POMONA, Calif. – Union Pacific may be bringing back the ultimate steam machine, an Alco-built 4-8-8-4 Big Boy, the last of which steamed more than 50 years ago.
Company spokesman Mark Davis told Trains News Wire Friday that the company has been approached by and is working with a third party interested in restoring and operating a Big Boy. He said the railroad is evaluating the condition of preserved UP Big Boy locomotives and that it believes two might be available for restoration. Davis declined to name the other party or give a timeline for the project. But at least one organization is already talking about its potential to put a Big Boy back on the main line.
The treasurer of the Southern California railroad club that owns a displayed Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 says his group hopes to learn more Saturday about a UP offer to acquire No. 4014 for restoration and operation.
In an exclusive interview with Trains News Wire, John Mastrobuoni from Prescott, Ariz., said the Southern California Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society is eager to find out if the railroad can meet its requirement that a replacement piece take the place of the Big Boy at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona. The engine is one of eight survivors of the 25 locomotives that Alco built beginning in 1941 for freight service between Cheyenne, Wyo., and Ogden, Utah until the last steamed in 1959.
Mastrobuoni said he participated by phone in a meeting Tuesday in which Ed Dickens, who manages UP’s fleet of historic operating steam and diesel equipment, appeared at a chapter meeting in California to pitch the idea. He said Dickens on Saturday is expected to provide more details about what UP would offer and called discussions “preliminary.”
The idea is already controversial, as some board and chapter members consider the Big Boy as the centerpiece of the club’s exhibit. The 4014 was donated to the chapter in 1962. The exhibit also includes a UP DD40X Centennial diesel No. 6915, UP 4-12-2 No. 9000, Southern Pacific 4-10-2 No. 5021, and Santa Fe 4-6-4 No. 3450.
“If we can come to an agreement with the railroad, an operating Big Boy is better than one on display,” Mastrobuoni said. “We’d lose the engine for display, but we’d be known everywhere as the group that helped make one run again.”
He added that rebuilding the No. 4014 would take several years with the aim of operating for the 150th celebration of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 2019. The coal-burning engine would be converted to oil firing.
The railroad has not publicly announced plans to expand its operating steam locomotive fleet, which includes the never retired 4-8-4 No. 844, which made an extensive systemwide tour this year for the company’s 150th anniversary of its founding, and 4-6-6-4 No. 3985, which is undergoing a major overhaul.
Contrary to Internet reports that UP has vetted the other seven Big Boys, representatives of the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wis., the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, and the Steamtown National Park Service site in Scranton, Pa., said Friday that none have been officially contacted. On its face, the engine in southern California, with its dry climate, would be among the best condition.
In addition to 4014, the following UP Big Boys are still in existence:
4004, in Holliday Park, Cheyenne, Wyo.; 4005, Forney Transportation Museum, Denver, Colo.; 4006, Museum of Transport, St. Louis,Mo.; 4012, Steamtown, Scranton, Pa.; 4017, National Railroad Museum, Green Bay, Wis.; 4018, Museum of the American Railroad, Dallas, Texas; 4023, Kenefick Park, Omaha, Neb.