UP Steam Shop Tour: The Beauty and Art of Heavy Industry

Another outgrowth of my model railroad hobby is my life long interest in the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) 4000 class of steam locomotives. These are commonly known as the “Union Pacific Big Boys”. They were created in the American Locomotive Company (Alco) shops in 1941-1944 in a joint effort between the UP railroad technical staff and the Alco team. UP needed the massive locomotives to handle the increased war materiel and other goods travelling east over some of the steepest mountain grades from the west coast to support the European Theater of Operations (ETO) in the Second World War. These locomotives are among the largest ever created in the world and are recognized as the most successful by far. Some quick stats on these superstars of the transportation world:

  • Length: 139 feet, 10 inches
  • Weight: 1.2 million pounds
  • Tractive Effort: 135,375 pounds
  • Horsepower: Over 6,000
  • Top Speed: 80 mph
  • Dates of Operation: 1941 to 1959

The video below really gives you a feel for the size and power of this remarkable example of engineering design and functional excellence. Turn your sound up to get the full effect!

Big Boy Pulling out of Evanston WY in 2019 (Credit: Alexander Seeley)

In 1959 these locomotives were retired from service as the technology of diesel engines overtook steam in terms of cost and efficiency. In 2019 the Union Pacific railroad brought one back to life after over 50 years of retirement. No. 4014 completed a highly successful multi-year restoration and toured the west and mid-west parts of the country as an ambassador for UP.

I ran across this video of the UP Steam Shop where No. 4014 was overhauled and is maintained. The manager of the shop, Ed Dickens, gives a great tour of the shop and explains some of the equipment used to maintain this behemoth of American Industrial Might. You will see many pieces of equipment that are still in common use today in American manufacturing and have been part of my career as a safety professional. I especially appreciate his discussion about the esthetics and functionality of the original design of the Big Boy. He speaks of the art of the craftsmen who built it in 1941 and those that maintain it today. The art of craftsmanship is one of the things that drew me into the industrial safety world; the desire to be around people who can create such functional works of art.

Watch the tour to appreciate the beauty and art of heavy industry.

Are you hooked on this rail giant now? If so there is much more on the web about the 4014 and the 4000 class. UP made a film titled “Last of the Giants” in the 1950’s about them that has some great footage and information. This continues documenting the incredible industrial organization that UP developed at the height, and twilight, of steam superpower. It is on YouTube:

About Chet Brandon

I am a highly experienced Health, Safety and Environmental Professional for Fortune 500 Companies. I love the challenge of ensuring HSE excellence in process, manufacturing and other heavy industry settings. The connection of EHS to Sustainability is a fascinating subject for me. I believe that the future of industrial organizations depends on the adoption of sustainable practices.
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