Western history

Visit the Big Boy

One of the advantages of writing and research is the opportunity to learn about subjects which never before caught my interest and awareness. My research for “General William Palmer: Railroad Pioneer” led me into the wonderful world of trains. I never fully realized the importance of train travel to western development, and I was amazed by the complexity of this fascinating subject.

As weather improves with the approach of summer, I recommend a visit to Cheyenne and the Big Boy. The Union Pacific railroad line is the reason that Cheyenne exists. Its location was critical to north-south lines, which connected Colorado to east-west transcontinental routes for shipping and travel.

About the Big Boy. It is impressive! Only 25 of these 4000 series 4-8-8-4 class* steam locomotives were made between 1941 and 1944. Considered the biggest and most powerful, they were built to pull trains over the Wasatch Mountains of Utah without assistance. Top speed was 80 mph and their last run was in July 1959.

Big Boy #4004 is easily accessible where it rests outdoors in Holliday Park in Cheyenne. Only eight of these big beauties still exist. Feast your eyes on this one, then stop in the train depot in downtown Cheyenne to visit the train museum there, and learn more interesting railroad facts and history. Another Big Boy, #4005, is also on display at the Forney Transportation Museum in Denver.

Locations of 8 remaining Big Boy Railroad Steam Engines:
#4004 – Cheyenne, WY – Holliday Park, US 30
#4005 – Denver, CO – Forney Transportation Museum
#4006 – St. Louis, MO – Museum of Transportation
#4012 – Scranton, PA – Steamtown National Historic Site
#4014 – Pamona, CA – Los Angeles Co. Fairplex
#4017 – Green Bay, WI – National Railroad Museum
#4018 – Dallas, TX – Museum of the American Railroad
#4023 – Omaha, NE – Lauritzen Gardens

*4-8-8-4 class refers to the Whyte notation system of wheel arrangement.
The number describes the leading pilot wheels in front, power or drive wheels
in the middle, and support, or railing, wheels under the firebox and cab.
The 4-8-8-4 class Big Boy is a very large steam engine!

Joyce B. Lohse, 5/12/09