I Hear That Train A-Comin’

I’ve never before posted a public service announcement, but that’s precisely what this is.  UP4014, the Union Pacific “Big Boy” locomotive that recently re-entered service in tandem with UP844, is back on the rails, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion with a last run through several states, called The Great Race Across the Southwest.

After a tour through the midwest, the engine returned to the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming for maintenance. Currently located in Los Angeles, it will move on tomorrow to Beaumont, Indio, and Niland, California. For the next month and a half, it will make stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado before returning to Cheyenne at the end of November.

The complete schedule can be seen here. My own plans are to see it arrive in Hondo, Texas with friends, catch it on the move between Flatonia and Eagle Lake, and then make a stop at Houston’s Washington Avenue Station for an up-close-and-personal look at a bit of living history.

Many of you will have read my previous post about UP4014 and UP844 titled “Double-heading to Cheyenne.”  This fine video, showing a portion of the current tour, is only one of many produced by people who already have had the privilege of seeing the locomotive at work. I wish all of you could see it in person, but for those who live anywhere near the route, I suspect even the briefest glimpse will be worthwhile.


Comments always are welcome.
To follow the progress of UP4014 both graphically and by Twitter posts, please visit the convenient Union Pacific tracking page.


115 thoughts on “I Hear That Train A-Comin’

  1. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this wonderful information and the fantastic video. I have shared it on facebook where many of our old WU friends have migrated, including me. So glad that you are still writing your marvelous ‘essays’. Best wishes, Proserpina

    1. Maria, it’s so good to see you. Not so long ago I was talking with someone who mentioned Librizzi, and the memories came flooding back — just as they did when I visited a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition and saw a purple morning glory that reminded me of your photographs of those flowers. We did have some wonderful times “back then.”

      I’ve continued to resist social media, since I have all I can handle with my two blogs. I did stop by the Ark when I was concerned about Bug during their most recent storm, but it’s hard to remain engaged there, too. I should try a little harder, shouldn’t I? I do get announcements of new Flickr postings, and I’m glad to see you’re still involved there.

      I wish this train were coming your way, but of course it’s going to run only on Union Pacific tracks. I’ll not be making any videos myself, but if I get some good photos, I’ll be posting them on Lagniappe.

  2. What a wonderful sight. Even I (who’s not a train-spotter) would love to see that engine up close. That YouTube was beautifully done though. Almost made me feel as though I was there.

    I was surprised at how many carriages it pulled.

    1. When UP844 came to Houston, I was impressed with its size. UP4014 is even larger, and apparently by as much as a third. The various cars include a museum and shop, as well as crew accomodations and that sort of thing. I imagine they might have one filled with tools, too, or even a shop for minor repairs. Restoring the locomotive was amazing enough. Keeping it running through three long trips is something else.

  3. Is it just me or does your link to the complete schedule not work?

    You will have a great adventure when you get a catch to ride this train.

    1. The link works now. Somehow I mistyped something, but it’s fixed.

      I only wish we could ride the train. A few people have the opportunity, but, as you might imagine, tickets for that experience are snapped up as soon as they’re available — and there aren’t that many. It’s still a wonderful chance to see the train moving, and to visit it when it makes its stops in the larger cities. There’s a nice museum car with it, and of course the obligatory souvenirs to purchase. When UP844 came to Houston, I got a mouse pad.

  4. Hi Linda! What a glorious creature the Big Boy is. I sure miss the freight trains of AZ. We have limited commuter lines up here that go south to New York City (and then you can connect to go beyond) or north to Vermont. There is a historic steam train in Essex CT that takes folks for short rides (the boxcar locks paintings!). The area I’m living in now in northwestern CT is littered with abandoned train stations—small, quaint, precious—that have often been converted into overpriced hipster restaurants for people who have never been on a train. The old folks here like to talk about how there were five little train depots in this small town I’m in now, all gone now. I swear sometimes I think I hear a train here, but I must be mistaken. Wishful thinking and an overactive imagination, I assume.

    1. It may tickle you to know that the boxcar locks and etc. are keeping company now with a half-dozen rusty railroad spikes that I picked up alongside some tracks in Arkansas. I’d gone out track-walking to find wildflowers, and there they were, in a pile with old rails and such. In fact, I found them not far from this very spot.

      One of my best lodgings ever was an old BNSF crew shack in Kansas that’s been turned into four small apartments. It was the proverbial stone’s throw from the tracks, and there were a lot of fast freights barreling by, day and night. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that I couldn’t stay awake to hear the trains in the middle of the night. Every once in a while I’d hear one if I was still drifting off, but once I was asleep, that was it.

