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)

Baldwin Locomotive

Trips Into History visits one of the most successful steam locomotive manufacturing companies in American history. No doubt you’ve seen some of the steam locomotives produced by the Baldwin Locomotive Works from Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

1911 baldwin steam locomotive

The 1911 Baldwin Steam Locomotive

These vintage steam trains are on display at museums and historical sites all over America. During it’s heyday, Baldwin Locomotive, founded in 1831, turned out some of the most historic steam engine trains in American history. An interesting side note about Baldwin was that their locomotive business actually predated the era of commercial photography and the designs first showed to prospective customers were hand drawn illustrations.

During the first days of steam locomotives on the American scene, Baldwin was the leading builder. Baldwin was known to build the established type locomotives as well as engines that were essentially designed by it’s customers. It was the foremost name in American steam engine trains. Baldwin Locomotive Works was also known as an innovator of electric locomotives at the start of the 20th century.  Most historians put 1905 as the peak year for steam locomotive demand. The company also had a hand in the development of the diesels however it never was able to make a success of it’s production. Baldwin actually developed a line of diesels in the 1940’s but could never attain a survivable share of the market. Nevertheless, when a railroad buff talks about the great  steam locomotives, the old Baldwin Locomotive always enters the conversation.

baldwin locomotive

1911 Baldwin 2-8-0

Baldwin Locomotive Works also built steam tramway motors for lines in both this country and overseas. Interestingly enough, the company was founded by a silversmith and jeweler named Mathias W. Baldwin. Baldwin along with a machinist partner began building small steam motors.

The Baldwin 2-8-0

The steam train locomotive shown at left is a 1911 Baldwin 2-8-0. This particular steam locomotive was built for the Moscow, Camden and St. Augustine Railroad which operated in east Texas. The railroad still operates today as a short line carrier and is a subsidiary of Georgia Pacific. Today the railroad operates 6.9 miles of track from Camden Texas to a connection with the Union Pacific Railroad in Moscow Texas. The steam engine was a coal burner that was modified in 1929 to burn oil. The locomotive’s dry weight is 110,000 pounds. The driving wheels are 44 inches in diameter and the front guiding wheels are 24 inches.

baldwin locomotive boiler

Cab interior boiler area

The engine’s boiler is 54 inches in diameter. The locomotive is capable of 20,000 pounds of tractive effort. In terms of railroad locomotives, tractive effort is the power needed to accelerate the train from start to a certain speed. This is the power  needed to overcome the drag created by the rail cars to be pulled. The heavier the drag the more tractive effort or force that is required.

The 2-8-0 configuration of this locomotive means that the locomotive has two leading wheels on one axle, eight powered driving wheels on four axles and and no trailing wheels.

This 1911 Baldwin locomotive has a tender that holds 3,000 gallons of water and 1,200 gallons of fuel oil. The steam locomotive shown here was retired from service in 1956. The Texas Transportation Museum where it is now on display acquired the locomotive in 1970. This 1911 Baldwin went on display in 1984.

baldwin locomotive driving wheels

1911 Baldwin locomotive 44 inch driving wheels

Two additional Trips Into History photo articles you’ll find interesting are the famous Rocket Trains and Amtrak’s Southwest Chief which took over much of the old route of the historic AT & SF Super Chief.

The Santa Fe 5000 Locomotive

When it comes to a steam train ,the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 5000 locomotive shown here is a geat example and it’s on display at Santa Fe Park near downtown Amarillo Texas.

The Santa Fe 5000 represents one of the most advanced designs that ever came out of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. This engine was built in 1930 expressly for the AT & SF Railroad. This steam locomotive was built for maximum traction and was a maximum freight engine. The configuration is a 2-10-4. The 2-10-4 type locomotive represented the most powerful steam locomotive on the Santa Fe Railway System.

santa fe 5000 steam locomotive

Santa Fe 5000 Locomotive

While the locomotive was built by Baldwin, the design of this engine was largely conceived by outside developers working for the AT & SF. Reportedly, the railroad and the designers had to sign off on any changes suggested by the factory.

Specs on this engine included a 104 inch diameter boiler, driver wheels of 69 inches and a driver wheelbase of 24 feet, 6 inches. This locomotive is massive in size and is one of the first impressions you get when seeing it up close.

During the Santa Fe 5000’s service life the locomotive traveled some 1,750,000 miles. The engine, which had been given the name “Madame Queen“, was retired from the Santa Fe system in 1957. The powerful steam locomotive lasted until the modern diesels came on the scene. Fortunately, the Santa Fe 5000 was saved from the scrappers. Most of the 5000 series locomotives did get scrapped but there are thought to be nine survivors presently spread around the U.S.

steam locomotive controls

Cab controls in the AT & SF Railroad 5000

The city of Amarillo received the locomotive directly from the AT & SF. After sitting idly for many years, restoration efforts began in 2005 and lasted three years. The locomotive was restored by the Railroad Artifact Preservation Society with financial help given by the city of Amarillo and various business interests.

The Santa Fe 5000 locomotive is registered with the Texas State Historical Commission and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Both of these fascinating Baldwin steam locomotives are on display in Texas. The 1911 Baldwin is at the Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio and the Santa Fe 5000 is on display near downtown Amarillo.

One of the very best railroad museums which also features Baldwin Locomotive engines is in Sacramento California. The California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento might very well be the best railroad museum in the world. The museum exhibits everything from the Governor Stanford steam train to the modern day diesels. If your western road trip includes Sacramento you’ll want to add this one to your trip planner.

(Photos from author’s private collection)