When I was writing Big Boy 2021 and A Trip To London, I mentioned I'd received a surprise message from the official Union Pacific Railroad Instagram account. I think it's time to finally fully acknowledge just what that entailed!
Earlier this year, when UP was just announcing the Big Boy 2021 tour, they added a little note in their email that said this:
We LOVE seeing your photos of our steam locomotives, and during the 2021 tour, we're going to be giving away Big Boy T-shirts to people who post the best photos during the tour to their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds using the #BigBoy2021 hashtag! Make sure the permissions on your posts are public so we can see them, and watch your DMs on each platform to see if your photo has been selected as a winner!
So, naturally, I did tag my photos with that hashtag, really just expecting a little extra traffic on them. I did not, however, expect to actually be one of those winners.
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.
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.
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.
The journey from Cheyenne to Ogden and back was unlike any other for a myriad of reasons, but one of them was the opportunity to get alongside the legendary Union Pacific #4014 while it was in motion. The trick was getting up there! Because so many other people wanted to the same thing, it was tough to get close at all. However, we did manage it multiple times throughout the journey. It was truly exhilarating to be able to do, and certainly not easy at times! So, now, we look at some of the highlights of getting side by side the Union Pacific Big Boy, #4014.
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