'It is a big monster': Fans, engineer feel the weight of Big Boy No. 4014 as it rolls into suburbs
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.
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.
How to see Big Boy No. 4014If you're planning to visit West Chicago this weekend to see Union Pacific's Big Boy No. 4014 steam locomotive, here's what you need to know:
• The Big Boy will be parked at the Larry S. Provo Training Center, 335 Spencer St.
• The locomotive and a new multimedia walk-through exhibit, called Experience the Union Pacific Train Car, will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Various groups, including the Illinois Railway Museum and the West Chicago City Museum, also will have coordinating displays. • No admission required.
• For anyone traveling from outside town, taking Metra is strongly advised. The training center is a roughly 10-minute walk from the West Chicago Metra station at 508 Main St.
• Recommended parking is available at the Metra station. Handicapped parking is in the permit lot, near the station. Shuttles will be available to take visitors to and from the training center.
• Other public parking within walking distance of the training center includes the city hall parking lot, 475 Main St.; triangular parking lot at 223 Turner Court; Republic Bank parking lot, 101 Main St.; Ann and Joliet street parking lot, just south of Ann across the street from West Chicago Community High School; Kerr-McGee parking lot, 238 West Stimmel St.; general parking lot, 122 Fremont St.; Leman Middle School, 238 E Hazel St.
• Parking is available at the District 94 administration building, 157 W. Washington St., today and Sunday only.
• On-street parking isn't allowed in the area near the training center.
• For more information, visit westchicago.org or up.com.