Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Favorite Steam Locomotives

I've loved trains, especially steam locomotives, since even before I got into cars.  The strange thing about this is that while my car hobby exploded into an almost all-encompassing obsession that nearly takes over my life, I haven't learned nearly as much about trains in the meantime.  This could be in part by the fact that cars are much easier for me to relate to: I see them daily, ride or drive them daily, and classic or otherwise significant cars aren't all that rare.  I can safely bet that on an average day here in Michigan, it's more likely that I see a car I love than it is to see even a regular freight train on the tracks down my street.

Allegheny #1601, one of the batch of the heaviest, most powerful steam locomotives ever built on display at The Henry Ford
Image from www.rgusrail.com/

When I was young, my love for trains was kick started by my nanny taking me and the few other kids to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village during the day while our parents went to work.  I got to ride the trains that went around the village and see the ones in the museum, especially the monstrous Allegheny #1601 (which was cemented into my memory because of its sheer size and the Chesapeake & Ohio "C/O" logo that it shared with the railroad bridge near home).  It had a 2-6-6-6 wheel configuration and at 389 tons, it is the heaviest reciprocating steam locomotive ever.  It outweighs the Big Boy, to be mentioned later in this post, by 8 tons.  When my visits to the museum all but stopped after leaving day care, my interest for trains was put pause.

In my opinion, the most beautiful locomotive ever, Southern Pacific's Daylight #4449
Image from en.wikipedia.org

As I said before, I don't know nearly as much about trains as I do about cars but I have a few splotches of knowledge here and there from casual reading and stuff.  Also, in 5th grade, there was a class-wide project about biospheres of the U.S. I won't go into detail but I was part of the "Desert" group and part of it involved investigating human development in the southwest region.  Since I was in charge of doing research about the 20th century, I jumped at the chance to learn a little more about trains.  The Southern Pacific Railroad, operational from 1865 to 1996, stretched throughout the region and I even bought a book that briefly covered its history.

Thanks, Skip Weythman for this video and many other amazing ones

The GS-class Daylight locomotives, part of a passenger line that ran steam locomotives from the 1920s to the '50s, struck me as the most beautiful locomotives I had ever seen.  I don't know too much in detail yet about these, but the Daylight locomotives were made in classes beginning in GS-1 and ending in GS-5.  GS-6s were made for a different purpose. The GS class locomotives have the 4-8-4 wheel configuration and the GS-5s and 6s had roller bearings on the wheels while earlier ones had oiled brass plain bearings that could withstand larger forces but rolled less smoothly.  4449, a class GS-4 refitted with roller bearings in 2008, is the only one that is restored and running today, making periodic special excursion runs.  If I'm correct, this is the only Daylight train in existence today and the only GS class locomotive running, while one GS-6 sits in static display.  I hope to someday see it or even ride on it.  

Remind me again what a carbon footprint is? 
Union Pacific Big Boy #4004, now restored and residing at Holliday Park, Cheyenne, WO
Image from curbsideclassic.com

My other favorite locomotive, or locomotive type I should say, is the 4-8-8-4 articulated Big Boy locomotive of Union Pacific.  Built during Word War II to keep up with the volume of freight that needed to be transported coast-to-coast, these monster locomotives could pull trains more than five miles long and reach speeds of 80 mph.  Maximum power was a reported 7000 hp.  

Image from en.wikipedia.org

A total of 25 were built numbering from 4000 to 4024, 8 of which are preserved today.  The rest of them were sent to scrap in the early '60s when they were all retired.  I don't believe any of them are in running condition.  

I found this video today uploaded by Bassfanatic94.  Not sure where it came from, but this had the most footage I've seen of Big Boys in action and offered lots of good information.  

Union Pacific has recently acquired #4014 from the place at which it has been displayed for the last 50 years and plans to return it to operable condition.

Thanks again, Skip Weythman

The closest thing to a Big Boy that is running is UP 3985, a Challenger locomotive with the 4-6-6-4 wheel configuration.  It has one less driven wheel per cylinder.  Like the Daylight, it makes periodic special runs and the engineers do like to stretch its legs and reach top speed.  There are many videos online where you can see the huge connecting rods reciprocating at impossibly high speeds.

When I was younger, I was awed and intimidated by steam locomotives.  The huge connecting rods on the wheels, the shrill whistles, and the combination of strange noises fascinated yet truly scared me. I'd sometimes wait to watch the train go by at Greenfield Village, only to cower in fear once it actually came within earshot.  Today, after having gained some knowledge of how certain things work, I can't help but be awed and intimidated once again but in a different way.  My eyes are glued to the beautiful motion when the huge con rods move up close in videos online.  I see the light glint off of the seemingly millions of tubes and moving parts and wonder how in the world people keep these things clean and operational.  I need to develop my hobby with trains; I love them too much to just let the interest sit stagnant like this.  Seeing that I built a huge working knowledge of bicycles from ground up in less than a year, I should have no problem catching up with trains even if they are not a direct part of my daily life.