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)