UP gives young railfan who died of cancer touching farewell

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Elliot Burgos with his family at the Union Pacific yard in Mason City, Iowa.
Burgos family
Elliot Burgos' casket.
Burgos family
MASON CITY, Iowa — Elliot Burgos loved trains.

Elliot’s parents, Jonathan and Shanda, say Elliot’s fascination began when he was young and never dissipated. One of the Mason City boy’s favorite places was the Union Pacific yard in his hometown.

“He was just fascinated by trains,” his father says. “By the power, by the cargo, by the horns, by all of it.”

Even after Elliot was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2016, he still loved to go down to the tracks and watch the big yellow locomotives roll by. With the help of some local UP employees, Elliot even got to take a cab ride around the yard. Shanda says the rail yard had quickly become a special place for her son and her family. But she never realized how special it was until last Saturday, five days after Elliot died. He was just 9 years old.

Following the young boy’s funeral in Mason City, the family decided to take his casket — which was painted to look like a locomotive — down to the rail yard one final time.

“We just figured we’d sit there for a few minutes,” Shanda says. But upon their arrival, the UP employees, including a special agent, who had organized Elliot’s visit more than a year earlier invited them into the terminal. That’s when Shanda saw locomotive No. 8508, an SD70ACe. The number has significant meaning to the family since Elliot’s birthday is Aug. 5, 2008. In fact, the family had even put “8508” on Elliot’s casket.

“It was crazy,” Shanda says, adding that she had applied the numbers to Elliot’s casket because she knew most locomotive’s have four digit numbers, but she did not realize there was a real “8508.” Much less that it was in Mason City that Saturday.

UP’s local employees moved the locomotive — which had mistakenly been taken off a train earlier in the day — so that the family could put Elliot’s casket next to it. Shanda says she does not believe it was a coincidence that the locomotive ended up in Mason City on the day of Elliot’s funeral.

As the family left the yard, UP’s local employees sounded the horn on multiple locomotives in honor of the young rail enthusiast.

“I had a sense of peace when we left the rail yard,” Shanda says. “It was like Elliot was telling us ‘I’m ok.’”
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