Hundreds of people converged on the Union Pacific railyard in North Little Rock Thursday afternoon to get a close-up look at the world’s largest steam locomotive train engine as the Big Boy No. 4014 train made an overnight stop amid a 10-state tour. The stop marked its seventh stop in the state, while it drew an appreciating crowd of onlookers at Little Rock’s Union Station when it simply rolled through.
The day’s previous whistle stops included Prescott, Gurdon, Arkadelphia and Malvern, while the train was scheduled to later stop in Bald Knob, Tuckerman and Walnut Ridge before crossing into Missouri. Its overall run began at its Cheyenne, Wyoming home base and featured one-day public display events in Fort Worth and Houston, New Orleans, St. Louis and Denver.
This is the first tour for Big Boy in two years, after its 2019 tour followed an extensive three-year restoration project that outfitted the behemoth with a fully modernized Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system. The locomotive weighs 780,000 pounds and employes a 10-man crew to operate it on this current run.
The Big Boy’s conductor cabin achieves temperatures of 180 to 200 degrees due to the heat required to convert its oil into steam. Conductors find relief in the wind rushing by as it travels up to 50 mph, as well as via downing copious amounts of water. The locomotive has three full cars directly behind it providing the “support structure” it needs to operate, one of which includes fuel.
“We restored it two years ago for this type of exposition service as what we call a public relations ambassador for Union Pacific,” said Ed Dickens, Union Pacific’s manager of heritage operations. “It’s not a normal freight train, because it simply runs as a historic promotion all over the UP network. It goes wherever we determine it needs to go based on the public relations for a year. It might do some areas every year or two, and only hit others once every 20 or 30 years. You never know.”