Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014 was greeted by hundreds of railroad enthusiasts and people simply interested in witnessing a piece of history as it stopped in Hardin on Wednesday, Aug. 18, roughly midway through a historic tour to celebrate railroad heritage in the communities served by Union Pacific Railroad.
The steam locomotive, weighing in at 1.2 million pounds, was restored for Union Pacific for 2019’s “Great Race” tours to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion. Eighty years ago, 25 of the Big Boy locomotives were built exclusively for Union Pacific. Of the eight still in existence, No. 4014 is the world’s only operating Big Boy.
Ed Dickens, engineer for the historic locomotive, called it Union Pacific’s best public relations ambassador.
“Everywhere this locomotive goes, it makes friends. People are just fascinated when they hear the story of Big Boy. It is a machine from another time. The railroad community, the enthusiasts who really love railroads, were told they would never see one running again because they are too big. That all changed in 2012 when UP decided to begin restoring it,” Dickens said.
The stop in Hardin, Texas, was one of dozens of brief stops that are planned along the circuitous route from Cheyenne, Wyom., where the locomotive is headquartered, down to Houston, Texas, across to New Orleans, and then north to St. Louis, Miss., and then back west to Cheyenne.
“The trip is 35 days, 4,000 miles, 10 states and dozens of stops like this one,” Dickens said.
During each stop, a small army of UP employees make sure everything is in good working order while Dickens and others UP ambassadors visit with the hundreds of people who typically in attendance. Most of the crew hail from Colorado and Wyoming, though a Texas engineer, John Kovatch, was included this year.
Kovatch, who grew up in Orange, Texas, said his fascination with trains began as a young child working with his parents on their feed and farm business, which was serviced by the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
“I used to watch them switch out cars and I thought it wasn’t a bad job,” Kovatch said. He joined Union Pacific in 1977 and is now a locomotive engineer.
While he has traveled the rail lines hundreds of times over the last 44 years, Kovatch said this trip in particular was special.
“It made me feel like a kid again,” he said, smiling.
If you missed the Big Boy tour in Texas, you will have to travel to catch other stops. On Thursday, it was making stops in Beaumont and Orange, Texas, and stops in Louisiana. The locomotive should arrive in New Orleans at around 7:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20, where it will be on display until Sunday when it will depart for the next leg of the journey.
For information on other stops, go online to https://www.up.com/heritage/steam/schedule/index.htm