot, Santa Fe NMThe railroad went as far as commissioning several artists to put the regions natural beauty on canvas and these paintings adorned the AT&SF stations all along the line.

Brochures and news articles were disseminated by the AT&SF advertising department to great effect. This was powerful advertising for Santa Fe and it worked. The railroad drew on the areas natural attributes of a multicultural society. Native American, Spanish and Mexican cultures all combined to promote Santa Fe as “The City Different“.

The railroad and Fred Harvey also operated “Indian detour” as a motorcar tour of both Santa Fe and the surrounding pueblos. The “Indian detour” guides were selectively chosen and were quite knowledgeable. Evening lectures by “Indian detour” guides at the La Fonda were customary. Many of Santa Fe’s early tourists had only read about the region through eastern newspaper accounts and now the AT & SF Railroad and Fred Harvey offered a comfortable and highly interesting way to travel there and see the sights first hand. The railroad tapped into the curiosity of easterners.

Four additional articles we’ve published that you’ll find interesting include.

Southwest Chief

The Union Pacific Big Boy Locomotive

Post Office Rail Car

Barrio de Analco and America’s Oldest House

Fiesta Santa Fe

amtrak southwest chief

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stopping in Lamy NM, the nearest Santa Fe stop.

The railroad didn’t stop with the “Indian detour” motorcar tours. They also became involved in promoting cultural events themselves. One of these, and arguably the largest, was the “Fiesta“.

The Fiesta was first held in 1712 and was meant to commemorate the 1692 peaceful resettlement of the area by the Spaniard De Vargas. The year 1692 was when De Vargas led his Spaniards back to Santa Fe twelve years after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.

After 1712 the Fiesta was held only every so often and eventually disappeared all together. Fast forward and the Fiesta was revived in 1919 by the efforts of Edgar L. Hewett, the Director of the Museum of New Mexico. The power of AT&SF marketing promoted the revival of Fiesta to the traveling public and the event remains today Santa Fe’s most popular.

Out of the three cultural segments making up Santa Fe, the railroad placed major emphasis on the Native American aspect. The southwest’s and particularly Santa Fe’s pueblo residing Native American’s were the main subject matter of AT&SF advertising. Native American’s sold their unique artistic jewelry in the lobby of the railroad’s La Fonda Hotel. The railroad turned pueblo Indian artistry into a profitable commercial venture.

It was said that prior to the railroad bringing in willing buyers, many Indians lacked the necessary tools to create their crafts. The sales to the AT&SF transported tourists helped the Indians buy the tools they needed to produce more authentic pieces. The market for authentic Native American crafts is still very evident today when you see genuine Native American items being sold in many stores on the plaza and daily in front of the Palace of the Governors on the north side of the plaza.

canyon road in santa fe

Santa Fe’s famous Canyon Road art galleries

The Lasting Effect of the AT&SF

Santa Fe through all the years has sustained it’s position as a highly popular tourist destination in large part from the early promotion efforts of the AT&SF Railroad. The railroad laid down a lasting foundation.

Many of the descriptions of Santa Fe in early railroad advertising brochures made it into books authored by Zane Grey and Charles Lummis, two well known writers of the American southwest. Santa Fe’s historical authenticity continues to draw tourists by the thousands. While people today travel to Santa Fe by automobile, airplane and certainly still by rail (Amtrak’s Southwest Chief), the modern perception of Santa Fe can be traced directly back to the AT&SF Railroad’s promotional campaigns of the early 1900’s.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

Railroads in Texas / The Frisco

During the golden age of railroads Texas had it’s share. One of the busier and more historic railroads in Texas was referred to as “The Frisco“. To learn more about the Frisco Railroad we visited one of the best places on the subject, the Frisco Heritage Museum located in Frisco Texas.

A Town and a Railroad

frisco diesel locomotive

Frisco EMD Locomotive

Frisco is a northern suburb of the Dallas metropolitan area. What is now the city of Frisco Texas was at one time named Emerson and then renamed Frisco City before just being named Frisco.

The one time town of Emerson Texas benefited greatly by being connected to the outside world by a railroad. Railroads were connected to most aspects of community and economic life. Railroads could literally make or break a new town. As it turned out, the present city of Frisco was not only named after the railroad but also uses the old railroad’s logo as the city’s official logo.

The Routes of The Frisco Railroad and the Texas Special

The Frisco Railroad was also the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad. The Frisco took it’s new name in 1896 when it emerged from bankruptcy. Many railroad history buffs may recall that railroads suffered greatly during the financial depression on the 1890’s. Mergers were common. The old Frisco operated for over 100 years from 1876 to 1980. In 1980 it merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad.

frisco texas train station

Frisco Train Station in Frisco TX

An interesting note is that the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad never ran to San Francisco California. Texas was it’s most western state.

