CLINTON _ Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, a rare and historic steam locomotive captivated Clinton-area sightseers Tuesday afternoon.
Union Pacific's Big Boy No. 4014, one of only eight remaining in existence and the only one still operational, came to a halt at 1400 Beaver Channel Parkway in front of a crowd of hundreds lining an overpass bridge as well as the train tracks themselves. Twenty-five Big Boys, running roughly 133 feet long and weighing in at more than 1 million pounds, were built by the rail company beginning in 1941.
Now, No. 4014 is keeping the locomotive's legacy alive, one stop at a time. The steam engine that once rested in Pomona, California was transported to Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2013 to undergo restoration to keep the historic piece operational. Tuesday, as the massive engine stopped near Archer Daniels Midland and blew its iconic whistle, those in attendance soaked in the chance to see a piece of history.
"My grandkids wanted to see the train, so I was happy to come out and see it, too," Tom Siegel said. "I wasn't too sure what to expect, but this is very cool. It's so impressive to see something this huge come through."
According to Union Pacific officials, the locomotive's return to service is the product of more than two years of expansive restoration work by the Union Pacific "Steam Team." The Big Boy No. 4014 is now back out on the Union Pacific system for a tour that began July 8 and involves travels through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Historically, the massive engines normally operated between Ogden, Utah and Cheyenne.
The remaining seven Big Boys were donated for public display in various cities around the country while No. 4014 chugs on. Those can be found in St. Louis; Dallas; Omaha; Denver; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Cheyenne.
As the crowd grew and viewing space became more valuable, onlookers began to get the sense that they were witnessing something few will get to see.
"It's cool that something like this can bring so many people in the community out to see it," Michelle Lastine said Tuesday just before the train departed for its next stop in Wheatland at the Toronto Street crossing.
Able to hold 24,000 gallons of water and 56,000 pounds of coal for fuel, UP graphics show that the locomotive is as long as a standard diesel engine, a standard school bus, and a standard sedan vehicle lined up nose-to-tail. Its sheer size, along with its historical nature, were enough to bring out even the most casual of train watchers Tuesday.
"It's been a very enjoyable experience," JoAnn Siegel said. "There's just something about a little bit of history like this. It's neat that something this old is drawing the attention of the community...it's great to see people so interested in it."