CHEYENNE — Wyoming railroad buffs, or trainiacs as they are called sometimes, are excited about the prospect of getting back the biggest of the "Big Boy" steam locomotive engines.
They are hoping it will be in Cheyenne by the May 13-14 weekend for "Depot Days" when the Union Pacific Railroad opens its roundhouse and steam engine shop to the public.
After being on display for years at a museum in Pomona, Calif., the 600-ton Big Boy locomotive No. 4014 recently left on its first leg of a journey east to Cheyenne.
After it arrives here sometime in mid-spring, the engine will undergo a total overhaul in the UP maintenance shop, according to company spokesman Mark Davis. The restoration is estimated to take three to five years.
"We tend to receive attention whenever we move one of our steam locomotives outside of Cheyenne. This one being the largest one ever built, you get attention not only from the rail enthusiasts community but from the general public," Davis said.
The engine was originally built in 1941.
It was one of 25 massive steam engines that began moving on the UP transcontinental rail line that year.
For years it pulled heavy freight over the mountains between Ogden, Utah, and Green River.
In December 1961 the giant locomotive was retired after traveling more than 1 million miles.
If it weren't for the UP railroad, Cheyenne wouldn't exist. And the capital city has plenty of local railroad enthusiasts in addition to the visitors.
The Sherman Hill Railroad Club is comprised of 30 members who meet every Thursday evening.
The club is named after Sherman Hill, the steep gangplank that rises west of Cheyenne and was a challenge for UP steam engines.
The group has a connection with Union Pacific. The members maintain the Big Boy steam locomotive near the railroad tracks in downtown Cheyenne and are involved in other UP activities. UP allows the club to meet at a small space at the roundhouse that normally is closed to the public.
During the meetings the members run model trains they have built, said Nathan Beauheim, a member.
The club has a scale model rail layout that the members display at various shows.
They have a show at Frontier Park the same week as Depot Days, and are involved in the first Sunday of Frontier Days with the UP excursion from Denver to Cheyenne.
The railroad club members will be interested in No. 4014's progress and arrival in Cheyenne, Beauheim said.
Tourist promoters tout Cheyenne for being a leader in railroads and rodeos.
"Trains are a big part of our tourist mix here," said Darren Rudloff, executive director of Visit Cheyenne, the Cheyenne area convention and visitor's bureau.
Having a Big Boy that is operational, especially if the public can participate and view it, will be a big draw, he added.
The big steam engines are a public relations asset for UP, he said, and the purpose of the steam shop is to maintain the old steam engine fleet.
More than 2,000 visitors from other states and nations took the city trolleys to tour the railroad shops during Depot Days last year.
Rudloff's organization is hoping the interest in No. 4014 will give a push to a proposal to construct a bridge from the Cheyenne passenger depot so visitors can see the work taking place at the steam shop.