Railfans, get ready! It’s only four more days until the giant arrives.

Union Pacific’s “Big Boy #4014” is due in Osawatomie at 2:30 p.m. this coming Sunday, Nov. 17. It will be available for viewing for 30 minutes before pulling out to Kansas City for the night.

According to advance publicity, the big guy will be on West Main Street. In the past, other visiting steamers have parked near Seventh Street. I’m hoping that will be the case this time.

We will have the Missouri Pacific Depot Museum open that afternoon so visitors can learn about the history of the railroad in this area and have a comfortable place to wait.

For anyone who may not know, this particular steam locomotive is the largest in the world. It is one of eight surviving of the original 25 built for Union Pacific and is the only one now operational. The other seven sit on display throughout the country.

Built in 1941, this Big Boy traveled 1,031,205 miles in its 20 years of service. It has been completely restored in an effort taking more than two years and is now visiting 12 different states on the UP line to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. That event was as huge as the locomotive seems today.

We are fortunate to have a chance to view it. On many of its stops, that “up-close” look has not been allowed. Still, there are some rules to be observed. They include keeping a safe distance from the train and recognizing that the track and right-of-way are private property.

Here are a few statistics to help appreciate what we are about to see. This Big Boy is 132 feet long and weighs 1.2 million pounds. It is a four-cylinder, simple articulated (hinged) monster, created to go around curves easily despite its bulk. Its normal running speed for freight service is 60 miles per hour.

The engine will come here from Coffeyville, where it will spend Saturday night. It will go on to Union Station in Kansas City and be on display from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. If you want a better look, that is the place to be. Visitors will be able to board a rail car and buy souvenirs of both the Big Boy and the Transcontinental Railroad.

A brief history lesson here. When the Transcontinental Railroad was completed back in 1869, a ceremonial golden spike was driven into a line that connected the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads. That single action completed a three-year effort to establish a train route across this country.

In all, nearly 2,000 miles of track were laid, ahead of schedule and under budget, in brutal working conditions. Promontory, Utah (often called Promontory Point), was the site of that union, but even that had to be negotiated since the two railroads originally built right past each other.

The railroads, in effect, connected the nation and opened the West to settlement without the arduous journey by wagon train or boat. The connecting spike became a symbol of speed and ease of travel, wonders at the time. It led to the growth and expansion of this nation.

We will have our own chance to wonder about all this on Sunday. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, “Big Boy #4014” is coming to town.

Margaret Hays is a longtime Osawatomie resident who writes a weekly column for The Miami County Republic.

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