The Union Pacific Steam Team completed a 60-mph, all-systems check of the No. 844 steam locomotive on July 12, marking the icon’s return to the main line after a three-year absence.
Likening the No. 844 inspection and repair process to completely changing out a car’s motor, J. Scott George, Steam Shop director, said the locomotive’s overhaul was so significant – extensive firebox repair, rebuilt air brakes and piping, new flues and tubes and, of course, a fresh, glossy coat of paint – it needed to be ‘broken in.’
“Though we had tested 844 over the past several weeks, this break-in run was the first full-speed, main line operation since 2013,” George said. “The break-in run’s purpose was to let the engine show us what it could do, and also to identify any components needing further attention.”
The run was handled by a five-person crew: Ed Dickens, senior manager - Heritage Operations, Firemen Kirt Clark and Ted Schulte, Pilot Engineer Tom Bennett and Pilot Conductor Ted Lovell. The crew operated No. 844 on a 110-mile loop between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Greeley, Colorado.
“Until today, 844 was like a brand-new baseball mitt – stiff and rigid,” Dickens said. “Now, it’s been oiled and smoothed and is ready for the big leagues.”
Instead of a traditional train consist of heritage passenger cars, No. 844 and its tender pulled just four other pieces of equipment: a water car, a tool car, a boiler dorm and the Centennial unit, UP 6936, a 1969 diesel locomotive that simulated the dynamics of a longer and heavier train consist.
During the circular journey, the team evaluated No. 844’s performance. No exceptions or issues were found during the break-in run.
“The steam locomotive performed flawlessly,” George said.
The break-in run was the final dress rehearsal before No. 844 heads south to Denver to pull the Cheyenne Frontier Days Denver Post Special on July 23. It also was the culmination of years of dedicated work by the Steam Team – a 10-strong group of machinists, boilermakers, brakemen, train crew professionals and managers – which has spent years repairing the engine to its original condition.
“This is a fabulous end to a tremendous amount of work,” Dickens said. “The team will now transition fully to restoring the UP 4014 Big Boy steam locomotive.”
A tentative schedule of No. 844’s display locations and times for July 23 will be available in the coming weeks.