An estimated 45,000 people visited Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 during its stay in West Chicago — the longest stop and biggest metropolitan area on the locomotive’s tour of the Midwest so far, railroad representatives said.
The world’s largest steam engine rolled through the suburbs Friday before stopping at the Larry S. Provo Training Center, where it was on display through Monday. It departed Tuesday morning and passed through Kane and DeKalb counties on its way to Iowa.
For those who saw it in person, whether it was parked or in motion, the “overwhelming reaction (was) awe and gratitude,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South said.
Of the 25 Big Boy steam engines built for Union Pacific in the 1940s, eight are still in existence. The recently restored No. 4014, previously out of commission for 60 years, is the only one running.
“Many people have told us they never expected to see an operating Big Boy,” South said. “They thank us for bringing this piece of history back to life and (to) their community.”
Union Pacific acquired the 1.2 million-pound locomotive in 2013 and spent about two-and-a-half years bringing it back to life. After making its first post-restoration run in May — a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion — the Big Boy is now on its “Great Race Across the Midwest” through Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.
Large crowds were gathered along the route Friday, hoping to get a glimpse of the locomotive in action as it arrived in the suburbs.
It was more of the same Tuesday morning, when train buffs lined the tracks west of West Chicago — including at the Geneva train station — to watch the Big Boy leave the area. However, some fans on the north side of the tracks in Geneva had an obstructed view from a passing freight train carrying double-stack containers.
At each stop along the route, the steam engine has drawn rail enthusiasts from across the country and the world, South said. Some smaller communities have seen their populations double or triple during the Big Boy’s stay.
Stopping in the Chicago area, South said, was a “nice reminder of the role the city, as the nation’s largest rail hub, plays in our nation’s economy.”
West Chicago initially had been preparing for about 2,000 people to visit the train each day. Less than halfway through its stay, city officials guessed there would be far more visitors than anticipated.
One of the most memorable comments South heard from an attendee? “Visiting the Big Boy this weekend was like going to Disney World for rail fans.”