      I don’t know. I might be willing to believe you do hear those trains. I know this — you’ve brought to mind one of my all-time favorite modern train songs, Gerry Rafferty’s “City to City”.

      It’s so good to see you — I hope all’s well. It sounds like you’ve made a good move.

  5. As a nation we have done a lot of dumb things, but one of the dumbest and most short-sighted was to let our passenger rail infrastructure go to pot.

  6. My mother-in-law is a train-nerd (for lack of a better term) and though very nearly non-ambulatory, we are hoping to get her out to see Big Boy at some point as it makes its way through Colorado. I know she would enjoy it immensely.

    1. I haven’t gone back to look at the UP844 schedule, but it seems to me there are more stops on this tour. Of course the cities will get more opportunity to visit the locomotive, but at the small towns, even a half-hour allows for a lot of photos and some conversation with the crew.

      The stops necessarily mean a slow arrival and slow departure, too, which is nice for people who want to see the train moving, but who aren’t about to hit the road and pace it in open country. I hope it works out for you.

        1. You probably could get good, current information by getting in touch with one of the Texas railfan groups. When UP844 came through, a railfan in Angleton gave me a list of some spots to see its passage. One reason I chose Flatonia is because there’s good information about that location, which historically was a rail center.

          Another resources is the steam and excursion page at Trainorders.com You can glean a lot of information there, although I think you have to sign up to participate in the forum.

  7. We’re so fortunate, because the “Big Boy” is coming through our town, Marathon, TX, on Nov. 2. Just fyi: we have an outdoor operating model train layout in our yard which features a “G” scale model of the “Big Boy”. Can’t wait to see the real thing. Thank for posting the schedule for all who might be interested.

    1. I got excited for you when I saw that Marathon was on the schedule. That’s a significant overnight stop at Alpine, too. In some places, they note that there’s no public viewing available, but there’s no such note for Alpine. I wonder if it’s going to be a closed stop. No matter, you’ll get your chance. Does UP know about your installation? How cool would it be to get a photo of some crew members with your setup?

  8. I’ll be there in spirit and look forward to your pics.
    This week I arrived back in my happy town with the trains, and it’s great to hear them on the weekend.

    1. Now that we’re moving into autumn and winter, the north winds will carry the sounds of the trains from the port down to my area at night. The best of all worlds is wind strong enough to carry the sound, but warm enough to keep the windows open to catch it. It’s great that you’re within earshot of your trains again. Do they let you go down and park by the tracks?!?

      1. There is one place I could camp within view of the tracks, but it’s really to no advantage as it’s one train a day at the most on a weekend. I need to check the timetable as soon they will cease for the summer season. I like the thought of you listening to the night sounds of the trains.

  9. We were taking photos at the Medicine Bow train depot just days before the Big Boy was due to arrive! What a thrill that would have been to see that monster coming down the tracks.

    1. This is one of the best things I’ve seen coming out of a corporate PR department in a long, long time. Apart from the pleasure of seeing the train, and the reminders of important parts of our country’s history, there’s something wonderful about people all along the route joining in anticipation of the trains’ arrivals, and remembering the experience together. We need more such experiences these days.

    2. You might check your spam folder — tried to leave a comment on your newest post, and it didn’t appear. You might be moderating comments now, but I’d bet I got thrown into spam.

  10. Thanks Linda! I’m just synchronizing schedules: those of the Big Boy and mine. I’m definitely planning on seeing it in SA, but – hopefully – also out in the open.
    Have a wonderful Sunday,

    1. It would be wonderful fun, wouldn’t it? I have friends who crossed Canada by rail, and they said it was as enjoyable as any trip they’d ever taken. I’ll bet the crews on these steam engines have a wonderful time, even though they’re also bearing terrific responsibilities.

  11. I have a train enthusiast friend who has been posting lots of photos about Big Boy on Facebook. It’s wonderful to see the excitement which Big Boy and the Great Race are generating.

    1. It’s especially fun that they’ve made it so easy to follow the train’s progress, even for those who aren’t able to see it in person. And it’s interesting that some of the best footage, like the video I posted here, is being done by individuals who’ve learned how to use drones. It’s better footage, and much safer than racing alongside a train and filming from a car!

  12. Bigboy was in our neck of the woods a month or so ago…Reading this post makes the world a smaller place..even though you are in Texas and we’re in Iowa, I see we share another common thread. DM

    1. I was thinking today that following Big Boy is akin to what it was like when our nation watched events unfold as a group. There are so many news sources today, and such a flood of information, that there’s no guarantee even members of the same family will be seeing the same ‘news.’ But there’s only one train, and one itinerary, and it is binding quite different parts of the country together in a satisfying way.