For many years the Frisco operated in conjunction with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, commonly referred to as the Katy, operating the “Texas Special“. The Texas Special was considered quite luxurious and ran from St. Louis Missouri to San Antonio Texas via Dallas and Fort Worth. Passengers could also join this route in St. Louis connecting from the Pennsylvania Railroad‘s train from New York City with through sleeper car service. Through sleeper service between St. Louis and Washington D.C. was also available via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Texas Special was a key route into Texas. The train connected the important eastern cities with Texas markets.

The Texas Special Streamliners

The age of the Streamliner Trains was from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. If you were to define the new Streamliners you would say they were light, fast and luxurious. They were quite different from what was before them. They were sleek looking.

1910 steam locomotive

Frisco 1910 steam locomotive

The Streamliner was created to help improve railroad market share. By the 1930’s, long highways were being built and connected together for the automobile. Route 66 was a good example of this. The Streamliner concept for the most part was to make the railroad experience more than just getting between two points. Speed, luxury and adventure was what the railroad intended to offer the traveling public. It was an innovative effort to bring people back to the railroad.

One example of success in the Streamliner effort was certainly the Santa Fe Railroad’s Super Chief train running between Chicago and Los Angeles. Americans were fascinated  with the American Southwest and the new AT & SF streamliners offered them a luxurious unique adventure.

The two railroads which operated the Texas Special  were considered mid-sized Class I systems that operated in the Midwest and down through southern Texas. The Texas Special locomotives were some of the most flashiest looking in the country.

hudson steam locomotive

1938 J3 Hudson steam locomotive, 1938

The Frisco Locomotives and Railcars

The Texas Special streamliner locomotive was of the EMD- E Series diesels. The streamliner diesel service began in 1947 with the EMD’s and in 1949 two Alco PA-1 diesels were added.

The locomotive was painted with a yellow nose and a large centered “Lone Star”.

Both railroads spent a lot of money on equipment and design. Red Pullman Standard cars with stainless steel sheathing were ordered and carried names of Texas locations and notable people. Rail cars included sleepers, diners, a coach buffet lounge, and a unique sleeper lounge observation. A full train would have seven sleeper cars. Interiors of the Texas Special also included red colors and reclining coach seats. This was about as first class a train you could offer the traveling public.

The Beginning of the End

Railroads in general faced an uphill battle when the Interstate Highway system became a reality. What eventually happened with the Frisco Texas Special was no different than what happened to non-transcontinental railroads all over the U.S. In addition to the Interstate highways, airports and air passenger traffic was increasing each year. In other words, the railroads faced competition like never before.

frisco passenger train schedule

Frisco schedule when later service ran only between Kansas City MO and Ft. Worth TX

The major change regarding the Texas Special was when the Katy was taken over by a new ownership group and began to focus more on the growing freight business.

With Katy’s new  lack of interest in both supporting the passenger business and with funding it adequately, Frisco decided to simply pull out of the partnership. This necessitated the Katy to make the northern terminus Kansas City rather than St. Louis. This change of course had negative traffic implications.  In 1964 the Texas Special passenger service ended south of Dallas and the Texas Special ceased operations entirely in 1966.

The economics of offering passenger rail service had changed dramatically. Railroad passengers were only five years away from the introduction of Amtrak in 1971.

You’ll also enjoy our photo articles on the Historic Pullman Cars and the Passenger Rocket Trains of the Rock Island Railroad. On our Western Trips site see the photo article on the Katy Railroad.

frisco heritage museum

Frisco Heritage Museum

Visiting the Frisco Heritage Museum

The Frisco Heritage Museum is an excellent addition to your Texas trip planner. The Frisco Heritage Museum is comprised on a modern museum building with a great collection of railroad artifacts, vintage automobiles, model trains, vintage printing equipment, oil industry artifacts and many other interesting items and murals. Outside the museum are a collection of historic homes and structures from Frisco’s past along with a 1910 steam locomotive and caboose. The museum address is 6455 Page Street, Frisco TX. The museum area is easily reached from Dallas via the Dallas North Tollway.

The year 2013 will bring about big changes to the Frisco Heritage Museum and surrounding grounds. The Museum of the American Railroad located in Dallas Texas will be relocating their entire collection to Frisco TX during 2013. The Museum of the American Railroad is a not-for-profit Texas corporation dedicated to celebrating the heritage and exploring the future of railroads through historic preservation, research, and educational programming.

For information and the status of the museum’s opening in Frisco TX, check out website

(Photos from author’s private collection. Frisco timetable schedule courtesy of Frisco Heritage Museum)