'It is a big monster': Fans, engineer feel the weight of Big Boy No. 4014 as it rolls into suburbs

  • People line both sides of the tracks to take photos as the Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 approaches downtown Glen Ellyn.

      People line both sides of the tracks to take photos as the Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 approaches downtown Glen Ellyn. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 rolls through Elmhurst Friday afternoon on its way to West Chicago.

      Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 rolls through Elmhurst Friday afternoon on its way to West Chicago. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 rolls through the Chicago suburbs Friday and stops in West Chicago. The steam engine is expected to depart at 8 a.m. Tuesday, running through Geneva, Elburn, DeKalb and Rochelle on its route to Iowa, Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South said.

      The Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 rolls through the Chicago suburbs Friday and stops in West Chicago. The steam engine is expected to depart at 8 a.m. Tuesday, running through Geneva, Elburn, DeKalb and Rochelle on its route to Iowa, Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South said. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 crosses over Techny Road in Northbrook Friday morning on its way to West Chicago.

      Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 crosses over Techny Road in Northbrook Friday morning on its way to West Chicago. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 passing through Des Plaines early Friday afternoon on its way to West Chicago.

      Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 passing through Des Plaines early Friday afternoon on its way to West Chicago. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Mikey Lopes, 5, and his uncle, Jesse Flores, both of Des Plaines, watch as the train led by Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 and a trailing diesel unit passes through Des Plaines.

      Mikey Lopes, 5, and his uncle, Jesse Flores, both of Des Plaines, watch as the train led by Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 and a trailing diesel unit passes through Des Plaines. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Crew members look from the fireman's side of the cab as Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 passes through Glen Ellyn.

      Crew members look from the fireman's side of the cab as Union Pacific Big Boy steam locomotive 4014 passes through Glen Ellyn. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/26/2019 8:11 PM

A distinctive whistle sound announced the world's largest steam locomotive would soon arrive.

Union Pacific's newly restored Big Boy No. 4014 had powered through the suburbs Friday as part of its "Great Race Across the Midwest." By around 2:10 p.m., the behemoth was rolling into downtown West Chicago for three days of public viewing before moving on to Des Moines, Iowa.

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Hundreds of spectators lined the tracks at the West Chicago train station waiting for the 600-ton Big Boy to slowly come to a stop.

Susan Rosenberg was among them.

"I wanted to feel that rumble and be close," the Deer Park resident said. "When it came by, I got steam spray on my feet."

She said she was intrigued by how massive it was.

"It's like any locomotive you've ever seen on television or movies on steroids," she said.

Inside Big Boy No. 4014, the locomotive engineer who oversaw its restoration was feeling emotional seeing the large crowd.

"You can't help but be emotionally impacted by that," said Ed Dickens, Union Pacific's senior manager of heritage operations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Twenty-five Big Boy locomotives were commissioned in the 1940s to haul heavy tonnage and handle steep terrain between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. No. 4014 traveled more than 1 million miles during an 18-year career before making its last run in 1959.

In retirement, the steam engine spent more than 50 years entertaining train enthusiasts at a California museum. Then in 2013, the engine was reacquired by Union Pacific and moved to Wyoming, where workers took it apart, salvaged whatever pieces they could and rebuilt the other parts from scratch.

Dickens and his crew spent 2½ years working daily on Engine 4014 with the goal of getting it back on the rails.

"There's a crew of nine of us that did the work," he said. "But thousands of others -- our brothers and sisters on the Union Pacific -- (were) supporting us and helping us get the project done."

When the restoration wrapped up, the 4014 completed its first run in 60 years in May to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad's completion.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The locomotive has since traveled roughly 2,000 miles.

"We started running it after we rebuilt it. We began to really see its true power," Dickens said.

At a length of 135 feet and weighing 1.2 million pounds, Dickens said No. 4014 is as heavy as three modern locomotives. And it produces 7,000 horsepower.

"We're not exaggerating," Dickens said. "It is a big monster."

The 4014 is one of eight Big Boy locomotives still in existence; the others are on display.

So it's no surprise that people from throughout the area came out to watch the 4014 make its journey through the suburbs on Friday.

When the locomotive crossed Dempster Street in Des Plaines at 12:12 p.m., a crowd of about 200 lined the tracks to watch it chug by. There were people of all ages, some in lawn chairs, others rushing up at the last minute. One person talked of the thrill of seeing the giant lumbering along rather than sitting quietly for examination, and another said he hoped it would be running in another 50 years.

The locomotive will be on display at the Larry S. Provo Training Center through Monday. It's expected to depart at 8 a.m. Tuesday, running through Geneva, Elburn, DeKalb and Rochelle on its route to Iowa.

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