When Big Boy is on the move, people and dollars follow

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Crowds swamp Big Boy while on display at West Chicago Sunday morning.
Trains: Jim Wrinn
ADAMS, Wis. — In the heyday of the streamliner, the City of Adams was known as the meeting point of the Chicago & North Western’s “400” speedliners as they streaked between Chicago and Twin Cities in 400 minutes. Long a crew change point for C&NW, there aren’t as many trains anymore, but thanks to the visit of Big Boy No. 4014, Adams enthusiastically recalled its railroad roots while reaping economic benefits from thousands of visitors.

No. 4014 came to Adams for an overnight stop on July 24. Laura Hook of the Adams County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism said the town saw 4,000 to 5,000 people stop to see the engine (Adams population in the last census was just short of 2,000). “It had a great impact in our area, Hook says. “We saw increases in people coming to our restaurants, overnight stays in hotels, and the population that day,” she said. “After the event we talked to our business up and down Main Street and they said they were very busy and the hotels, especially along Highway 13, were full.”

In preparation for No. 4014’s arrival, the city and the county tourism websites posted information about the locomotive, social media campaigns were conducted, and it was promoted with radio spots. “We opened our flea market that day which is kitty corner from the tracks, so we had vendors out there,” Hook said. A non-profit group conducted a bratwurst fry as well. “We wanted to give everyone a ‘small town” feel with a little of flair to it,” she says. There was also a presentation to Ed Dickens and his crew of a banner that was created in 2012 that marked 100 years of railroading in Adams.

“We thought it was super cool and was a really nice segue into what the railroad has truly done for our community,” Hook said. “So, we really took and ran with that. We’ve even enlisted some of our businesses to look at shipping freight. We’ve been looking at some land available for industry that could use the railroad, Hook said.

Before No. 4014 came to Adams, it traveled through Minnesota. Traveling from Mason City, Iowa to St. Paul on July 17, the Big Boy made a 45-minute stop in Owatonna, Minn., on the former Rock Island Spine Line. Karen Pehrson, Director of Tourism & Conventions at the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce, guessed that there were 2,000 people who came to see the engine from both Owatonna and surrounding towns. This was despite the fact the train came on a weekday and rain was in the forecast. UP was in contact with the city and police departments prior to 4014’s arrival. “They had to shut down streets and do other things to prepare, so we were getting updates from them,” she said.

When the engine was in town, the Chamber did a live Facebook video feed that Pehrson said was one its top posts — over 14,000 people watched as the locomotive arrived in town and crowds surrounded it. “With people coming from surrounding towns and it being here over the lunch hour, it certainly helped our businesses,” she said.

On July 30 the Big Boy arrived in Clinton, Iowa, on the former Chicago & North Western mainline across Iowa. Officials there had no estimate on the crowds, but said thousands were lined up from where the tracks cross the Mississippi River at the east side of the city, past downtown and out to the ex-Chicago & North Western yard on the west side. Even though the viewing area at Clinton was limited, hundreds gathered around the engine for its 45 minute stop.

Big Boy has also had an impact on larger cities. As reported on Trains News Wire July 31, an estimated 45,000 people visited 4014 during its three days on display in West Chicago. In Duluth, Minn. the furthest north the Big Boy will travel on its Midwest tour, the estimate was 12,000 visitors from Friday evening July 19 through Sunday morning July 21. For its host the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, the visit of the engine was huge, according to LSRM Executive Director Ken Buehler. He said the number of visitors helped the museum set records in gift shop sales doubling its best day ever, set record attendance at the museum, and thanks to the generosity of Union Pacific, which allowed the museum to host a gathering aboard its cars Friday evening, the Lake Superior Museum Foundation raised $23,000.

The combination of economic gain for cities and towns along its system and goodwill toward the railroad make for a compelling argument that restoring a Big Boy was a wise move for Union Pacific.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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BNSF Railway's Willow Springs Intermodal Yard 


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