Thousands of people welcomed the largest steam locomotive ever constructed as it made its way back to Southern California Wednesday.
The Union Pacific locomotive, known as "Big Boy" 4014, had been sitting on display for more than 50 years at the Pomona fairgrounds. But after a massive restoration project, it's up and running yet again.
"We saw her when she was going to be restored, and now she's fully restored," said Jeanette Bohman of Victorville. "And we're excited! I don't even have the words."
Many of the onlookers gathered hours before the scheduled arrival of Big Boy 4014 at the Amtrak station in Victorville. The enthusiastic group consisted of photographers, people who called in sick to work and about 200 students from Six Street Preparatory School just up the street.
"Kids love trains all the way from kindergarten on up," said Principal Colin Rowe. "And once we mentioned it to the students and teachers, they blew up with excitement."
The restoration project on the 132-foot long locomotive was conducted by a nine-person team, lead by senior manager Ed Dickens. But overhauling 1.2 million pounds of steel was no easy feat.
"Just good old fashioned American hard work," Dickens said. "Get rid of the spreadsheets, get rid of the pie charts, get rid of the timelines and get to work."
The completion of the restoration was meant to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
"The restoration of a Big Boy has been the most frequently asked question of the Union Pacific historical community for three decades," Dickens said. "It's only natural when there's a big celebration like the 150th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike, what better way to celebrate that than with heritage equipment."
Big Boy 4014, which was built in 1941, originally ran on coal, but the decision was made early on to run the restored version on No. 5 oil instead. Dickens said the main reasons were cost and safety.
And of course, the filth.
"(With coal) you have to remove tons of ash, and everything that the fire burns down into the ash pan," he said. "In addition to that, you got a tremendous amount of ash and cinders flying out of the thing. So there's no way. We never considered running it on coal."
Big Boy 4014 will be on display to the public on Thursday and Friday in Bloomington. Tickets have already sold out for fans to take a ride back up the Cajon Pass to Barstow over the weekend.
The locomotive will be back in Bloomington on Monday, before heading east and continuing its journey across the country. Its stops on Tuesday include Beaumont, Indio and Yuma.
Union Pacific's Big Boy: Largest locomotive ever built back in SoCal after massive restoration
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