UP 4014 Arrives

West Chicago is nowhere near the end of the Earth. You can’t even see it from there. But for the car-less, it is a bit of a trek from Rogers Park. What brought me to West Chicago on a beautiful Friday, July 26? It was the nearest stop on the 2019 grand excursion of Union Pacific 4014, a steam driven locomotive of brobdingnagian dimensions. Actually, most railway equipment is gigantic these days, but UP 4014 is among the few examples of equipment from before the 1960s that more than holds its own.

The Union Pacific is the only one of the half dozen or so (depending on how you count them) major North American railroads that has always had at least one active steam locomotive on its equipment roster. UP 4014 is a recent reacquisition, having been parked in static display at a California railway museum until 2013. Since then, Union Pacific restored it to operating condition. The locomotive was originally delivered to the Union Pacific in December, 1941. It was retired in December, 1961. While the Union Pacific’s two steam locomotives mostly serve a public relations function, they have occasionally moved revenue freight… which also serves a public relations purpose.

UP 4014 is also an example of a locomotive designed specifically for mountain railroading. The Union Pacific has a tradition of large, powerful locomotives intended to move freight over the continental divide. Some of them have been truly exotic, such as their experiment with gas turbine technology. UP 4014 is mostly unique because it is huge.

The locomotive’s visit to the Chicago area has got to be one of the most photographed events in the area this month. Here is my contribution to the flood:

UP 4014 approaching West Chicago. Photo by Roman.

At this point, UP 4014 was moving at a leisurely pace, no more than maybe 20 miles per hour. Yeah, it can do 60 easily, even though it was intended for long, slow, heavy trains up and down mountain grades. In fact, steam locomotives develop more power at higher speeds, exactly the opposite of diesel-electric locomotives, and that is one of the reasons steam became obsolete on U.S. railways.

The conduits in the foreground are for natural gas pipes. In freezing weather, they feed gas to fires that prevent the switches from freezing.

UP 4014 emerges from beneath an overpass just east of the West Chicago station. Photo by Roman.

These days, trains do not “chug,” but they did back in the day. Actually, steam locomotives make a variety of sounds. On this occasion, UP 4014 was making sounds more like a “chuff” and those were pretty quiet chuffs, especially when compared to the churning motor of a diesel – electric locomotive. I was surprised at just how quiet the machine was. Even the whistle was more musical than loud, and the engineer was leaning on the horn in a determined attempt to get folks to look up from the image on their cameras or phones.

But I’ve heard steam locomotives before, in person, on video, on live streaming. This was not too much out of the ordinary. What did surprise me was the wave of heat from the locomotive as it passed. I had never experienced anything like that before from a steam engine. It was rather like putting your face several inches from a 100 watt incandescent light, and this was from across two tracks. It was totally unexpected.

Well, I was downwind as it passed…

Looking west, UP 4014 approaches the West Chicago station. Photo by Roman.

UP 4014 was pulling a 10 car train, plus 3 tenders and a back-up diesel for “protection,” as U.S. railway jargon would put it. UP 4014 originally burned coal as fuel, but as restored, it now uses “No. 5” fuel oil. (Is this part of the war on coal? Just teasing, Trumpettes. Relax.) The two extra tenders, however, are for water not fuel oil. Steam locomotives use copious quantities of water and, back in the day, they would need to stop fairly often to replenish their supply. Some railroads designed special lengths of track where locomotives could scoop water from a pond between the rails without stopping.

Photograph exaggerates the apparent length of the train, but it was still generous. Photo by Roman.
UP 4014 and train parked at the West Chicago station. It will leave on Monday after being on display in West Chicago over the weekend. Photo by Roman.
Passenger car trucks are something of a marvel. Photo by Roman.
Here comes my ride home. Photo by Roman.

Here are some additional photos from my visit to West Chicago that day. Click on any thumbnail to enlarge it.

Let Go

The munchkin voice cries in outraged pride, “Oh Daddy! Let go! I can do it myself.”

But Daddy teaches, Daddy strong, Daddy protector, Daddy provider. And Daddy is not much beyond a child himself. His daughter, most dear, dear beyond life, totters on two wheels. The bicycle handlebars yip left then right in busy overcorrection. Daddy’s heart careens after, slamming a wall, skinning a knee, cracking a head, each swerve a secret panic.

“Oh Daddy! Let go! I can do it myself.” The dream evaporates to a lonely 3 AM awakening. The memory is decades old but the guilt is as fresh as the morning. Had he only let her fly on that day, on so many days, where would she be today?

Oh Daddy. Let go. Children do so much of it themselves.

— Yip

Bless You

We’ve all been there:

Back when I was but a lobster, it was said that I had wicked hay fever. There was never a pollen grain or animal dander that I would tolerate. So during these warm and fecund months, my mother fed me a constant diet of anti-histamines. As these all had a mildly soporific side effect, it has occurred to me to wonder if she merely meant to keep me sedated.

If you like this video, check out Seoro Oh’s Vimeo channel; there’s some great stuff on it. The anxieties and embarrassments of childhood seem to be something of a theme there.

I can relate.

I think.

I don’t remember.