A Tribute To A Great Locomotive

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Thomas G. Lee and Stephen A. Lee in the cab of Locomotive #8444.
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January 29, 1985: Union Pacific Railroad 4-8-4 steam locomotive #8444 at speed near Muskogee
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Union Pacific locomotives #3985 (a 4-6-6-4) and #8444 (a 4-8-4) at Cheyenne,Wyoming on October 6, 1983.
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Claremore (right), Oklahoma. All photographs in this article were taken by Thomas G. Lee.

Pres. International J. I. Case Heritage Foundation 1508 Kentucky
1080 Calhoun, Kentucky 42327

Our American Heritage is rich in history and lore of railroading
in this great country of ours. Songs and volumes of books have been
written about various steam locomotives and the men who ran them,
and about the Golden Age of Steam Railroading in America.

First, we have the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s little
4-4-0, No. 3 better known as the General. This now famous
locomotive was stolen at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) Georgia, April
12, 1862 by 19 Union Army soldiers disguised in civilian clothes,
led by James J. Andrews, a Union Secret Service Agent. The events
that followed that day in 1862 are remembered today as ‘The
Great Locomotive Chase.’ The General was completely overhauled
by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in 1962 and she ran once
again under steam across many parts of the country during the Civil
War Centennial. She is now on permanent display at Kennesaw,
Georgia.

Secondly, we have the New York Central & Hudson River (later
New York Central) Railroad’s 4-4-0 No. 999. This now famous
locomotive, while still equipped with high 86 inch drivers, was
officially clocked at a speed of 112.5 miles per hour near Batavia,
New York, May 10, 1893, thus becoming the first steam locomotive to
officially exceed 100 miles per hour in the United States. The
famed 999 was officially retired from service in 1921 and was
presented to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry for
permanent display in 1962.

Third, we have Illinois Central Railroad’s 4-6-0 No. 382
that was involved in a now famous train wreck at approximately 5:00
a.m. April 30, 1900 at a little town named Vaughan in Mississippi.
The engineer, John Luther (Casey) Jones was the only one killed.
The legend of Casey Jones and the wreck of his passenger train
known as the Cannon Ball were forever immortalized in a ballad
‘The Brave Engineer,’ by a black engine-wiper by the name
of Wallace Saunders, a friend of the late engineer. The locomotive
382 was scrapped by the Illinois Central, July, 1935.

Fourth, we have Southern Railway’s 4-6-0 No. 1102 that
jumped the rails on a sharp curve leading into Still House Trestle
near Danville, Virginia on Sunday September 27, 1903. The
locomotive, No. 1102, was pulling Southern’s famous and very
fast Mail & Express train No. 97. The locomotive and cars ended
up in the creek 75 feet below. Ten crew members including the
engineer, fireman, conductor, flagman and six mail clerks, lost
their lives in this very destructive wreck. The 1102 spent her last
days on the St. Louis division and was scrapped by the Southern
Railway at Princeton, Indiana September 9,1935. That fatal day in
1903 will always be remembered because of the classic ballad
‘The Wreck of The Ole 97.’ It is indeed ironic that this
train wreck will be remembered by the number of the train, not the
number of the locomotive.

These are just four famous locomotives that quickly come to mind
which have forever etched their numbers into the railroad history
and lore of this great country of ours. As I stated at the outset
of this article, there have been many songs written, books written,
and even motion pictures made about the railroads of America, about
the few locomotives that, by some historical event or twist of
fate, made them forever remembered in railroad history.

There is one steam locomotive that by a twist of fate and the
passing of time, has been set apart from all the other steam
locomotives that ever ran the rails. Of all the thousands of steam
locomotives that ever ran in America, all were eventually scrapped,
sold to short lines, or donated to some railroad museum or to some
city park. That is to say, in the end, all were retired and
officially dropped from the locomotive roster, all that is except
our beloved Union Pacific 8444.

