Union Pacific "Big Boy" 4014

A look into the past at a massive steam engine

Event Report 20140202

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The Experience

About a week ago I saw a news item that a very, very large steam locomotive was being moved from a museum in Pomona, CA to Cheyenne, WY for restoration.  Kathleen is quite a train buff, so I did some research to see if the loco was visible anywhere within a reasonable distance.  To my surprise, we discovered that it was available for viewing at the Union Pacific West Colton yard in Colton, CA.  So we loaded up the M5 and drove the 120 miles to get a first hand look at a 1,200,000 pound chunk of steel.

The photos below are what we saw.

The drive to Colton was on Super Bowl Sunday so it was easy going.  We arrived there around noon and found a very good Mexican restaurant for lunch.  When we were done, we headed south over I-10 and got a view of Union Pacific's West Colton yard from the overpass.  We could only see about 10% of the yard, but it is huge and sits at a major intersection of rail traffic.  The yard is staging trains 24/7 and indeed we could see traffic going through the "hump yard" as the trains were being assembled.  Above is part of the fueling complex.  There are a lot of "motors" sitting over there and at about a million dollars a pop that is a lot of capital equipment sitting idle.

Closer to the freeway we could see the yard master's tower that allows them to see operations in the yard.

Looking for the display area for the steam engine, we mistakenly turned into the main yard.  While we were turning around, we could see some of the rolling stock awaiting a crew.

Lots of motors just sitting idle.

A photo of 4014 in service.

We finally found the correct entrance gate and found a place to park.  There were a surprising number of folks there checking out the train.  The U.P. employees were handing out flyers that described a bit of the history of these steam engines.  4014 has been sitting in a museum since 1961 and has not moved moved until this restoration was planned.  And, at 1.2 million pounds, I doubt that theft was a concern.

The handout they gave us told the whole story: this beast is massive.

This graphic does a good job of giving you a feel for the size of these locomotives

We came up to Big Boy from the rear as that is the way they channeled traffic.  The U.P. put up a ton of temporary fence to allow folks access to the area.  The yard is very busy and motors passed us many times.  The photo above shows the rear end of the tender car.  Note the new knuckle on the rear of the car.  Since the car had been sitting idle since 1961, a bit more than 50 years, the knuckles were replaced for safety reasons to allow the loco-tender combination to be towed to the Colton yard.  The tender held both coal and water, but depending on the work load, the water almost always ran out first.  Early railroads had water towers every 50 miles or so to refill the tender's tanks.

The tender had 7 of these axles supporting it's 427,000 pound mass.

While this photo does not really convey the length of this beast, one later in the set will.

Standard air brakes.

The trucks supporting the rear of the loco were massive chunks of cast iron.

I glanced between the loco and tender and spotted the coal feed auger.  The auger ran underneath the coal bin and fed the coal forward to the firebox of the loco.  Like everything else, the auger was steam powered.

West Colton is a busy yard and long chains of motors being repositioned passed by frequently.

The junction between the loco and tender had huge twin links for pulling and a hemi-spherical push-pad for braking.  Note the lubrication hose that greases the push-pad.

Something old and something new.  The side of the loco had a TransCore radio transponder to allow the U.P.'s track-side tracing system to keep track of the loco's position.  This was interesting as Kathleen worked with that group.  Note the really ugly weld; that is one nasty bead.

Huge 68" drive wheels had pressed-on rolling surfaces made out of carbon steel.

The large rivets are about the size of a chicken egg.

Kathleen is about 5'8" so you can get a sense of scale.

The driver arms had interesting wire-ties acting as lock nuts.

This is a rocker-arm actuated oil pump.  Note the new lubrication hoses that are attached.

The driver arm was not connected to the steam piston.  The diameter of the main piston is 23.75" and at 300 psi operating pressure one piston pushes with a force of 132,904 pounds per piston.  This loco has 4 pistons running at the same time.

The piston rod goes through the hole in the casting.

This loco has logged about a million miles on the rails and during that time has had many service actions.  Note the big hammer dings on the face of the hardened metal connecting rod.

Another oil pump, this one was chain driven..

Both the valve piston and the drive pistons were removed.  Note the size of the inlet duct that passes steam from the boiler to the valve-piston assembly

This Big Boy was completed in 1941 during WWII.

My camera has a 24mm focal length at widest setting and it was not possible to capture the entire loco in one frame.  Note the new knuckle on the front connection point.

There were plenty of folks in awe of the size of the loco.

This guide handles the main driver arm.

Note the size of the steam delivery pipes.

This piston is used to reverse the direction of the loco.

The wheels are connected to the axles with huge hardened keys.

This photo shows about 80% of the length of the loco.  This is one big SOB.  Note the chains on the driver wheels to prevent the loco from rolling.

The area had gotten some rain in the preceding week that turned to snow at higher elevations.  The San Jacinto range to the east is over 10,000 feet in altitude.

A parting shot of the busy West Colton yard.  Yet another string of huge motors passed us being moved as part of train assembly.

Big Boy is a sight to behold and is larger than today's diesel-electric locomotive by quite a bit.  But, as you can tell from the photos, steam engines are very complicated and the large number of moving parts made it an easy decision to replace them with more reliable equipment.  That said, I look forward to seeing Big Boy in operation sometime in the future.

The visit to the West Colton yard made me fully appreciate the amount of effort and capital equipment that is required to make a railroad operate.

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