News & Reviews News Wire Work begins on Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985

Work begins on Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985

By Steve Glischinski | January 6, 2023

Crews stripping parts, lifting cab off locomotive

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Bridge crane lifting the cab of a steam locomotive
Inside the former Rock Island Railroad Silvis, Ill. shops, Railroading Heritage of Midwest America crews begin the process of restoring Union Pacific Challenger No 3985 to operation. This week the locomotive has been stripped of its appliances and the cab lifted off the unit. RRHMA


SILVIS, Ill. – Railroading Heritage of Midwest America crews have taken the first steps toward returning Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985 to operation this week by stripping parts off the 4-6-6-4. Today crews lifted the cab off the locomotive.

“RRHMA crews have been making good progress all week striping down [No.] 3985,” says Steve Sandberg, president and COO of RRHMA. It’s the first step in the process that will eventually result in No. 3985 returning to operation. The locomotive last operated for UP in 2010 and was stored at Cheyenne, Wyo., until last year as UP shifted its steam program’s focus to the restoration and operation of Big Boy No. 4014.

In addition to No. 3985, the Milwaukee Road turntable from Bensenville, Ill., donated by Canadian Pacific is being moved to the Silvis sandblasting booth where it will be cleaned and painted, Sandberg says. A local steelworkers union has offered to repair steel on the turntable as part of a training program for new steelworkers, Sandberg added. When the turntable is finished a pit will have to be dug out on the footprint of the original Rock Island turntable, which was removed decades ago.

In April 2022, RRHMA and Union Pacific jointly announced an agreement through which the railroad would donate Challenger No. 3985, 2-10-2 No. 5511, DDA40X No. 6936, and other equipment from UP’s Heritage Fleet to RRHMA. The equipment was moved by UP to Silvis in November 2022. RRHMA plans to restore both steam locomotives to operating condition. [see “Top 10 stories of 2022: No. 7, Railroading Heritage of Midwest America makes its mark in Silvis,” “News Wire,”, Dec. 27, 2022]

RRHMA is still seeking donations through a double matching grant program. Any donation will be matched twice by other donors. For example, a $100 donation will result in a $300 donation through the matching program. Donation can be made by visiting the RRHMA website.

5 thoughts on “Work begins on Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985

  1. Enjoyed a FRONTIER DAY trip from Denver-Cheyenne many years ago at the
    engine was a delight to watch on the trip. Elated that she will once again roam
    the rails but with what passenger cars ? The ones on my trip were UP in original
    colors and immaculate inside and out.

  2. That was my impression to – a good workshop. I wonder if UP included any of the extra parts it ordered during the 4014 restoration – it uses many of the same parts as Challengers, and I read that they ordered enough parts for both.

  3. A wise and friendly move to preserve the great North American railroad heritage from both the UP and RRHMA administrations.

    Let’s recall that RRHMA -a genuine pioneer in historic railroad preservationn- is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote public understanding of the history of railroading in the Midwest. RHMA accomplishes this goal by preserving, restoring, operating and interpreting historic locomotives and rail cars. RRHMA got its start in 1991 as the Friends of the 261 Inc. a volunteer group that supported the operation of Milwaukee Road 261, a steam locomotive based in Minneapolis-Minnesota. In 1997 the Friends of the 261 Inc. was incorporated as Railroading Heritage of Midwest America. A board of directors with five members manages the organization.

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

  4. Union Pacific 3985, also known as the “Challenger”, is a four-cylinder simple articulated 4-6-6-4 “Challenger”-type steam locomotive built in July 1943 by the ALCO of Schenectady, New York, for the Union Pacific Railroad. No. 3985 is one of only two Challengers still in existence and the only one to have operated in excursion service.

    No. 3985 operated in revenue service until 1957. It was then stored in the roundhouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, until 1975, when it was placed outdoors beside the Cheyenne depot. In 1981, after a group of Union Pacific employees restored the locomotive to operating condition, it was placed into excursion service as part of the Union Pacific’s heritage fleet and became the world’s largest operational steam locomotive. Mechanical problems took it offline in 2010, after which it was stored at the Union Pacific’s Steam Shops in Cheyenne.

    In 2019, the title of largest operational steam locomotive was passed to the newly restored 4-8-8-4 Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014. Because of its poor mechanical condition, No. 3985 was officially retired from excursion service in 2020.

    And now, an umpteenth life is just about to begin for the lovely & mighty No. 3985! Long may it runs again in the future!

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

  5. It is such a great thing to have a shop like that if you want to rebuild a locomotive like that. Maybe in our lifetime we will see a triple header with the Big Boy and 8444

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