ROCHELLE – Rail fans from near and far gathered at the Ken Wise Railroad Park the morning of July 31 to witness the Union Pacific Big Boy steam engine No. 4014 live in action.
In honor of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Union Pacific has sent its newly restored steam engine on a cross-country tour making stops in different cities. The renovation process took two years to finish and makes the big boy the world’s only operational locomotive.
Even people who aren’t dedicated rail fans couldn’t pass up a chance to see this piece of history.
“I saw a Sunday feature on TV about the restoration project and it coming to town, and I said how can you miss this once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Lori Hassler, resident of a neighboring town.
Both sides of the tracks were lined with train fanatics as far as the eye could see. Many of which are from or near Rochelle, but some who traveled great distances to catch a glimpse of this machine.
One father and son has gone to great lengths following the train from stop-to-stop across five different states.
“We are from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We saw the train in Cheyenne, Wyoming, then saw it in Sydney, Nebraska, Julesburg, California, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, here in Rochelle and then we will follow it on to Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” said Scott Breden.
Once the engine arrived at the park, the conductor blew the steam horn for the crowd as they began to gather around to take pictures. While the rail fans were taking pictures the steam engine crew handled some maintenance before heading to the next stop.
“We are lubricating the rods and bearings, we are breaking in new rods and bearings so they require extra amounts of grease,” saidd Ed Dickons, train conductor. “Even though the engine was built in 1941 the rods and bearings are very new.”
This process is done every 50-55 miles.
The City of Rochelle was expecting a few hundred visitors to show up for the event and was surprised when thousands of train fans flooded the community.
“It was so exciting to see all of the excitement that built from late spring when [train officials] first announced that it would be stopping here to today, when everybody finally got to see it and get up close to it,” said Jenny Thompson, director of marketing, public relations and tourism for the city. “This is such a unique opportunity to actually be able to stand next to it, hear the horn and see the steam coming out of the engine.”
So many people came out that the railroad park sold out of all of its merchandise and caused a few minor traffic slowdowns. If anyone who attended the event missed out on the Big Boy merchandise, more will be added to the Rochelle Railroad park Facebook page when it becomes available.