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Big Boy etiquette: How to see Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 safely

By Jim Wrinn | August 3, 2021

Watching Big Boy 4014 in action requires study and a heightened situational awareness

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Steam locomotive sprays steam on spectators in a downtown setting
Steam locomotive smokes profusely among trees
No. 4014 wows the crowd at Jefferson, Texas, in November 2019. Jim Wrinn photo

Before you head out to watch the world’s largest steam locomotive in August 2021, here are Big Boy etiquette tips you should know.

Big Boy on the move

Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 will set out eastward from its homebase in Cheyenne, Wyo., bound for New Orleans. This is the first time for the locomotive to work its way to the Crescent City since its 2019 restoration and grand debut in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first Transcontinental Railroad. After sitting out 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s largest operating steam locomotive will be on the road 35 days. Between Aug. 5 and Sept. 8, the 600-ton heavyweight steam champion will cover an amazingly large portion of the central and southeastern parts of the UP system. Thousands will turn out to admire its 6,000-horsepower and amazing articulation. You should be one of them.

Let’s get ready to watch No. 4014 put on a show. Let’s start with preparation, and then practical advice for being in the field. Get the most out of your Big Boy viewing experience.

Preparing to watch Big Boy

Preparation is essential, and it begins with the upsteam.com website, where the schedule is published. After choosing the days you want to witness No. 4014, pick the location(s) you want to view the train. Then spend time with your favorite online mapping program. Do you want to see the locomotive as it pauses during one of its stops or in a display city? Or do you want to see it on the road in full stride? You will find that Big Boy attracts large crowds so make your travel plans conservatively to see and follow it. A large motorcade is likely to be with the train at all times. Follow traffic rules, don’t speed, and don’t try to pass large numbers of cars on two-lane roads.

Steam locomotive sprays steam on spectators in a downtown setting
Spectators view No. 4014 as it leaves Palestine, Texas, in November 2019. Jim Wrinn photo

Big Boy etiquette pro tip: Leapfrog

If you can drive the route in advance, you can locate the best viewing areas that offer plenty of parking. One pro tip: Plan on viewing Big Boy once between stops and you won’t be disappointed. Leapfrog the train. Catch No. 4014 leaving first thing, then get ahead of the train while it makes one of its display stops. Keep doing that throughout the day, and you’ll come away with several views of the train.

Big Boy etiquette pro tip: Stand at least 25 feet away from the track

UP has asked spectators to give the train 25 feet of clearance. That’s ample space to be able to view the engine and still be safe from open cylinder cocks. You’ll find at many crossings, people who have come to see the train who are standing at the edge of the crossties. Way too close. If you can politely help them back up from the tracks, it’s a good thing.

Remember that all tracks are considered to be active, so don’t go on railroad property and don’t stand on tracks. UP doesn’t have the luxury of shutting down the busy railroad when No. 4014 runs, so it is often meeting or passing (or being passed by) freight trains.

If you’re using a cell phone to record images and video of No. 4014, remember that the wide-angle lens may be deceiving when it comes to determining how close you are to active tracks. When in doubt, put extra space between yourself and the end of the crossties.

Watching Big Boy No. 4014 in action in the 21st century is a gift. We never thought we’d be so lucky witness of the steam era’s superstars in action 80 years after it was built. Do your homework, get out there and watch and photograph the steam train, and be safe. You’ll be glad you did. The images and the memories are priceless.

Photographers stand in a ditch alongside steam locomotive
Trackside photographers take in No. 4014 in Texas on its fall 2019 tour. Jim Wrinn photo

4 thoughts on “Big Boy etiquette: How to see Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 safely

  1. Great tips for anyone going to view. Did Union Pacific give any specific recommendations for drone photography or video? I know that they have some on their website for regular times but with something like this I thought they might have something more specific.

  2. I’m guessing that private drones are prohibited over UP property without prior approval, and by the various public entities in most places that 4014 will stop in. IOTW, you’d have to do some heavy research or make arrangements in many places. Pro’s would likely do this on a regular basis. Even where you don’t, you still need to follow Fed and state rules and regs including licensing or registration.

  3. I’m guessing that private drones are prohibited over UP property without prior approval, and by the various public entities in most places that 4014 will stop in. IOTW, you’d have to do some heavy research or make arrangements in many places. Pro’s would likely do this on a regular basis. Even where you don’t, you still need to follow Fed and state rules and regs including licensing or registration.

  4. With tips on how to see UP’s big boy in action starts with a schedule as those wonder if they have access to a vehicle when they pre-plan the route to have the best advantage when those ask if they want to see her at rest or showing her muscle when of rules and common sense had those know railways are active as spectators are warned about leaving two feet from the locomotive to be safe yet have a glimpse at the locomotive to be safe from blow off steam.

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