This was a pretty good day!
Most kids love trains, but this old kid at heart is totally smitten with them, particularly the vintage steam locomotives that used to steam in and out of Ogden 40 or 50 times a day back in the 1940’s. Here in my hometown, we are fortunate to have Union Pacific’s steam excursions come rumbling through most summers, and there is live steam at Promontory and in the Heber Valley not far away. This photo was taken by my photog/wife as I was welcomed aboard Union Pacific’s Challenger 3985 for a run from Evanston Wyoming to Ogden Utah. If that is not a kid’s wide eyed grin, I’ll eat your Union Pacific cap! We are just about to depart in a cloud of steam and smoke for the ride of my life! Yeah, I fly airplanes and have done so in many venues from crop dusting to combat missions, but this day was above them all.
This thrill ride started as engineer Bob, a pretty big guy, eased in the throttle as the track ahead light shown a green sector. The train shook as the couplings came together in a neat series of bangs. Bob next had to stand up as he pulled on the big throttle handle for cruise speed of 60 MPH. I was in awe as unexpected “G” force pushed me back in my seat! I could not believe that 627,900 pounds of 75 year old American made locomotive could get up and go like she did while coupled to a quarter mile of train. Click on this image to enlarge, and note the red glow in the crack of the firebox.
According to Union Pacific’s Office of Public Information, 3985 was built in 1943. This locomotive last saw “regular” train service in 1957 and was retired and stored near Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1962. Volunteer Union Pacific employees banned together and restored 3985 to running condition in 1981. Challenger 3985 has a 4-6-6-4 wheel arrangement. The 2 sets of six driving wheels produce 97,350 lbs of tractive power and are 69 inches in diameter. The ever present tender car totes 25,000 gallons of water and 5,945 gallons of No. 5 oil, although coal fired 3985’s boilers until 1990. A steam generator provides electrical power for lights and radios. Steam also drives an air compressor for braking. There is no air conditioning package. The men that run steam locomotives were and remain a hardy bunch, unafraid of hard work, heat and grime.
Here I am down the road in Weber Canyon taking my turn as fireman, keeping one eye on the tea kettle and the other out for the next green light. There is nothing modern in this cab, save be for a Union Pacific two way radio run off of a steam generator, a concession to railroad safety. Back in the day, it was all done by semaphore signals and the legendary railroad pocket watch. The scale of this giant marvel of American know how is just as it appears . . . no trick photography. This thing is huge, hot, loud, fast and absent any creature comforts. Even so, I never had such a fine ride in all my years. The stream of cars chasing the train was a half a mile long, and included my fearless wife who had several planned photo stops to try and make during the run, and make them she did!!