Steam Update: Forging Ahead with Big Boy's Restoration

Disassembled Big Boy in May 2017.

Disassembled locomotive No. 4014.

Some exciting news about the Big Boy No. 4014 restoration: the UP Steam Team recently received several 1,000-pound forgings.

"Have you ever held a metal wrench in your hand?" asked Ed Dickens, Union Pacific senior manager – Heritage Operations. "A wrench is an example of a forging. Forgings are made with a special combination of steels called alloy. The extremely hot alloy is formed into the shape of each part. The die — or molds used to form the parts — are based on Union Pacific's original drawings. We just received forgings of No. 4014's crosshead guides."

The crosshead guides are part of the connection between the locomotive's piston rods and main rods. The pistons and rods are responsible for distributing power to the locomotive's wheels. Dickens said when the 1,000-pound forgings are machined down to the right size; each half weighs just under 400 pounds.

UP Steam Update - May 2017

Union Pacific Senior Manager - Heritage Operations Ed Dickens describes some of locomotive No. 4014's new parts.

Although the team's focus is on getting the Big Boy up and running, there are plans to do similar maintenance on locomotive No. 844.

"Once we have the Big Boy in service for 2019, we'll perform this level of new component replacement on No. 844," Dickens said. "Seeing the locomotives come together with so many new parts is really exciting."

As work on the Big Boy continues, the team also is preparing for locomotive No. 844's upcoming Home Plate Special trip to Omaha.

"We'll leave Cheyenne on June 11," Dickens said. "Then we'll depart North Platte, Nebraska, on June 12 for Council Bluffs, Iowa. We'll move over to the Home Plate (where No. 844 will be displayed) on June 14. The College World Series opens on June 15." The complete schedule is available at upsteam.com.

Link forgings prior to machining.

Locomotive No. 4014's new link forgings.

If you plan to watch, follow or photograph No. 844 as it makes its way to Omaha, the Steam Team asks that you to keep safety top of mind.

There's no doubt that steam locomotives are fascinating, and often a once-in-a-life-time experience. Watching one pass is a moment that should be enjoyed.

To ensure a good experience, follow these guidelines:

  • Trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks. Please keep clear. A train’s distance from you and its speed can't be accurately perceived by the human eye.
  • The average train overhangs the track by at least three feet – take extra precaution and stand back at least 25 feet from all railroad tracks.
  • Do not block vehicular traffic at designated rail crossings. Please stand clear of both the road and the tracks. Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and right-of-way are private property – please do not trespass.
  • Be aware of your surroundings – especially when capturing photos or videos.
  • Review the Steam Safety Tips page before setting out to view a passing steam locomotive.

"Railroaders are often parents too, and we encourage people, especially children, to stay a safe distance away from the tracks," Dickens said. "Don't focus on just the one track. Often there's another track next to or behind you. Consider all railroad property – even the track a steam locomotive is arriving on – as high-speed, heavy-duty industrial property."

Often, locomotive No. 844 is closely following a freight train. These trains are operating all the time and they can approach from either direction at a moment's notice.

"You can assist us by politely reminding others to keep a safe distance as you wait for the steam train," Dickens said. "I know that watching the locomotives work is a fascinating experience. However, when we are moving along next to a roadway, please stay focused on driving and let others do the photography."

Dickens says when No. 844 pulled into Boise, Idaho, during April's Boise Turn Special trip; it was like pulling into a rock concert.

"I get goose bumps just explaining it," he said. "There were people everywhere, so many children and adults, waving flags, jumping, waving and cheering. We love seeing all the people. You can't help but get emotional when you see America like that. We love it, and we just want to make sure everyone has a good, safe experience."

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