An Alco Big Boy, 73 years after it rolled off the production line in Schenectady, and 53 years after it was retired by the Union Pacific, is gearing up for another trip.
One of 25 mammoth steam locomotives made by the American Locomotive Company between 1941 and 1944, Big Boy No. 4014, is making a trip from its current home, the Los Angeles Fairgrounds in Pomona, Cal., to the Union Pacific railyards in Cheyenne, Wyo.
No. 4014 — one of eight Big Boys left — has already been moved across the fairgrounds parking lot, and this morning is scheduled to be pushed and pulled 56 miles to the Union Pacific rail yard in Colton, Calif. There it will be on display at the Covina Metrolink Station for the first two weekends in February before resuming its more than 1,000-mile journey to Wyoming.
“We’re doing this to celebrate our employees, past and present, of the Union Pacific Railroad,” said Aaron Hunt, a Union Pacific spokesman. “We’re putting a lot of resources into getting No. 4014 back into operating condition, but we feel like it is the best way to personally connect with our communities. To see a steam locomotive like the Big Boy running on an open track, it’s really impactive. People love it.”
The locomotive, which is not running under its own power, will be worked on in Cheyenne, a process that may take as long as five years. After the renovation work is complete, the Big Boy will join Union Pacific’s fleet of historic steam locomotives and be used for excursion trains around the country. The Union Pacific fleet currently includes two other historic steam locomotives, but not a Big Boy.
“The Union Pacific will have what is literally and factually the largest and most powerful steam locomotive ever in regular service anywhere in the world,” said Rotterdam’s Dave Gould, historian for the Alco Historic and Technical Society. “Alco built 25 of them between 1941 and ’44, and they built them all for the Union Pacific, which used them as heavy-duty freight engines. It could pull a mile-long train of freight cars by itself, and it was built specifically for the UP to use in the Wasatch Mountains of Wyoming.”
The Union Pacific railyard at Cheyenne is home to another Big Boy, but company officials began pursuing No. 4014 in July 2012 from the Southern California chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society and the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona because it was in such good condition.
“The relatively dry air in Southern California has kept it in good shape,” said Gould. “Also, the local members of that chapter have kept the machine moving, so all that weight on the bearings would not deform them, and they’ve kept it lubricated and free from vandalism, bird droppings, bad weather and what not. When the Union Pacific officials decided that they wanted to repatriate one of the Big Boys, they looked at all eight of them and knew the one in Pomona was in the best shape.”
Along with No. 4014 and the other Big Boy already in Cheyenne, there are Big Boys on display at museums in Scranton, Pa., Green Bay, Wis., Frisco, Cal., Omaha, Neb., St. Louis and Denver. Schenectady’s Bernie Dezalia went to work at Alco in 1944 after getting out of the U.S. Army and remembers the Big Boy series fondly.
“They were longer than a regular locomotive and had extra wheels and a lot of horsepower,” said Dezalia, who turns 97 in March. “It was an impressive, beautiful engine, and I can remember one time when they brought it out of the shop to show it off, it couldn’t make it up this slight grade. They had to get a yard engine to pull it out of the shop and to then push it back in.”
Dezalia was an electrician at Alco, which was formed in 1901 when the Schenectady Locomotive Works merged with seven other manufacturers from around the East coast. John Ellis was the company’s founder in 1848.
Another former Alco employee, Schenectady’s Joe Mangino, said Alco workers who built steam locomotives didn’t have an easy or risk-free job.
“I didn’t work on them, but those steam locomotives had huge parts, and these big cranes would lift the parts and carry them right over the heads of the workers,” remembered Mangino, who turned 96 earlier this year. “We used to joke that if you got hurt, the company’s first call was to the unemployment office, to replace you, and then they’d call the ambulance. But they were beautiful engines, and these workers were like big blacksmiths, and sure, they took great pride in their work.”
Alco, which finally closed its Schenectady operation in 1969, was the second largest builder of steam locomotives in the world, behind only Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia.
Big Boy No. 4014 was built in November 1941 and delivered to the Union Pacific in December . In July 1959, it completed its final freight assignment, from Laramie to Cheyenne, and was then retired. In January 1962, it made its final run, departing from Santa Fe, N.M., and traveling an average of 20 mph to Colton, Cal. Two days later, it was moved to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona.
Hunt wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Big Boy No. 4014 returning to Schenectady.
“The locomotive is so heavy you have to be very particular about the track you operate it on,” said Hunt. “Right now, our heritage trains stay pretty much from Illinois to the west. But once it’s operating, you can never tell. We’d be willing to talk about bringing it to Schenectady, but these trains are very popular, and there will be a lot of communities interested in a visit.”