Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive attracts crowds

Michael Tortorich
Donaldsonville Chief
The Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 steam locomotive stops in Donaldsonville the morning of Aug. 20.

Union Pacific's Big Boy No. 4014 steam locomotive roared through southeastern Louisiana, delighting crowds gathered at stops in Donaldsonville, Plaquemine, Luling, and New Orleans.

Many cheered while others captured photos and video as the 1.2 million pound goliath arrived and departed in Donaldsonville on Aug. 20. The locomotive remained stationary on the tracks at the Railroad Avenue station for about a half an hour before chugging along to the east.

After a day on display in New Orleans, the Big Boy returned for a second stop before heading to north Louisiana. Once again, crowds gathered to greet the locomotive as it passed through Aug. 22.

Delivered to the company in December 1941, the Big Boy was retired in December 1961 after having traveled 1,032,205 miles. Union Pacific reacquired it from the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, Calif., in 2013, and relocated it to Cheyenne, Wyo. to begin a multi-year restoration process. It returned to service in May 2019.

The railroad relic embarked on its epic expedition beginning Aug. 5. From the Steam Shop in Cheyenne, the Big Boy started a journey across several states, which includes Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.

Attendees photograph the Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 during its stop in Donaldsonville the morning of Aug. 20.

Union Pacific promoted the tour as a way to celebrate railroad heritage and the many communities it serves.

This year's tour was the first since the locomotive was restored for 2019's "Great Race" tours celebrating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion.

So far, the locomotive was on display in Fort Worth, Texas and Houston prior to New Orleans. It is scheduled for display in St. Louis on Aug. 29 and Denver on Sept. 6. The Big Boy is slated to return to Cheyenne following the Denver stop.

Crowds flock from afar

Some visitors at the Donaldsonville stop ventured from many miles away to experience the historic locomotive firsthand.

Paul Hubbard and his wife, Gail Hubbard, traveled from New Hampshire specifically to see the Big Boy steam locomotive.

"I didn't think I'd ever live long enough to see one back in steam, and Union Pacific was nice enough to do this for publicity," Paul said. "We saw it was coming to New Orleans, so we were like, we're coming down."

The couple flew down to the Crescent City and rented a vehicle to track down the railroad giant.

Gail purchased two tickets for the special Union Pacific experience in New Orleans over the weekend as an early birthday present for her husband.

"It's been fun. It's been great. We're having a good time. It's a lot hotter than New Hampshire, I'll say that," Paul said with a smile despite the typically steamy August day.

The Big Boy 2021 Tour route includes Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.

Big Boy History

Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific, the first of which was delivered in 1941 to handle the steep terrain between Cheyenne and Ogden.

Of the eight still in existence, No. 4014 is the world's only operating Big Boy. The other seven can be found on display in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Denver, Colorado; Frisco, Texas; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Omaha, Nebraska; Scranton, Pennsylvania; and St. Louis, Missouri.