UP donates some Cheyenne-based locomotives to Illinois

CHEYENNE — This city’s loss of some Union Pacific Railroad historic steam and diesel locomotives and passenger cars will be the gain of the Quad Cities area in the Midwest.

And perhaps eventually, they could even travel again to our area for temporary display.

The railroad company has agreed to donate some well-known, but mostly no longer operational, locomotives and rail cars to the nonprofit Railroading Heritage of Midwest America, representatives at Union Pacific and RRHMA said in interviews Friday. U.P. will hang onto other popular train equipment, namely its so-called “Big Boy” and “Living Legend” steam locomotives.

An advantage to fans of old trains is they can eventually visit the artifacts that U.P. is donating, although they are expected to be housed at RRHMA’s facility in Silvis, Illinois. The organization aims to transform that former 400,000-square-foot train shop complex of a now-defunct railroad into a museum. It is in the Quad Cities area of the Midwest, near Iowa’s border with Illinois and some 800 miles from Cheyenne.

The donation helps U.P. focus on maintaining and showcasing the “Big Boy,” which is perhaps the world’s largest functioning steam locomotive, and “Living Legend,” notable for being an older steam locomotive that was never fully retired from service. It also comes as major railroads across the U.S. are trying to trim costs to remain competitive.

“We’ve been trying to streamline our operations,” noted Mike Jaixen, a spokesperson for U.P. “We realized that we do not need as big of a fleet as we had” of older train equipment, he said. RRHMA “was a group that was able to find a use for them.”

Any speculation that the company, which is known for preserving a bigger fleet of older trains than some other railroads, is not sticking with this tack is unfounded, the company’s representative said.

“There’s been some internet scuttlebutt that this is the end of the U.P. steam program. This is not the case. We are continuing on with Big Boy 4014 and Living Legend 844. We are continuing forward – that is our steam program.”

Even with the downsizing, the rail carrier has an impressive array of older items, two stakeholders said.

U.P. has “one of the best steam programs in the world,” said Steve Sandberg, RRHMA president. “We’ve been running a big steam locomotive around the Midwest,” the organization’s own Milwaukee Road No. 261 that is based in Minneapolis. The museum’s new goal is to have what U.P. is donating “restored to a standard that is acceptable to Union Pacific,” so that it could travel on the company’s rails.

“They basically wanted to make sure that they could get it out in front of the public and that it would be preserved for future generations,” Sandberg said of U.P. “With them having two steam locomotives, they really did not need to have more.”

It could cost his organization $3 million to $5 million to fully restore all that U.P. is donating, estimated Sandberg. Donations totaling $500,000 will be tripled through matches by the UP in Smoke Foundation, as well as other donations, he noted.

Even before any financial hurdles are overcome, there are potentially complex logistics to get the donated rolling stock from Cheyenne to Silvis, representatives from U.P. and RRHMA acknowledged.

“It will be a huge endeavor, and while we have some ideas how that will happen … now we have to figure out how we make all this logistically happen,” said Jaixen.

One positive is that the train gear will start out on U.P. rails, although other tracks may also be used. The Iowa Interstate Railroad, which took over part of the railroad that used to own the Silvis facility, may play a part in the transfer, some suggested. One Iowa Interstate employee said they were not familiar with the situation, and the railroad itself did not comment.

When the historic equipment does hit the rails, it is likely to prove popular among rail fans, stakeholders said. They recalled big crowds when, a few years ago, Big Boy came to Cheyenne.

“We know that people will want to see this equipment moving,” said Jaixen.

“You’ll see rail fans taking pictures everywhere of the movement,” said Union Pacific Historical Society Business Manager Bob Krieger. Indeed, photos from this newspaper show fans themselves snapping pictures alongside the rails.

Krieger, who used to work for U.P., including in its local steam shop, described himself as happy with the donation.

“It’s been sitting idle for a long time, and I don’t think there is much chance of it being restored here. They have their hands full with the two engines they have,” he said. “They’ll keep their heritage fleet, they are just downsizing. A lot of stuff was just sitting around in the roundhouse. This way, they’ll just give access to the public.” (The current equipment is not typically on public display.)

U.P. summarized, and Jaixen provided details on, the donation from Union Pacific’s Steam Shop in Cheyenne:

The Challenger, which also goes by 4664 and 3985: This was perhaps the world’s largest operating steam locomotive, until it was exceeded by Big Boy’s restoration.

U.P. No. 5511: It is about 100 years old, perhaps the “only one of its type left,” Jaixen said by phone. “It has not operated in 60 years.” It was “not designed for speed, it was designed for power” and could do things like push other trains around a train yard.

The Centennial U.P. No 6936: It was the world’s biggest diesel locomotive when it was built in 1969 to mark the 100th anniversary of the completion of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. It has some 6,600 horsepower.

The shell of a passenger locomotive.

Two business cars called the Selma and the Stanford. They are “kind of akin to a suite at a high-end hotel,” Jaixen said. They could be used by railroad employees who were traveling, and they had things like a bed and an office setup.

Other cars donated included four 1950s coach cars, a diner-lounge car, a baggage car and a caboose.