    1. That’s an interesting question. Looking at their system map, it seems as though they could have gone as far as New Orleans and then headed up to Arkansas, but there may be track restrictions that prevented that. From what I’ve read, the sheer weight of the locomotive makes it impossible for it to run on some of the rails.

    1. I hope I can get some decent photos. I’ll probably forgo any action shots, since there are plenty of pros with their drones and such to capture those. But when the train’s stopped, there will be time to dwell on a few of the details — like your hood ornaments!

    1. Luling’s not that far away, John. Who knows — there might be a railroad detective lurking around who’s trying to find the masterminds who’ve secreted who-knows-what onto the train. It’s another plot line, just waiting for you. If nothing else, think of the time travel possibilities!

  13. I’d love to see something like this train up close. As a child our family sometimes travelled by passenger trains. The trains I see around here are all freight trains, lacking charm and a sense of history. Enjoy your train-spotting adventure. It sounds cool.

    1. Interestingly, the Big Boy locomotives were developed to pull freight across the Wasatch mountains between Ogden, Utah and Green River, Wyoming. The 176-mile stretch started at 4,300 feet above sea level in Ogden, climbed to 7,300 feeet at the Aspen Tunnel, and then dropped to 6,100 feet at Green River.

      It was such a chore to get through the mountains that as many as three helper engines were needed at times, so the development of the ‘Big Boys’ was a big help. Once WWII started, even more freight needed to reach the Pacific coast, and the larger engines helped a lot. It’s going to be great fun to see one in action.

    1. I hope you can see it. It’s especially nice that it’s making one of its stops there. A half-hour doesn’t seem like a long time, but it will allow for some steam, and a whistle or two — and some great photos.

    1. The first time I saw your clip, I smiled at the lady with her fingers in her ears. All that noise and vibration and steam is just wonderful — as well as being a great example of the Doppler effect.

  14. Sadly, I won’t get to see this one — be sure to post about it so I can enjoy it vicariously! When Domer was little, he had a huge fascination with all things train, so we rode lots of trains, read about trains, watched videos about trains … you name it. He’s lost a lot of that interest, but not me, ha!

    1. I love train songs, too. Do you remember this one by Rosanne Cash? What a great song — it’s got the rhythm of a rolling train down pat, and it’s not the sad-and-lonesome sort of song too often associated with trains.

    1. Even though not everyone will be able to experience it in person, there are so many good videos and such being posted that anyone who’s interested can follow along. And in at least a couple of instances, people who didn’t know about it are in towns where it will pass through — now they can plan to see it for themselves.

    1. I am, too. I’ve always loved trains, and this is a special one. The fact that they literally put it back together from scratch amazes me, and this tour is a great way to share it with the nation.

  15. Lots of time in Houston – I may have to go catch a look! I’d love to see it out in Alpine or Marathon, where the train tracks alone were so appealing to me, but I don’t think I’ve got that long a road trip in me next month. Thanks for the info!

    1. It was great fun going down to the station last time, watching UP844 come in. There were a lot of 60 and 70 year old ‘kids’ bouncing up and down in excitement as they waited to hear the first whistle. I think you’d enjoy it, Lex.

    1. That’s right. And if I’m remembering correctly, the Union Pacific tracks the train will be running on go right through Wharton — although seeing it up close and personal during a stop would be quite an experience. (Here’s a larger image of the route in your area — sure enough, it’ll be in your backyard.)

      1. well, poo. the UP track that runs through Wharton that I guess the train won’t be traveling on runs right by my street. the far end of the street ends at business 59 and the RR tracks run parallel to that on the other side.

  16. So cool! We love trains. Judy’s granddad was a locomotive engineer who drove a Big Boy out of Evanston, Wyoming (and now we live in Evanston, Illinois). She spent summers out there as a kid. When she was a little girl she thought he was like a god.

    1. Judy must have wonderful memories of those summers. Did she ever get to ride on a Big Boy? That would have been something, although even the opportunity to be around them would have been quite a treat. Grandparents always are special, but I can imagine a little extra adoration going his way in that situation.

  17. I hope you enjoy your time on the train and that will be another post with your observation of the inner train and the outer views. I don’t ride them often, but have always enjoyed the rides when I have. As a kid my mother would take my brother and me to visit relatives on the train between Schenectady and Syracuse. And when Mary Beth and I were courting, never thought of it quite that way until writing that, we would take the train between Philly and Springfield, MA. Enjoy the experience!

