Watch the Retired ‘Big Boy’ Steam Train Rescue a Stalled Freight Train in Nebraska

Once one of the heaviest steam locomotives in the world, the Big Boy 4014 recently stumbled into a mission.

byLewin Day|
Watch the Retired ‘Big Boy’ Steam Train Rescue a Stalled Freight Train in Nebraska


The famous Union Pacific Big Boy was the heaviest steam locomotive ever built when it became operational in the 1940s. An icon of the American railroads, it was retired from service in 1959 as the diesel age took hold. Recently, however, the last running Big Boy was tasked with the important mission of rescuing a freight train stalled in Nebraska.

The grand feat was captured on camera by YouTuber Otto the Railfan. In the video, we see the Union Pacific 4014 steaming in to save the day for a freight train stuck heading westbound over Blair Hill, Nebraska. As you might expect, this isn't a regular job for the mightiest freight locomotive of the steam era. The 4014 just happened to be in the area after its appearances at the College World Series of Omaha. When the call for assistance came out from the MCHNP stalled on the line, the 4014 rolled in to assist.

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The video shows the 4014 gently pulling up and coupling with the freight train ahead. After a spell, it roars into life, blasting the whistle before powering up its mighty cylinders to shove its way up the grade. Despite the Big Boy's heft of 762,000 pounds there's a hint of wheel slip—a rated power output of 7,000 horsepower will do that at times. The Big Boy quickly finds its footing, however, and gets the stuck machine rolling down the rails once again.

The story of the 4014 starts in 1941, when it was built and charged with running trains across the Wasatch Range in Utah. It racked up a full 1,031,205 miles in 18 years of service. Union Pacific bought the locomotive in 2013 and sent it to its Steam Shop for a full restoration. The completed Big Boy would once again move under its own power in May of 2019, almost six decades after its retirement from revenue service in July 1959.

Today, the only running Big Boy operates excursion services for Union Pacific. It's typically charged with hauling a small consist of passenger cars and is paired with a diesel locomotive to provide motive power in the event of any breakdowns. Notably, the 4014 was converted to run on fuel oil rather than coal, which it hauls in a tender along with several cars with an abundant supply of water. It also has a Positive Train Control system to allow it to operate safely on modern railways.

It's by no means cost-effective or practical for Union Pacific to send out the 4014 to rescue stuck trains. However, this serendipitous occurrence shows us that the Big Boy is still more than capable of doing the job it was built to do, the best part of 80 years ago. All hail American muscle.

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