CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014 made its 2023 debut in June and July with the Home Run Express to the NCAA Men’s College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Though a tradition for the Class I railroad to showcase its various equipment at the 12th Street display site outside Charles Schwab Field, this year’s honor was given to the massive 4-8-8-4 in its very first attendance to the sporting event since the 2019 restoration.
In a nearly month-long tour filled with unique highlights, the locomotive performed very well, according to Austin Barker, Manager – Heritage Fleet Union Pacific. “We always try to keep it in top operating condition,” he explains. “It’s almost like new every time we take it out.
“It’s a very reliable locomotive, built well, designed well, and we got a great team that keeps it maintained to a standard.”
The highlight of the eastbound tour took place right out of the gate after No. 4014 departed the UP steam shops in Cheyenne, Wyo., on June 7. At Egbert, Wyo., the train diverged onto the Yoder Subdivision for a rare-mile jaunt to Gering, Neb., before rejoining the transcontinental main line west of North Platte the following day. “Stuff you wouldn’t expect to see in the Wyoming/Nebraska area is a tunnel [Yoder Tunnel] out in the middle of nowhere,” said Barker. “It was isolated, peaceful, serene-type scenery, and having this huge locomotive that really wouldn’t have ever gone up there during regular service, it was unique taking it up that way.”
Of course, no one can talk about the tour without mentioning the morning of June 29 in Blair, Neb. Departing Council Bluffs, Iowa on the return trip to Cheyenne, the steam crew was contacted by the UP dispatch to see if assistance was possible with a stalled westbound manifest ahead of No. 4014. In an opportunity that set the online world buzzing, the Big Boy’s power was tested by pushing the freight train up Blair Hill with the sights and sounds Barker described as incredible.
“To put that kind of a load on the locomotive that it would’ve seen in regular service,” he said, “it was a highlight because we put so much time and effort to have it perform so well.”
— YouTube video contributed by Oliver Brehm.
According to Robynn Tysver, Union Pacific Spokesperson, an estimated total of 52,000 people came out to see the Big Boy during the entire tour. Of the total, approximately 30,000 visited the locomotive at its World Series display site during the June 15-26 stay. The attendance demonstrates the continual public-relations value of the railroad’s steam program and the goodwill presented by both Nos. 4014 and 844.
Even with the 2023 Home Run Express tour concluded after the train arrived back in Cheyenne on July 3, the work continues with thorough maintenance, inspections, and improvements to prepare the locomotive for its next assignment. “What we do when we come back from a trip is that it takes about seven days for the boiler to cool off,” Barker explains. “We’ll then completely drain it, go a bit further by taking apart every steam valve, and perform a boiler wash in association with a 31-day inspection by the Federal Railroad Administration.
“This will sometimes roll into an annual inspection, which goes even deeper with the locomotive and tender separated to inspect the drawbar and everything else rolled into it. It’s a lot of maintenance, but the way we do things, No. 4014 is almost like new every time we roll it out and even better than when we first rolled it out in 2019.”
Announcements, updates, and schedules for future trips can be found by visiting Union Pacific’s Steam website.