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Steam News: Big Boy No. 4014 Restoration Commences

Ian Harvey

With the successful repair of locomotive No. 844 on the books, the Union Pacific Steam Team has entered into their future giant-sized challenge: repairing the Big Boy, locomotive No. 4014.

“It’s the largest steam locomotive restoration in the last 50 years,” said Ed Dickens, senior administrator of the heritage operations.

Union Pacific 844 at Painted Rocks, Nevada Source:By 04_15_09_162xp_-_Flickr_-_drewj1946.jpg: Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of Californiaderivative work: Bruce1ee - This file was derived from  04 15 09 162xp - Flickr - drewj1946.jpg:, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19584033

Union Pacific 844 at Painted Rocks, Nevada. Photo credit 

So how does such a huge project start? It starts with disassembly, of course.

The tender and engine were detached initially. The tender is the car that is behind the steam locomotive. “It’s the fuel and water storage vehicle for the steam locomotive,” Dickens said. “It’s connected to the locomotive with two giant steel bars with 7-inch holes at both ends.”

Taking the Big Boy for a Spin

Locomotive No. 844 moves the Big Boy, locomotive No. 4014, to the platform in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in planning for the huge restoration task. Currently, No. 4014’s tender car is fashioned to transfer coal. The steam teams thoughts are to alter it to transfer oil.

“The logistics of coal are very impractical for a big boy,” Dickens said. “It can be a fire hazard.”

More details Union Pacific 844 on display in 2009 Source:CC BY-SA 2.5,

Union Pacific 844 on display in 2009. Photo credit

While the locomotive burns coal, the coal sooner or later burns down to cinders and ash. The cinders move up, and out the smoke stack, eventually raining down along the surroundings.

“Imagine the voracious appetite of a Big Boy burning 28 tons of coal in a matter of hours,” Dickens said. “That’s a lot of ash and cinder. With an oil burner, the locomotive doesn’t produce this kind of debris.”

The Big Boy has an instrument on the tender and engine known as a stoker. The stoker conveys coal from the tender to the firebox. Inside the firebox, the coal burns on a massive grate. “It’s kind of like your backyard barbecue grill,” Dickens said. “Steam locomotives have a really industrial version of that. We’ll remove both the stoker and the large grate and replace it with an oil conversion apparatus.”

Dickens stated the transition is not as complex as it sounds. “There’s a large iron casting called a burner with two cavities in it,” Dickens said. “The top cavity is for oil, the bottom for steam.”

Inside the cab, where the stoker control valves are situated, the fireman is in charge of the firing valve, which precisely regulates the oil. When the fireman requires more horsepower, he needs to burn more oil.

As work commences on the fire box, and tender, the team also plans to begin an elaborate examination of the boiler. “Like we did on locomotive No. 844, we’ll use an ultrasonic test device that uses sound waves to measure the thickness of every part of 4014’s boiler,” Dickens said.

With content collected from the analyses afoot, Dickens feels reassured No. 4014’s restoration will be as successful as No. 844’s.

“We have a good plan,” he said. “When everyone starts to see it all come together, they’re going to get excited.”