Union Pacific celebrates 150th anniversary with transcontinental tour

Union Pacific's Big Boy No. 4014 locomotive stops in Niland commemorating its 150th anniversary during its transcontinental tour of the United States October 15.

NILAND — For over 150 years, Union Pacific has been the standard of railroad transportation in the United States. In fact, before the advent and commercialization of personal vehicles, railroad was by far the most popular form of transportation in the states. Union Pacific has had a hand in transporting Americans across this country for over 150 years, and this month they are showing off their humble beginnings to a new generation of train enthusiasts.

Commemorating their 150th anniversary this year, Union Pacific has restored its historic Big Boy steam No. 4014 locomotive. The newly restored locomotive has been touring the Union Pacific system all year to commemorate the transcontinental railroad's 150th anniversary.

"[This celebration] is absolutely fabulous," said Jim Leonard, Big Boy No.4014 conductor. "To see all these people come out and see a piece of history is truly remarkable." 

Leonard, a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been with Union Pacific for over 35 years and knows the significance of having this one-of-a-kind locomotive back in action.

"We've had this kind of turnout in every place we've stopped at," said Leonard. "I hope to continue to see people come out and see this wonderful piece of history."

The Big Boy’s return to the rails is the result of more than two years of meticulous restoration work by the Union Pacific Steam Team. No. 4014 is the world's only operating Big Boy locomotive.

Founded in 1862, the original Union Pacific Railroad was part of the First Transcontinental Railroad project but was absorbed by the Union Pacific Railway in 1880 and renamed the Union Pacific Railroad in 1897.

The Big Boy locomotive is a one-of-kind machine, and given its scarcity, people across the nation are able to see a unique piece of American history firsthand. 

The Big Boy locomotive is a mechanical beast — 133 feet long, 17 feet tall and weighs in at 1.2 million pounds. 

Big Boy No. 4014 is the largest steam locomotive in the world, and the only engine of its kind that’s still in operation. Union Pacific commissioned 25 Big Boy trains in 1941. Only eight are still in existence today; the others are on display across the country in seven cities including Dallas, Denver and St. Louis. No. 4014 was in service for 20 years and traveled over 1,031,205 miles before retirement.

The Big Boy No. 4014 departed from Cheyenne, Wyoming, September 27 and will make stops along the Union Pacific Southwest corridor stopping in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

Throughout its journey, the Big Boy No.4014 has seen large crowds all over the southwestern corridor of the U.S. Families from around the Valley flocked to Niland to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"We brought out as many of our grandchildren to see the train," said Julie Reeves of Brawley. "They'll probably never get another chance to see this great locomotive in person again."

The Big Boy No. 4014 will then retire again after its two-month journey through the U.S., returning to Cheyenne November 27.

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