During the final days of steam in the 1950’s when the
American railroads were switching to diesel power, many locomotives
were donated to cities across the country, a few were donated to
museums and to a hand full of railroad museums that were around in
those days. A few were sold to railroads in other countries, but,
unfortunately, thousands of good, modern steam locomotives were cut
up for scrap. The Union Pacific Railroad donated and preserved more
steam locomotives than any other railroad.

The UP 8444 was built in late 1944 by the American Locomotive
Company in Schenectady, New York and delivered to the UP in
January, 1945 as the last of a group of 45 powerful and very fast
4-8-4 passenger locomotives. With 300 pounds working steam pressure
and equipped with massive 80 inch diameter drive wheels, she was
both capable of pulling long strings of passenger cars and at high
speeds as well. Her construction number was 72791 and was delivered
to UP as No. 844, the last new steam locomotive purchased by the
railroad. The smoke deflectors (elephant ears as referred to by
some rail fans) were installed in February, 1945. Originally built
as a coal burner, she was converted to burn oil in the spring of
1946. During the late 40’s and early 50’s she was in
passenger service all over the UP system, pulling all of UP’s
first class passenger trains. By the mid 1950’s, she was mostly
pulling fast freight trains, mainly on the Nebraska division.

Her first railfan excursion was pulled in 1958, some six years
before the Southern Railway started their steam specials with famed
ex-Southern 2-8-2 No. 4501. The 844 was last used in regularly
scheduled revenue service between Omaha and North Platte in early
1959. She was then rigged up with special steam pipes and used as a
snow melter in the Council Bluffs yards. In the spring of 1960 the
snow melting pipes were removed, and in November of 1960 she pulled
her first special, scheduled railfan excursion. She has been used
in special events and pulling excursion trains ever since.

During her revenue years from 1945 to the mid 1950’s she
pulled such famous passenger trains as the UP’s Overland
Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Pacific Limited, Portland Rose, and
Challenger trains. From about 1957 to 1959 she powered fast freight
trains across the open Nebraska plains. From 1959 to the present
she has powered many specials, railfan special excursions, and has
appeared at many major events across the country. In 1974 she
appeared at the Expo at Spokane, Washington. She attended the grand
opening of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento in
1981. In 1984 she was on display at the World’s Fair in New
Orleans. For the past 29 years she has thrilled thousands of
railfans with her sight and sounds, and shown millions of
youngsters how it was back in the golden era of steam
railroading.

In 1962 the UP took delivery of a new batch of GP-30 diesel
locomotives numbered in the 800 series, one being 844. Rather than
having two locomotives on the roster of active locomotives numbered
844, the UP management decided it was much easier to add an extra 4
to the steam locomotive’s number, than it would be to re-number
a complete batch of diesel locomotives.

Anyone fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to just walk
up beside the 8444 will know the immense size of this powerful
locomotive. Some of her major specifications are: track gauge
standard 4 foot 8 inches; cylinders25 inch bore, 32 inch stroke;
diameter driving wheel 80 inches; over-all length engine and
tender114 feet 2****5/8 inches; total weight engine’ and tender
in working order454 tons; evaporating surfaces4,224 square feet;
super heating surface1,400 square feet; maximum tractive effort
63,800 pounds; factor of adhesion4.18. Her huge 14 wheel centipede
tender holds 23,500 gallons of water and 6,000 gallons of fuel oil.
On an average run she can travel about 100 miles between water
stops and go approximately 200 miles before needing fuel oil.

Being raised here in Kentucky on a farm, I grew up watching
L&N steam freight trains pass in sight of our farm every day.
In 1952 when the O & N branch of the L&N was dieselized, I
had to turn my attention to the Kentucky division of the Illinois
Central, which was 100 percent steam until the early part of 1958.
When I became 16 years old and got my first car, I spent every
available afternoon at Central City, Kentucky at the IC roundhouse
and yards. I spent many hours riding in the cabs of all those big,
beautiful steam locomotives. Occasionally I would buy a railfan
magazine off a local newsstand and that is how I became aware of
the UP 844. At this point in time I never dreamed that one day I
would get to see her, much less see her in operation, pulling a
train. Probably her future had already been plotted and she would
be doomed to spend the rest of her time here on planet earth in
some park, slowly rusting away inside and serving mainly as a
pigeon roost, or even worse, joining the thousands of locomotives
of her mantle in a scrap line, where a careless cutting torch would
have her reduced to a mere pile of scrap metal.