    1. If only we could ride on it, too. I suspect that the cars traveling with it — the museum car and so on — will be much the same as with UP844, albeit with an emphasis on the Big Boy locomotives and the restoration process. Still, it will be fun to see it — and hear it, too. Those whistles are loud, and even when it’s stopping and starting, there’s plenty of train noise to appreciate.

        1. If you’re only at number 389, you’re doing better than me. At this point, I’m just happy to keep any thought straight in my head. I had some dental surgery Friday, and it took me until Monday to figure out that the super-duper, codeine-infused medication they gave me was doing more than taking care of the pain. I made a switch to over-the-counter meds, and even though they don’t completely ease the pain, at least I’m no longer dizzy or falling asleep every time I sit down. A few more days, and it ought to be all good — although whether my thoughts straighten up still is an open question!

          1. Ha! I was just totaling for the month. LOL
            I know what you mean. I’ve had a couple of herniated disks and the first time I was prescribed Vicodin (Hydrocodone/acetaminophen) which helped and I had no trouble stopping. The second time was Oxycontin (Oxycodone) which I will never do again…I hope. It helped more than the Vicodin but stopping it was terrible. It took several weeks of slicing off slivers of the pills to wean myself free. It certainly convinced me to lift with my legs.

            1. The stories I’ve heard of side effects and dependency give pause, that’s for sure. It didn’t occur to me until I’d figured out I was experiencing side effects of the Tylenol+codeine that I hadn’t been given one bit of information about what to expect. I might have figured it out sooner if someone had mentioned some possibiities. They did emphasize that I shouldn’t drive the day of the surgery (or operate heavy machinery!) but that was it. I’ll pay more attention next time.

            2. Being married to a lawyer has many benefits. One is learning to read the fine print so that’s what I do when I get a prescription. Even so, the Oxycontin took me by surprise even though I had heard of people becoming addicted to it (think Rush Limbaugh and, of course now, lots of other folks). I am glad that you realized what was happening and changed your course of pain relief. My doctor is a great one and I credit him with saving my life the first time I had a DVT (blood clot in my leg) that led to a pulmonary embolism. When I was taking lorazepam to help sleep while recovering last year he didn’t tell me about weaning off of it…also a habit forming drug. He did tell me to use a walker at night when I’d get up for the bathroom, but not about its addictive side effect..

  18. I just checked the schedule, Linda. Unfortunately, the train’s schedule and ours doesn’t match. Did I tell you that Peggy and I will be taking Amtrak between Sacramento and Washington for Christmas. We go the northern route going and a more southern route coming back. It will be about 7 days of train riding altogether. I haven’t had the time to look at the route in detail. –Curt

    1. When I checked the Amtrak schedule between Sacramento and D.C., I was astonished to find the cheapest ticket was $193.00, although others were around $250. It was interesting that the trip was listed as 70-72 hours; I had no idea how long it would take, or that the price was so reasonable. If I were in California and wanted to go to D.C., that would be a good way to do it. What a nice way to spend the holidays. I know you’ll have fun.

      1. We went with a bedroom and full meals, Linda. It was still less expensive than flying over the holidays! I’m excited about the trip. I’m certainly not excited about flying any more.

  19. I had heard about this but had not seen a schedule. What a treat for some of these places! I love traveling on old trains even if just for a short distance. Enjoy seeing this one in Hondo and Houston. Enjoy! If we weren’t in the middle of a home repair project, I would try to catch it in our area.

    1. I love that they’re stopping at so many small towns, even though it may cut their time short in places like San Antonio and Houston. I had no idea where Spofford, Texas is located; I almost laughed when I found it, and thought about how excited those people will be for a visit.

      I’m hoping that some of the schools (or all of them, for that matter) will allow the kids to go down to the stations or out to the crossroads and watch. It’s the sort of experience that could last a lifetime. It is a shame you’d have to drive a good distance to find a vantage point; if the route were closer, you could easily do both.

  20. That first image is utterly glorious! It capture the mystique and adventure of the Iron Horse perfectly. Will you be able to board the train at its stop? That would be such fun. A ride would be over the moon!

    1. In Houston, there will be time to board the train. Whether that’s possible in during the shorter stops in small towns, I don’t know, but I suspect it will be possible. A ride? Oh, that would be great!

