Big Boy heads into Utah to help mark 150th anniversary of transcontinental railroad

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ECHO, Summit County — Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014 and the Living Legend No. 844 roared into Utah Wednesday morning to the delight of train enthusiasts who came out to watch the train's journey from its Wyoming base to Ogden.

The historic locomotives steamed into Echo Canyon just after 9 a.m., where they made a whistle-stop so fans could get a closer look.

It was an especially sentimental moment for Alan Searle, whose grandfather, Archie Searle, was a Union Pacific engineer for No. 844 in the 1940s during its run from Salt Lake City to Milford in Beaver County.

"I am a third-generation railroader and remember listening to my grandpa talk about how there is a 'romance ' on the rails," he said. " I never understood it until I watched that steam engine go by today. It is a whole different feeling of what I do now versus what he did 80 years ago."

Searle, in fact, has a photo of his grandfather standing on the front of No. 844 holding his father, Kenneth.

Both have since died, so seeing that big locomotive steam past was a step back in time for the grandson, who works as a conductor for the Union Pacific out of the Provo office.

"The big diesels are just not the same as running those old steam engines," he said. "It meant a lot for my kids to see history … to see how the railroad has transformed from steam to where we are today."

William Diehl, a locomotive engineer for Amtrak, drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to chase the locomotives from Evanston into Ogden.

"It was a madhouse," he said, describing the crowds in tiny Echo. "I have chased a couple steam engines before, but nothing on that scale. The sheer amount of humanity … chasing it was something else."

Diehl said a friend actually planted the idea of chasing the pair of historic locomotives, so he left New Mexico Monday and was returning home Wednesday.

"It was something historic."

For Mindy Sipes, the locomotives' arrival in Echo was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the steam-powered machines in action.

"We are big train lovers. We have actually never seen a steam engine as it drove. It was just amazing. I can't even put into words how amazing it was. To see all that steam come up from it — it was just beautiful."

The West Valley resident brought her husband and 5-year-old daughter, who she said chattered about it nonstop afterward.

One woman chased the locomotives down Weber Canyon and then hustled over to a spot in a parking lot adjacent to Ogden's Pacific Avenue to get another look.

She conceded she should have been at work but couldn't pass on the opportunity, and the fun, of watching the train pull into Ogden.

The Big Boy No. 4014 steam locomotive rolled out of a Union Pacific restoration shop in Cheyenne last weekend for its big debut after five years of restoration.

Big Boys hauled freight between Wyoming and Utah in the 1940s and 1950s. Of the 25 built by the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, New York, from 1941 to 1944, eight remain. Only No. 4014 is operational.

On Wednesday, Union Pacific parked the historic locomotives just a few blocks south of Union Station, where they will roll in Thursday morning.

That event features remarks by Gov. Gary Herbert and a day of festivities. Big Boy and the Living Legend will be on display for the public.

The Living Legend No. 844, according to Searle, is the twin of No. 833 already parked at the Union Station railroad museum. That locomotive sat for years at Pioneer Park before it was moved north to Ogden.

Thursday's events are ramping up to the huge celebratory affair unfolding Friday and continuing into Sunday at Promontory Summit, where there will be a re-enactment ceremony of the meeting of the rails back on May 10, 1869, 150 years ago.

A string of dignities will be on hand, including Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

KSL-TV Ch. 5 will broadcast the ceremony live, and there are a trio of watch parties in Ogden, Tremonton and Salt Lake City for those who can't get into the sold-out event.

More information is available at

Contributing: Associated Press

Correction: An earlier version of a photo caption said Archie Searle was a conductor for the Living Legend No 844. He was an engineer.


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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.


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