Growing up in Arlington Heights, Nicholas Haggin enjoyed taking train rides to Chicago.
But he didn’t become a railroad enthusiast until he met his wife, Alicia, who has been a railfan since she was a child.
“I love the big steam engines,” Alicia Haggin said. “I love standing next to them and just feeling the ground shake under me.”
So when the Champaign residents learned that the world’s largest steam locomotive was going to be in the suburbs this weekend, they decided it was the perfect time to visit family in Arlington Heights.
On Saturday morning, the couple and their four young children were among the hundreds of people in West Chicago who came out to see Union Pacific’s newly restored Big Boy No. 4014, which is in town as part of its “Great Race Across the Midwest.”
The 600-ton locomotive is on display through Monday at the Larry S. Provo Training Center at 335 Spencer St. There’s also a multimedia walk-through exhibit, called Experience the Union Pacific Rail Car, which shows the evolution of trains.
Ed Dickens, the locomotive engineer who oversaw the yearslong restoration of Big Boy No. 4014, said the event is a rare opportunity for people to get “up and close” to the locomotive.
“Oftentimes, we have to park in train yards, and sometimes we just can’t let the public in,” said Dickens, Union Pacific’s senior manager of heritage operations. “Well, this location is designed to let the public in. So they could come right up to it. They can touch it.”
The engine, which weighs 1.2 million pounds, was one of 25 Big Boy locomotives commissioned in the 1940s to haul heavy tonnage and handle steep terrain between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. No. 4014 traveled more than 1 million miles during an 18-year career before making its last run in 1959.
After being out of commission for 60 years, the historic Union Pacific locomotive has been brought back to life.
“Some people didn’t believe they could do this,” said Ben Nicholas of Mount Prospect. “But it’s been done.
“Just seeing this out and about is amazing,” he said.
Richard Rosinski of Belvidere has traveled around the country taking pictures of engines. But Saturday was the first time he was able to photograph one of eight Big Boy locomotives still in existence.
After seeing the 4014, he said: “It’s enormous. The thing is huge.”
And unlike the seven other Big Boy locomotives, train enthusiasts say the 4014 is unique because it’s back on the rails.
“There are several of these throughout the country that are on static display with a plaque,” said Ron Bailey of Wilmington. “That’s all fine and dandy.
“But when you actually see something like that running, it’s a rolling piece of history,” he said.
West Chicago officials initially said they were preparing for an estimated 2,000 people to visit the train each day. Mayor Ruben Pineda said he believes there will be more visitors than anticipated.
“People are traveling from other states to see this,” Pineda said. “If you are a train aficionado, this is the holy grail of trains right here.”
No. 4014 and Experience the Union Pacific Rail Car will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Various groups, including the Illinois Railway Museum and the West Chicago City Museum, also have displays.
The locomotive is expected to leave 8 a.m. Tuesday for Des Moines, Iowa.