    1. Peter, there were very limited opportunities to purchase tickets for a ride on the train, but as I recall, only one short leg of each journey was designated for passengers. That doesn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t particularly bother me that most of the riders probably were involved with Union Pacific somehow. The complications of allowing riders — especially the liability issues that would go along with travel by newly-restored antique! — wouldn’t have been worth it. This way, the train will be able to cover much more territory, and more people will have the chance to see it.

    1. Up close and personal is the way I like it. Although I generally forego events that involve large crowds of people, there are times when the crowd actually adds to the excitement and pleasure. There’s nothing quite like watching a six or seven year old boy all decked out in his train engineer’s gear reaching out to touch the wheel of one of these big locomotives. Would that we could reach out to the world in such a way, no?

  21. It’s wonderful to hear that this old locomotive recently reentered service. There is so much rich rail history, and it’s awesome that people can again see this piece of history.

    1. I’m as much in awe of the work done to restore these engines as anything else. If it hadn’t been for the almost-lost skills of the craftsmen who sometimes had to manufacture their own parts before putting them together, this never would have been possible. The ironworkers, welders, and drill press operators of the world are as much responsible for this train running again as the programmers and engineers — we need them all.

  22. You and Lewis Grizzard would have gotten along like house on fire (or trains on rails?) when it comes to being fans of trains. Many of his columns were about trains and riding on them.

    If he was still alive, I wonder if he’d be out there somewhere, too, watching The Great Race.

    1. I suspect he’d be somewhere in the crowd. I’ve always enjoyed his writing. For years, Leon Hale wrote for the Houston Chronicle in much the same vein. If your library has A Smile From Katie Hattan, I know you’d enjoy it. Another one I liked was Turn South at the Second Bridge. Obviously, he was a country fella. If he still were with us, there’s no question he’d be out watching that train.

    1. I’ve heard nothing but good things about traveling across Canada by train, whether through all the provinces or on shorter jaunts. You must have some wonderful memories of those trips, indeed. I think I’d still prefer car, but if the choice was between train and airplane, I’d take the train every time.

    1. How wonderful! I love that so many people I know have had a chance to see it, or will see it in the coming days. I just realized that my chance is coming up — how can it be almost November? I hope the weather’s wonderful for you and Wylie — it’s going to be quite an experience.

  23. I suspect Claremore, OK would be as close as it gets to me, and that’s more than a three-hour drive. I am going to forward this to a niece and nephew in Wichita, KS who are always looking for adventure on weekends. I might have to see if I can scare up a companion to drive up with me to take in this fantastic sight!

    1. It’s here now, but unfortunately a number of circumstances will keep me away. One of the great truths of life is that we can’t do everything or have everything, so I’ll just remember UP844, and be glad I got to see that. I hope you do have a chance to see it, but if not, at least your niece and nephew might have a chance — there are so many great opportunities in the world.

  24. I come from a country where there were no trains, although some were implemented at some point, they never really evolved because the island was so small. However, having lived here for the past few years, I’ve come to realize how iconic these steam locomotives are now, simply because they use self sustaining energy sources, as opposed to electricity. They also exemplify the vastness of American land, out in open, as opposed to electric locomotives, which to me don’t have the charm and remind me of subways and highly populated cities. You might find this smallish article interesting: https://bit.ly/36VSk9G

    1. That’s a great article, and from what I’ve read and heard, his point about the tourist and recreational uses of trains making steam a reasonable option seems right. More and more people I know have begun either traveling by train or are thinking about it, and the couple of places I know where short trips can be taken via steam are popular.

      It’s a shame so many miles of track were torn up in this country. Containerized shipping is reviving commercial rail, and I think that’s probably good. There’s a need for trucking, but trains are especially efficient.

    1. Unfortunately, a combination of circumstances kept me from seeing it in person, but there’s plenty about its journey online, and the experience of seeing UP844 in person left me with a sense of what the experience would have been like. What is satisfying is that some of my readers were able to see it in locations as varied as Arizona and Kansas.That’s fun, too, and made the post especially worthwhile.

    1. A trip on this train would equal your Nile trip, at least in some ways. Train travel is wonderful. I’d love to take a long train trip across the country, but probably never will. I certainly enjoyed it when traveling in Europe, although I suppose things have changed there now, too. There’s the Chunnel, for one thing. No more night ferry to Dover!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post — thanks for stopping by!

    1. Wouldn’t it be fun to take a trip on the Orient Express, or the Blue Train? Trains were such a part of literature at one time, and I suppose it’s books like Graham Greene’s Orient Express or Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar that helped to instill a romantic view of trains in me. I have both books — maybe it’s time for a re-read!

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