Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Union Pacific Living Legend 844 steam locomotive stopped at Union Station during Great Excursion Adventure

And now for something completely different.

While it is true that we typically only discuss road-going vehicles here, there is another mode of transportation that touches the Hover household in a big way. My wife’s dad Joe is a retired signal supervisor for the Union Pacific Railroad, and he has every bit as much passion for the railroad as I could ever have for cars. So when we heard that the “Living Legend” 1944 steam locomotive would be passing through our area, we gave him a call and went on an adventure.

Known as the 844 (changed to 8444 at one point due to a conflict with another U.P. locomotive), the train is on what they call the Great Excursion Adventure, where is will be making a month+ long tour from Cheyenne, Wyo., south to Oklahoma, and back home to Cheyenne.

The Kansas City stop was only the third day of the tour, but it already wasn’t completely without challenges.

We actually drove to Lawrence Saturday morning to watch it steam through the old train depot there, but Twitter updates from the 844 crew indicated that they were delayed in Topeka due to an overheated wheel bearing. So we headed down Highway 24 toward Topeka. Just as we were approaching town, we saw the impressive black plume of smoke heading out. So we went up ahead, stopping at a crossing that Joe said would be a good vantage point. A couple of quick snapshots as the big steamer passed, and we were back in the car.

Before I go any further, I want to give you some first impressions about seeing the 844 in action. Now I’ve seen stationary big steam engines up close before, including this one. But there’s something about that thick black smoke pumping from the stack, the enormity of the engine itself, the people that stop along the way to wave and cheer, and most of all, the low-pitched wail of that unique steam whistle that really sends chills up your spine. It’s cool. There’s just no other way to put it.

Highway 24 runs parallel with the tracks for awhile, so we were able to keep pace with the 844 for a few miles. It was great to see it chugging along without having to see it disappear in the distance for a change.

One more stop to take some pictures of the other side, then it was off to Kansas City. An everyday U.P. diesel also passed that crossing while we were there, and even though modern trains are pretty fascinating, they lack some of the romance of the old-time steamer.

On Sunday, we stopped at Kansas City’s Union Station to catch some detail shots, and we got a little unexpected action there as well. As I said before, they were running late because a wheel bearing was overheating. So while they were at Union Station, the crew was replacing that part. And let me tell you, it did not look like an easy job. The huge wheel coupling rod was sitting on the ground next to the train, while workers were busy heating, welding, and beating the new bearing into place. This is how you would imagine life on the railroad 70 years ago.

And speaking of 70-years ago, 844 was quite a machine when it was delivered to the Union Pacific Railroad in 1944. It is an FEF-3 Class engine, and often referred to as an 4-8-4 due to the configuration of the wheels. It has the distinction of being the final steam locomotive built for the U.P. Initially, it was meant to pull passenger cars, but those duties went exclusively to diesels just a few years later. The 844 was placed in freight service between 1957 and 1959. Then it narrowly escaped being scrapped like so many others of its type, held for special service duties.

Originally, the 844 was designed to burn coal, but it was eventually converted to fuel oil. On a straight track, it could reportedly pull 26 passenger cars safely at 100-mph, and could run in excess of 120-mph.

Over the years, the Union Pacific has used the 844 as an ambassador of goodwill, making special appearances over the years at such high-profile events as the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and the 50th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Union Station in 1989. It has also been featured on several videos and television specials related to steam engines.

Take a look at the slideshow below for pictures of the Living Legend 844 steam train in action, parked at Union Station, and even this one from on top of the Liberty Memorial. I know; it isn’t like the car pictures that you’re used to. But trust me, you’ll like it anyway.


  1. Magnificent pictures!

  2. I love the slide show. Is there anyway you could send it to me so I can use it as a screen saver? sand1rider@yahoo.com Very nice job.

  3. Great Artical & Photos. one thing you should know, the number on this locomotive was originally 844, it got changed to 8444 when a diesel was asigned the number 844, then many years later when that diesel got retired, the number on this steamer was changed back to 844. The Diesel 844 is a GMD GP30 and it now resides in Nevada in Boulder city restored to full operating condition. Jolly the 6066 GMC Guy

  4. Whoa. What about it being a 4-8-4 wheel arrangement..............

  5. Thanks for the tips, folks. I made a couple of changes accordingly. Guess I need to brush-up on my train facts!

    I kind of cropped some of those pictures weird and didn't save the originals, so I'm not sure what kind of screen-saver they would make. You can pretty much take what I have right from here. I don't get many people asking for them. Maybe I should same the originals more often.

    Thanks for reading!