No! Thanks to a stroke of fate and good fortune, this was not to
be. The 844 was destined for great things and a bright future, she
would not die, she would live on and bring joy, excitement,
pleasure to millions of people. The older people would look at her
with pride and remember how it used to be, and the younger
generation, many not even born when she pulled her first train back
in 1945, could see her in operation and know how it was.

My personal encounter with the big 4-8-4 came in October, 1983.
My cousin, Steve Lee, who works for the Union Pacific out of
Cheyenne, Wyoming and currently holds the title of Manager of Train
Operating Practices, had invited me to visit him and his family and
see their part of the country. Steve was born here in Kentucky and
both he and I share a rich heritage with J. I. Case steam engines
and threshing machines. Also, we were both born with a natural love
for steam locomotives. So naturally I was anxious to visit Steve
and see the 8444. Just a few years before, a group of UP employees
volunteered their time and talents to restore UP steam locomotive
4-6-6-4 No. 3985 back to operating condition. This big coal burning
Challenger locomotive had been retained by the UP since its
retirement back in the late 1950’s and had been on display on
company property there in Cheyenne. After returning the big 4-6-6-4
back to special excursion service, the UP locomotive had made
several special railfan excursion trips.

The Union Pacific in conjunction with the Intermountain Chapter
of the National Railroad Historical Society had scheduled a special
excursion train using 3985 to run October 8, 1983 from Denver,
Colorado to Laramie, Wyoming and return. I ordered my ticket and
prepared for my first trip to visit with Steve and his family in
Cheyenne and to see UP country first hand. Originally my plans were
to leave home on Wednesday October 6 and drive straight through to
Cheyenne. It would be my first chance to see a big four cylinder
articulated steam locomotive live, under steam, pulling a train,
and my excitement was building by the day. Just a few days before
my departure date, Steve phoned to tell me that the 8444 was in
Omaha for the annual River City Roundup Days. He said if I could
arrive in Omaha a couple of days early, I could follow along in my
car as 8444 went back to Cheyenne. What a great opportunity to get
to see both super power steam locomotives under steam and in
operation. The steam crew was to meet and spend the night at a
motel in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the river from Omaha.
Needless to say, I advanced my schedule and left home early Monday
morning, October 3.

On Tuesday afternoon Steve flew in from Cheyenne and other
members of the steam crew were coming in from other parts of the
vast UP system. When Steve and I met at the motel he and I talked
steam locomotives until it was time for the crew to meet in the
lobby. I was introduced to the steam crew and invited to join them
for dinner. I found the entire crew to be nice, friendly, and all
had a warm sense of humor. Immediately, they made me welcome and
feel at home. At this point, Steve had more good news to report.
Before departing Cheyenne he had learned that on Friday a film crew
from the NBC ‘Today Show’ would be in Cheyenne to film the
UP steam locomotives, and that both the 8444 and 3985 would be
under steam all day Friday there in the Cheyenne yards for the
filming.

Wednesday morning, October 5, I went to the Omaha yard with
Steve where we met the other members of the crew and I got my first
look at the 8444. I’ll never forget what an impressive sight
she was in the early morning. With a full head of steam and ready
to go, I was invited up into the cab for a quick look around. We
departed Omaha at exactly 8:00 a.m. and I was instructed to follow
Jim Chval, who would be driving a company rental car. Steve gave me
instructions to keep close to Jim as once we were out of town we
would be moving right along.

