On the same route of the proposed Big Boy West Coast Steam Tour, Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 leads a matched UP office car train westward through Speer, Wyo., in 2019. Jim Wrinn photograph
There was a collective groan that could be heard from many railfans west of the Rockies in 2022 when the Union Pacific Railroad postponed the long-anticipated West Coast Steam Tour of Big Boy No. 4014. We are hoping that 2023 will put the massive steam locomotive through its paces into the Pacific Northwest, where it has been many years since any steam excursion crisscrossed the region.
The proposed tour in 2022 would have taken No. 4014 west from its home base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the Overland Route through Utah and Nevada, before heading over the Sierra Nevada mountains down into California. The train would then traverse the ex-Southern Pacific route north through the Siskiyou and Cascades mountains before a fast run up the Willamette Valley into Oregon. The Big Boy would return east up the Columbia River Gorge and over the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon into Idaho, before continuing on back to Cheyenne.
With 2023 still up in the air, here are a few places to think about catching Big Boy No. 4014 if and when a schedule ever comes through.
As this is a moving tourist attraction, your key to success is to plan ahead. Events like this routinely have a large group that follows the train while trying to keep pace and leapfrogging to different locations. Although it can be enjoyable, there are hundreds or thousands of people trying to do the exact same thing on roads not typically intended for the traffic.
Departing Cheyenne, the area around Sherman Hill is always a good location to catch a working steam locomotive. Always remember to heed private and railroad property as places for photography can be on privately owned land. Your best bet to see the train is where you can easily access the public roadway.
Laramie, Wyo. would be a good location to spot No. 4014. There are several locations around town you can see the locomotive. Both Rock Springs and Green River, Wyo. provide good views of a passing steam locomotive.
Evanston, Wyo. can also be a key location right at the state line with Utah. One of the more scenic parts of the tour would be west of town in Echo Canyon where the tracks route through rugged rock outcroppings and canyons. This is all readily accessible from paralleling Interstate 80.
Although Ogden, Utah, is a larger city, there are excellent locations to see No. 4014 on its way in and out of town. If Big Boy is westbound, the train will cross the Great Salt Lake on the former Southern Pacific causeway known as the Lucin Cut-off. A fast run across the lake and climbing Pequop Hill is made just before reaching Nevada. Sparks – east of Reno – was a planned display day in 2022, and would have drawn a large crowd for viewing.
Interstate 80 will provide multiple access points for the trip over the Sierras into California, with good locations including Truckee, Norden, Soda Springs, and Colfax. Another display day was planned at Roseville, California, located near Sacramento.
If Big Boy is northbound out of Roseville, the train will run up the Sacramento Valley through Redding and Dunsmuir, Calif. Interstate 5 provides access to view the railroad snaking into the Siskiyou Mountains. Dunsmuir is a must-see location as the town sits right in the mountains along the Sacramento River with the famous Cantara Loop before No. 4014 winds its way up and over the shoulder of Mt. Shasta into Oregon.
U.S. Highway 97 follows the route from I-5 towards Klamath Falls, Ore., over Grass Lake summit, then paralleling north along Klamath Lake, providing some amazing spots. At Chemult, Ore., the tracks point west towards the crest of the Cascades before heading downgrade through two-dozen tunnels and snowsheds on its way to Eugene, Ore. It’s then a fast run up the Willamette Valley with Oregon Route 99E paralleling the line for miles.
Portland, Ore. was another planned display day in 2022. If it is again, plan for more on your itinerary, including the Oregon Rail Heritage Center which is home to Nos. 4449 and 700. Although the Union Pacific reaches Seattle, the Big Boy won’t be visiting, requiring Emerald City residents to trek south.
East of Portland, Interstate 84 follows the mainline up the Columbia River Gorge, providing from multiple viewpoints. Outside Pendleton, Ore., the line starts to climb the first of three mountainous grades that make up the Blue Mountains crossings with the town of LaGrande, Ore., between the first two grades. Highways 203 and 237 follow the tracks south to North Powder, Ore., providing access to some spectacular views of the working locomotive over the Telocaset grade.
The final display day will be in Boise, Idaho. From there, No. 4014 will continue east through Glenns Ferry, American Falls and Pocatello, Idaho, before reaching Granger, Wyo., on its final leg into Cheyenne.
As you can see with a proposed Big Boy West Coast Steam Tour, the opportunities for catching No. 4014 are endless. With some planning, luck and determination, you may have the chance to see the largest operating steam locomotive running right by you!