Just over two years ago, I returned home from a brief two day venture chasing the Union Pacific 4014 - the Big Boy - from Chicago to Des Moines. That had been a hectic couple of days, but good ones all the same. When I got home, I wondered when I'd next get the chance to see the Big Boy.
I didn't realize it would be over two years later. With a worldwide pandemic shutting down the 2020 excursion plans, neither 4014 or 844 had the chance to go anywhere, nor did we have the chance to go out and get them anyways. Of course, I would end up filling that void with IC deathstars and various shortline operations, among other things, so it all worked out.
The IAIS QJ 6988 had been the latest chance to see steam, but before that, it was the SOO Line 1003 photo charter (which I'll be participating in again this year, now that I've learned a decent bit more since last year). My summer this year has been quiet, photo wise, save for the LS&I, QJ, and the handful of ICs I've caught, so when the UP steam program came out with the announcement that 4014 would be running a month long excursion, one that came within spitting distance of home... Well, the only question was how many days off of work I could take!
Once again, it was time to return to a classic - the one and only Union Pacific Big Boy #4014.
Something I frequently talk about is my ongoing hunt for the IC Deathstars, where I always say that "you never know when they're going to disappear one day." It's an unfortunate truth, in that everything does come to an end eventually and we won't be able to catch everything. One hundred years ago, the thought of steam locomotives going away would be strange to most folks, yet within three decades, almost the entire country was dieselized and steam was a rarity. The first and second generation EMDs are a dying breed, and now catching a pair of SD40s on a road freight is rare. The oldest diesels are entirely gone from revenue service, and even newer engines have disappeared completely.
Now, we are down another unique class. As of May 8th, 2021, the CN/Illinois Central's Blue Devils are retired. Their numbers dwindled down to a mere seven, with some lost to CN noodle paints and the Dash 8 purge last year. Now, though, six of the seven blue devils are listed as retired on CN's roster. Only 2466 wasn't listed, but the most recent sightings showed in storage in Canada, essentially marking it as dead now too.
With only seven to catch, spotting them was something I didn't expect to do. I only ever saw three of them before they were all retired.
2020: The Year of the Deathstar
In years past, when asked about the things I take photos of, I always answered with trains - of course - but always specified something to the effect of: "only really interesting ones, like steam engines. I would never go chase a diesel because they aren't very interesting."
Well, suffice to say I don't say that anymore.
I happen to live at an interesting railroad crossroads of sorts. The old east-west line, owned by too many companies in years past to list but including the New York Central, Penn Central, Conrail, and now Norfolk Southern, certainly acts as a bit of a dividing line in town. But it's the north and south mainline of the Illinois Central that is the true split. It literally divides the town in half and is very much a focal point in the town. In fact, this mainline is the reason the town exists at all.
The Illinois Central went through many changes over the years, including a rebranding into the Illinois Central Gulf after its merger with the Gulf, Mobile, & Ohio, but its parent company finally dumped the railroad on its own in the 1980s. Finally, the IC was on its own again, and ready to rebrand. The new Illinois Central saw a dip back to its classic black paint, but with a new set of logos - a big "i" overtop a circle made up only of parallel lines. The birth of the Illinois Central Death Star.
Well. I don't think I need to bore you with world events as of late. I think we all get the gist.
So, furloughed, no classes, no work, and really anything else going on, there hasn't been much to talk about. It's been depressingly quiet for the most part - until somewhat recently, at least.
If you've seen the Gallery lately, or my Flickr or Instagram, you might have noticed a few new shots crop up. A few things happened in the last two months which have given me a few nice photo opportunities. Shameless shoutout where I ask you to follow me on either or both of the aforementioned platforms - stuff appears there first almost always. Links to those (and others) in the sidebar.
So, let's start from the beginning.
Welcome to part two - and coincidentally, day two - of chasing the Union Pacific Big Boy #4014 across the Midwest! If you haven't read part one, I recommend it - I'm just gonna jump straight into things. Here's a link to part one if you missed it: Link
The Union Pacific certainly has a thing for Great Races - which certainly makes sense, as chasing down their trains certainly is a race!
Throughout July and early August this year, the Big Boy #4014 embarked on its second journey - called "The Great Race Across The Midwest." The locomotive visited Minneapolis, Duluth, Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, North Platte, and many, many towns and cities along the way. It took routes a Big Boy has never once travelled before, making it a prime opportunity to chase. Of course, it was about a full month, so there was no way I was to be able to follow it the way I did during the Great Race To Ogden because it was prohibitively expensive (as we all know from the Ogden trip...) and getting that much time off work was difficult.
Nevertheless, I managed to secure a short trip - July 30th & the 31st. The route for these two days was simple: West Chicago to Cedar Rapids on the 30th, then Cedar Rapids to Des Moines on the 31st. In Part 1, we'll cover the first day, the 30th, and the ridiculousness that was chasing a Big Boy in Illinois & Iowa.
Going back to the beginning of the Great Race To Ogden, there was one particularly early day in the schedule. Specifically, May 6th, 2019 - when the Union Pacific #4014 & #844 left Rock Springs, Wy at 4:00AM. This was because it allowed them to get around scheduled track maintenance - but more importantly, this caused the train to go through morning light.
Of course, before it could be seen in said light, it had to actually leave Rock Springs. At four in the morning.
So, leaving our hotel somewhere around 3:45AM, we headed over to the yard in Rock Springs to take a quick peak at the giant locomotive and its smaller - yet still sizable - companion in the darkness.
Now, I am not a night-time photographer - I don't claim to be. My photos have a bit of grain and often some shakiness from longer exposures, so they're not perfect. I never really planned to do night shots - and my flash refused to fire for whatever reason! So they're a tad bit weird. Still, I grabbed as many as I could in the little time we had.
I am very glad I did.
Hundreds, even thousands, of pieces of railroad history are lucky enough to be saved and cared for, many restored cosmetically, operationally, or even just sitting quiet in a collection. Unfortunately, not everything has that luxury, and many pieces of history have been lost or have nearly been lost, and others sure feel lost. One such example is a little place called Loweth, Montana.
Something I mentioned briefly in my last post was this quote: "On May 17th, we got to return to the bridge after a rather grueling day in Hanna." Why was it such a grueling day, you might be wondering?
I won't lie to you - it's actually just one bridge. However, it was two separate visits to that bridge that made for one unforgettable pair of stories.
During the Great Race To Ogden, we stopped along a variety of places along the road and in just as many towns, but one spot sticks out in particular - a bridge in roughly, well, the middle of nowhere. Between the towns of Medicine Bow and Hanna, Wyoming sits a bridge that crosses over Union Pacific's transcontinental main, and it was here that many, many photographers wanted to get a few pictures of the UP #4014. We got the shots, but it was certainly not as easy as you'd think.
To get an understanding of what I mean when I say the middle of nowhere, I really mean it. From Google Maps, we can understand where we are pretty quickly.
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