The heat was different than what a Houston sun bestows upon us day after day, so it didn’t help that this very sun was creeping in and out of oncoming clouds. The fierce warmth clung to the fibers of my shirt, yanked at the perspiration in my pores and sat heavy against the cast iron finishing of the 1.2 million pound engine alongside me. I was only near it for a moment, but as the dripping oil would show, this steam powered beast was built for massively important missions across the continental United States. The locomotive had served her country well and we were all here in the amplifying heat to honor her and her legacy.
The Big Boy 4014 is said to be a giant of its time, and this could not be more true. I stand at only 5-feet 2-inches, so for anyone my height and below, this 17-foot tall engine would stand as a monster beside them. She truly is a sight to behold. HMNS took to the Houston Amtrak Station Thursday morning to witness the locomotive on its country-wide trek for the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad and found ourselves reveling in the history that brought her here.
Wartime was a scary time in 1940s America. Knowing now the terrors that would soon come, the National Defense Act under President Franklin Roosevelt commissioned faster and more powerful locomotives to be built for the sole purpose of transporting weapons and other goods for military use from Ogden, Utah to Cheyenne, Wyoming faster than was being done at the time. In December of 1941, Big Boy 4014 was delivered to the Union Pacific and set to the tracks. She was one of only 25 that worked for approximately 20 years, retiring in December 1961 to the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California. In 2013, the Union Pacific reacquired the locomotive to undergo a five-year renovation period in preparation for this traveling exhibition.
The 4014 traveled alone; though, she shares the spotlight with the Union Pacific 4141, painted for famous Houstonian and former President George H. W. Bush. The 4141 was unveiled in 2005 and stationed out front of the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station. While she was in service for some time and even operated by Bush himself, 4141 has spent much of her time in storage and traveling the country for various exhibitions. The most memorable viewing was in December of 2018, when 4141 participated in Bush’s funeral train, which traveled from Spring back to the Presidential Library.
Opposite the engines stood the rail cars, housing the Experience the Union Pacific traveling exhibit. Was I hoping to be emersed into the atmosphere of old, stepping into a car tailor made for the 1940s-era passenger? A bit, but the renewed railfan in me quickly found excitement in the timeline and fun facts that were jumping out at me from the walls.
Train conductors escorted viewers onto the car and welcomed us as we took a stroll down memory lane. Young and old fans found the exhibit to have an equal amount of eye-popping material to capture their attention. The colors were attention-grabbing, the information was reassuring for those well-read and thought-provoking for those who didn’t already know. As we progressed to the end of the car, modern technology came into play. This traveling exhibit took us on a trip, and we never even left the station.
While the Transcontinental Railroad is quite historic in its own right, Houston has a track record that predates the Union Pacific. The Texas Central Railway was an 872-mile system that eventually stretched from Houston to Dallas with branches to Austin and Waco. Big Boy locomotives would not have traveled along these tracks, but the railway carried goods and passengers through iconic areas such as Enchanted Rock and Big Bend National Park.
Visit Trains Over Texas when it opens Friday, November 15, and try spotting our version of the Big Boy 4018.