Big Boy to meet its match in Duluth this month

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Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone No. 227, left, and Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 Big Boy No. 4014.
Two photos, Steve Glischinski
DULUTH, Minn. – When Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 pulls into the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth July 19, it will be within a few feet of one of its contemporaries: Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone No. 227. Built the same year as No. 4014, No. 227 may not be quite as big as No. 4014, but it holds one advantage: it had higher tractive effort, making it one of the most powerful steam locomotives ever built, more powerful even than the Big Boys.

Don’t believe it? Page through David P. Morgan’s seminal work Steam’s Finest Hour (Kalmbach, 1959) where Morgan states in the 1950s Yellowstone’s were pulling ore trains of more than 19,000 gross tons with tractive effort of 140,000 pounds. Big Boy’s tractive effort is listed as 135,375 pounds. But neither machine could match the all-time champ for a simple articulated: Great Northern’s R-2 Class 2-8-8-2s generated 146,000 pounds of tractive effort. Unfortunately, there are no R-2s extant today.

As part of the Big Boy’s visit to Duluth, the museum put together a comparison of the two locomotives:
Like Union Pacific with its Big Boys, DM&IR heavily promoted its Yellowstone locomotives, making them a symbol of the railroad. Long after steam was gone, the Missabe Road still included them in advertising, on calendars and other promotional pieces. And like UP, the Missabe was generous in preserving their largest steam power, saving three of the giant locomotives.

Why were such locomotives needed in Minnesota, which most people consider as flat and gradeless? The answer comes from geography and the Missabe’s main commodity: iron ore. “Natural” ore (versus taconite pellets moved today) is heavy: it’s like moving carloads of dirt. The DM&IR, created in 1938 with the merging of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern and Duluth & Iron Range, was facing increases in iron ore traffic and had to contend with “up and down” grades on the former D&IR. According to Frank A. King’s book “Locomotives of the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range” (Pacific Fast Mail, 1984) between Biwabik and Two Harbors maximum ruling grades for loaded trains were 0.62 percent at three locations varying from one to three miles. DM&IR looked to Baldwin for engines capable of handling 115-car, 8750-ton trains over the grades without stalling.

The result were eight 2-8-8-4s built by Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Missabe in 1941, partially based on Baldwin’s Western Pacific 2-8-8-2s built in 1931 and 1938. Their name came from the Northern Pacific, which owned the first of the type and named them for its Yellowstone Division. They weighed some 566 tons, were 128 feet in length, and their initial cost was $246,570 each. They were assigned to Two Harbors and used to move ore trains from the mines of the Vermilion and Mesabi Ranges. The engines far exceeded expectations, developing 6,000 horsepower and hauling 180-190 ore car trains. They consumed 10 to 12 tons of coal an hour and under load evaporated water into steam at a rate of 12,000 gallons per hour. An additional ten Yellowstone’s were delivered in 1943.

The Yellowstone’s even outlasted the Big Boys: the last ore run pulled by a 2-8-8-4 was made on July 5, 1960, nearly a year after the final Big Boy operation. Two Yellowstone’s operated on separate excursion trains out of Duluth on July 2, 1961, the last operations of the giant engines, although recently unearthed photos in the Museum collection provide evidence that Yellowstone No. 229 was under steam at the roundhouse in Proctor as late as November 1961.

During its 20-year operating life No. 227 hauled approximately 40 million long tons of iron ore (a “long ton” is approximately 2,240 pounds). It pulled its last ore train in June 1960, then was set aside for preservation, thanks to the efforts of DM&IR Vice President and General Manager Donald B. Shank. He had it placed inside the roundhouse in Proctor with the word “Save“ chalked on it. When the Museum project began in the early 1970s, No. 227 was earmarked to become the centerpiece exhibit. With the assistance of the DM&IR Veteran Employees Association, whose members raised over $8,000 for the project, it was restored and moved to the Depot in 1974.

In 2017 Union Pacific Senior Manager for Heritage Operations Ed Dicken’s came to Duluth to speak about the Big Boy restoration. While there, he asked to inspect No. 227, crawling around the engine. The museum even opened up the smokebox so he could take a look inside. Dicken’s declared the engine was in better shape that the 4014 – which could be expected since No. 227 was never stored or displayed outdoors. No. 4014’s journey to Duluth is no doubt a result of Dickens earlier trip to the Museum.

So, from July 19-21, it will be possible to inspect these two steam giants at once: one alive and under steam, and the other as close as you can get without actually being steamed. This is thanks to the unique way No. 227 is displayed, with revolving wheels and recorded sound. Its driving wheels are slightly suspended above the rails. Two electric motors are geared to a sprocket mounted in the axles that turn the wheels, allowing visitors to view No. 227’s massive machinery in motion. Every 30 minutes the locomotive comes to life, with an electronic system setting in motion the drivers, turning on the engine’s lights, and activating recorded sounds of 227 pulling ore trains in 1959. An accompanying narrative highlights the engine’s history and features. Visitors are also welcome to walk into the cab of the 227 and peer into its massive firebox.

If only these two locomotives “born” in 1941 could talk, what stories they could tell!

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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