A day or so ago, I started seeing pictures of a huge steam engine on Facebook with narrative about the awesomeness of the huge train. Curious, I looked into it and this is what I discovered.
In honor of the 150th anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad, the powers that be decided to restore one of the Big Boy Steam Engines. Originally there were 25 (so the Internet says) and now there are seven (again – Internet). I added the part about the Internet because I am not a steam engine expert, so, though I trust the site I looked at, I don’t know for sure.
None of the seven were working and most often permanently parked in a museum/park somewhere. But at a cost of 4 million, Big Boy 4014 was restored over the past four years for transcontinental tours this summer.. Because you can’t just order a steam engine part from Amazon, everything had to be made from scratch and the restoration was quite challenging.
The locomotive is 132 feet long and weighs 1.2 million pounds. Because of it’s length, it is made with hinges, so it can turn in tight spaces.
Now the engine is once again running and currently on a Midwest tour … most recently in West Chicago.
I used to drive through West Chicago (which is a town west of Chicago, but is not the west part of Chicago) every day on the way to work, so, since I was going out to the grocery store anyhow, I thought I’d stop by and see the engine. Didn’t even bother asking anyone to come with me, because I figured in and out. I knew being a Saturday morning, there would be several people around, but figured I could quickly find a parking space, take a pic or two and be on my way.
Think again. Instead of several people, there were several thousand – every parking place within a two-three mile area was taken (we’re talking narrow city streets). (Their big parking lot was closed for the train exhibit.) I drove the loop a few times looking for a place and was about to give up, when I saw a small parking lot next to an ice cream place which turned out to be very fortuitous (I’ll explain later).
And then I started walking … and walking … and walking. The temp was mid- eighties, not too bad, but a little warm. People were getting worn out from the crowds and the walk … and rewarding those who set up water stops along the sidewalk. I got to the bridge over the train and walked down the other side. I mean this was back-to-back people. People everywhere!!!! I got some good pictures, decided not to stand in the endless line to walk through one of the cars and headed back … but not before someone handed me a coupon for a free cone. Here comes the fortuitous part – the coupon was for the ice cream shop next to my car! A welcome treat at the end of my hike … and it was a large cone! I heard one of the workers say they were closing down the shop – maybe this was the last gift to the community, I don’t know. But a fun end to a unique Saturday morning.