March 4th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 9
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Big Boys and the Alleghenies
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
4014's 68 inch drive wheels
Whatever working machines man creates it seems inevitable that someone has to build the biggest one ever. Push the laws of physics to their limits and come up with a monster that dwarfs all those that have come before it.
Bigger aircraft, draglines, trucks, boats, the list is endless and in some cases, like Howard Hughes’ H-4 Hercules (the infamous Spruce Goose) the scale is just too big and the idea won’t fly, so to speak.
For train spotters, like myself, the world of really big includes a couple of steam locomotives that are at a scale well beyond what most of us perceive as big trains. They were built for specific work demands towards the end of the steam era starting during the Second World War. Eventually they succumbed, like their smaller cousins, to the relentless transformation to diesel power.
Many were scrapped but thankfully there were enough visionaries around that a few were saved and put on display. Recently the moving of one of them to a restoration facility caught the media’s eye and just about every train chaser around. The monster they were focussed on was built in 1941 on a scale that almost defies logic.
That train in Union Pacific’s Big Boy 4014, a 132 foot long engine and tender with a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement. To put this into perspective, Old Maude in Blairmore is a paltry 2-6-0. For the uninformed those numbers on all steam trains indicate the following. The first number is the leading set of “pilot” wheels (trucks) under the front end or cow catcher if you will. That number is usually 0 or 2 wheels but when you scale up like Big Boy, to 762,000 pounds of weight, one needs to adjust the norm for stability when entering curves.
The second number indicates drive wheels. Unlike most smaller engines Big Boy has not one but two sets of drivers (8-8) that are a whopping 68 inches in diameter. You can’t make an engine that long and not allow for the effect of curves so Big Boy’s front set of drive wheels have to pivot separately from the back set. The term used is articulated (hinged) and an example of this arrangement can be found on Sparwood’s monster Titan Truck which has an articulated back axle. Big Boy’s enormous bulk also hides some slick engineering, including a suspension system that keeps those drive wheels pressed against the rails when the locomotive straddles hills or valleys.
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The last arrangement number for 4014 (4) indicates the trailing trucks that support the engine house and firebox. UP 4014’s firebox is 720 square feet which is like a small apartment! The fireman must have been built like a coal miner to feed that monster. Big Boy carried 25 tons of coal and 25,000 gallons of water in a tender that had no less than fourteen wheels under it. What a sight she must have been hauling freight over the Wasatch Mountains between Wyoming and Utah. Of the 25 4-8-8-4’s made by the American Locomotive Company only 8 have survived and are on display all across the USA.
The current challenger to Big Boy size wise is known as the Allegheny and ironically the first one built came out at the exact same time as the 4-8-8-4’s, in December 1941. They were built for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to haul 140 coal car trains up and over the tough grades in the Allegheny Mountains down to Clifton Forge, Virginia.
The Allegheny’s configuration was somewhat different with a 2-6-6-6 notation but almost the same size drive wheels. The Lima Locomotive Works of Ohio built 60 of these brutes but only two remain to this day and can be found in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan (#1601)or the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland (#1604).
Alleghenies were capable of 8,000 horsepower from their boilers. When compared to Big Boy’s 6,200 drawbar horsepower at 40 MPH they came out at 7,500 horsepower making them one of the most powerful steam locomotives ever built. They were 8,000 pounds heavier than Big Boys and their loaded tenders (14 wheeled) weighed 215 tons with a full load of coal and water. Man oh man that’s a lot of weight on the tracks. I wonder how well current rolling stock in the Pass would stand up to that kind of punishment.
Neither of the surviving Alleghenies is operational but Big Boy 4014 was moved last year by Union Pacific to their Cheyenne, Wyoming facility where it will be completely restored. It had spent more than 50 years since its retirement 1959 in the friendly climate of Southern California, at the Rail Giants Train Museum at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds. It should be operating by 2019 for the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Utah, which linked the Union Pacific with the Central Pacific and completed the first transcontinental railroad in the USA. I was kind of disappointed to read that 4014 will be converted to oil-fired. Probably the most practical but somehow it takes away a bit from the restoration satisfaction. Nobody wanted to shovel that much coal I guess.
March 4th ~ Vol. 85 No. 9
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