Hundreds of people filed into downtown Pacific and Washington Monday to watch the world’s largest steam locomotive roll through, and many more crowded alongside railroad tracks elsewhere in the county. Union Pacific’s historic “Big Boy” 4014 came through the area on a tour celebrating this country’s rich history of railroads.
For many in the crowd, the locomotive exceeded expectations.
“I knew it was big,” said Don Jaeger, who came from Sullivan to Washington to see the steam engine. “But you never know how big it really is until you’re standing next to it.”
Jaeger said his father worked in railway mail service, so trains have always been special to him.
The “Big Boy” dates back to 1941, when the first of these steam engines was delivered, according to the company’s online historical records. Only 25 of the steam engines were built, and they were exclusive to Union Pacific. Only eight still exist today, and only No. 4014 is still operational. It was restored by Union Pacific in 2019, when it did a similar tour to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion. The steam engines are 132 feet long and weigh 1.2 million pounds. They have hinged frames that allow them to navigate curves even with their huge size and weight. They sit on a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement: four wheels at the front to guide the engine, eight drivers, another set of eight drivers and four wheels in the back to support the rear of the locomotive. The massive engines normally pulled freight cars between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. No. 4014 was retired in December 1961. It traveled 1.03 million miles in its 20 years in service.
Kaity Murphy and Kala Moran, of Washington, brought Moran’s 2-year-old son, Isaac, to see the train.
“It was like seeing a little piece of history,” Moran said. “Or as our 2-year-old said, ‘It was loud.’ ”
Harry and Cathy Bernskoetter, of Taos, were among the 20-plus people to ride on a charter bus from Rolla to see the train in Washington.
“I didn’t expect this many people. This is quite the crowd,” Harry Bernskoetter said.
Dennis Bennett, of Columbia, also was among those on the tour bus organized by Nick Barrett, of USA Tours. Bennett said seeing the famed locomotive was like witnessing a piece of living American history.
“This is a big train. Big men built these things by hand. You see it, and you have to be impressed by the ingenuity of human beings to build such big things,” Bennett said. “Just think of the American know-how that went into building this train. You’ve got to be proud of the American spirit when you see this train.”
He also appreciated the symbolism of seeing the train in Washington. “In Washington, you see the river, which was the original mode of transportation, then you have the trains, the highways. I think this is a great spot to see this train.”
People in Pacific also were excited about the train coming through.
Dan Whitlock, who came to see the steam engine in Pacific, said he was one of the first people to sign a petition asking Union Pacific to have the locomotive stop in Pacific.
Pacific is one of 131 communities named a “Train Town USA” by Union Pacific. Whitlock pointed out how important trains are to the town. “Look around. Look at the crowd,” he said pointing to the hundred or so people surrounding the tracks.
In Pacific, Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy and Pacific Mayor Herb Adams boarded the train and rode it to Washington.
“It was the chance of a lifetime,” Lucy said. “I thought it was really, really cool.”
Lucy said that as the train neared Washington, seeing the crowds of people lined along the tracks brought tears to her eyes.
“You know, here you are on this journey, and you go to your hometown and see all these crowds,” she said. “It was just a wholesome feeling.”
She said the inside felt very old and authentic without all the modern day technology. “It’s still like how it would’ve been back in the day,” she said.
The locomotive also made stops in St. Louis, Kirkwood and Hermann. The train’s full tour includes 10 states: Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Colorado, according to a Union Pacific press release.
The Missourian’s Ethan Colbert also contributed to this report.