Just passing through: Steam locomotive ‘Big Boy’ stops in Manhattan

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The Union Pacific's Big Boy steam engine made its stop south Manhattan Avenue railroad crossing, Manhattan Ks. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Although “Big Boy” was late, the crowd of hundreds cheered as a faint, yet loud whistle blew down the tracks Wednesday morning. Off in the distance, they could see the train billowing steam and its bright front light as it approached the South Manhattan Avenue crossing.

When it stopped at the crossing, spectators could feel the mist of the steam pouring out the sides, and see water gushing out of its pipes.

After over two years of restoration work, steam locomotive No. 4014 is touring the Union Pacific system to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad, and the driving of the golden spike.

“We’ve had huge crowds this whole way,” Jim Leonard, Union Pacific steam crew conductor, said.

Originally built in 1941, “Big Boy” is the largest operating steam locomotive in the world.

“My dad is really into trains, so I thought it would be cool to see a huge train in-person,” Shelby Cope, a sophomore in psychology and pre-law, said. “I think it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see, it’ll probably never come through Manhattan again. I thought this would be a great opportunity.”

With such a large crowd, Ed Hoover from Wamego, Kansas, volunteered to do crowd control for Union Pacific. Dressed in overalls and a conductor’s hat, he said he had a green light from the company.

“People move when I tell them to move,” he said, making sure viewers were at least 25 feet away from the tracks.

Kyra Manner, junior in elementary education, is a para for Theodore Roosevelt elementary.

“As a para educator, I work with a couple of the kids in the class, and we’re on a field trip right now to see the train,” Manner said. “I think they’re having a lot of fun. I just found out this morning that it was happening.”

Art Vaughan, from Keats, Kansas, was a yard clerk for Chicago and North Western Transportation Company and said that he and his wife joke about the fact that kids still call trains “choo choos,” but none of them go “choo choo” anymore.

“The ‘choo choo’ sound is actually produced by the fact that when she blows the air out of the backside of the cylinder, it’s made to go up through the chimney to produce a draft, to pull the hot air through the thing,” Vaughan said. “And so every time that valve opens that steam releases, and it goes ‘choo.'”

Glenn Manning, senior systems engineer for Union Pacific, is based out of Omaha, Nebraska, but was taking vacation days to come to the Manhattan visit.

He’s already seen the train in Omaha.

“I am from Manhattan, I went to college here, and so this is a chance to come back,” he said. “I have family that lives in town, and family from Wichita that was going to come up and see this.”

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The Union Pacific's Big Boy steam engine made its stop south Manhattan Avenue railroad crossing, Manhattan Ks. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

As the train got ready to leave, the engineer, conductor and some other crew members got out to take a picture in front of “Big Boy.” They then got back in, and the locomotive fired up again, puffing down the tracks.

Making its way to Junction City, Kansas, the echoing whistle of “Big Boy” could be heard throughout Manhattan.

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I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.