Union Pacific’s historic Big Boy steam locomotive No. 4014 roared Sunday afternoon into the Amtrak depot in Longview, easily drawing more than 1,000 onlookers.
Young and old marveled at the train while they stood along the stretch of the chain-link fence in front of the railroad tracks by the station. Several people watched from a nearby overpass, waiting for the train to arrive at 1:10 p.m. for a stop of about 15 minutes.
Since Nov. 1, the train, the world’s only operating Big Boy locomotive, has been touring Texas, reaching East Texas this weekend as part of a commemoration of the transcontinental railroad’s 150th anniversary.
The train, the product of more than two years of restoration work by Union Pacific Steam Team No. 4014, included stops in Palestine, Jacksonville, Troup and Overton.
Outside the station, Anthony Plantier of Keene said he and his wife, Lori, have been following the train since it arrived at about 8 a.m. Sunday in Palestine. He said he woke up at 5 a.m.
“It is an awesome experience, the largest operating locomotive in the world,” Plantier said. “It’s huge, it’s loud and it’s powerful.”
Plantier said he saw the Big Boy decades ago at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds.
Like Plantier, Jeffrey Fleck of Houston and formerly of Longview said he tried to get an earlier look at the Big Boy. He said he lives less than a mile from the Amtrak station in Houston, but added “there was too much traffic to see it” Thursday morning.
“It’s amazing to see the workmanship,” Fleck said as he snapped photos through the fence. “The locomotives built America, not something you see every day.”
Fleck, who left Longview in 2000 after graduating from high school, arrived at the depot with his sister, Jennifer Spruiell, and her daughter, Lilly, 4.
Amtrak customer service representative Pat Calton said the locomotive has features that make it distinctive.
“It’s a specially built train,” said Calton, who has worked for Amtrak for 30 years. “It’s got traction wheels in the middle of the engine that allow it to make short turns, shorter than regular engines. It can make sharp turns at a higher speed (than other trains).”
After the train departed, Kimberly Johnson of Hallsville said she wanted the traffic to lessen before leaving. She had come to see the locomotive with her 18-year-old daughter, Ashley and 3-year-old son, Braxton.
“It was real awesome, just the steam and how the way it looked and the sounds,” said Ashley, a junior at Hallsville High School.
After Longview, the locomotive was scheduled to continue on to Marshall, where it will be on display until 3 p.m. today at the Union Pacific Rail Yard at Main and Lake streets. Then, it will leave for Atlanta, then Texarkana, Arkansas, and points farther north.
To view the schedule and check for updates, go to up.com/heritage/steam/schedule/index.htm .