Fortunately, US 30 and the UP main line ran almost parallel for
most of the way across Nebraska. It soon became apparent there was
no way for us to keep up with the 8444 and its short freight train
and still stay under the 55 mph speed limit. First stop, Grand
Island for lunch, and water for the locomotive. While at Grand
Island it was discovered that the new rubber pads that had been
installed on the tender journals while at Omaha, had flattened and
parts were working loose. It was decided by the crew that there was
no immediate danger, but just for the sake of safety, they would
limit the speed to 40 mph the remainder of the trip. That was
indeed good news for me as now I could pace the train without
having to break the highway speed limit. That big 4-8-4 ran like a
jeweled watch and rode the rails like a baby buggy. With her 80
inch drivers, the locomotive moves forward 20 feet, 11% inches with
each turn of the drivers, allowing her to reach speeds in excess of
100 mph with all ease. The UP has some of the best kept main line
tracks I have ever seen, thus allowing her to attain those
speeds.

A little incident that afternoon at Maxwell, Nebraska greatly
impressed me. I had speeded up, ran ahead, and stopped my car at
Maxwell so I could get some pictures as the 8444 went through town.
After parking my car and getting out with my camera, I noticed a
section foreman and his crew doing some repair work on a nearby
siding. The foreman spoke real friendly. Just as it appeared he was
about to walk over where I was standing, the sound of the low moan
of the UP steam whistle was heard in the distance. Instantly he
called out to his men, ‘here she comes, take a break and
let’s watch her pass.’ Watching the crew smiling and giving
a friendly wave to the 8444 and the crew aboard, you could feel the
sense of pride those men had toward that grand old steam
locomotive. Even though they would never be interviewed by the
local TV news crew, and perhaps never have their picture taken with
the locomotive, it was still their locomotive and they were proud
to be a part of the great UP system. Upon heading for my car, the
foreman called out, ‘You from around here?’ I replied,
‘No, I am from Kentucky.’ He gave me a friendly smile and
wave and said, ‘Come back to see us sometime.’

After an overnight layover in North Platte, we departed the huge
North Platte yards at 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time with the next stop to
be at Sidney for lunch and water. Upon arriving at Cheyenne that
afternoon, I got my first look at the big, beautiful 4-6-6-4 No.
3985. After all, this was the main reason for my trip, to get a
chance to see this big Challenger in action. I had only expected to
see the 8444 stored, cold, there in the Cheyenne roundhouse.

Friday morning, October 8, I went to work with Steve. The crew
already had both locomotives parked side by side and they were
getting ready for the NBC film crew. Seeing both of these beautiful
steam locomotives steamed up brought back many pleasant memories.
The sight, sounds and smell of those two live locomotives carried
my memory back some 25 years to the days spent at the IC when it
was 100% steam. Witnessing the two locomotives charging down the
tracks, side by side, so the NBC crew could film all the smoke,
steam and action, was a sight to behold and something I’ll
always remember.

Saturday, October 8, was the big day. Since the Denver to Speer,
Colorado portion of the trip was to be diesel powered, Steve told
me to spend the night with him and he would see that I got a ride
out to Speer to catch the train. I rode out to Speer with the
trainmaster and waited for the special to arrive from Denver. Once
the diesels were cut off and the big 4-6-6-4 coupled up, the action
began. The sight and sound of that locomotive charging up famous
Sherman Hill with a long string of beautiful yellow passenger
coaches coupled to her tender was a grand sight to behold. The trip
through the tunnel at Hermosa will long be remembered. Several
photo run-bys were made over and back. That night, back at
Cheyenne, I bade the UP steam crew goodbye, thanked them for all
their kindness and hospitality. They assured me that it had been
their pleasure and I was welcome to come back to UP Country
anytime.

The next morning, Sunday, October 9, 1983, as I was preparing to
leave Steve and his family, I had a confession to make. Even though
the big 3985 was supposed to have been the purpose of the trip in
the beginning and the star of the show, as I told Steve, I had
fallen in love with the 8444. Not to take anything away from the
big, powerful, good looking coal burning 4-6-6-4. The 3985 is a
great locomotive and it is wonderful that the UP management still
keeps her available for special steam excursion service.

During the past several years many steam locomotives have been
removed from display in museums and city parks and restored to
operating condition by hundreds of devoted volunteers. This is
wonderful for us true, dyed-in-the-wool steam fans. If every
locomotive left in the U.S. were restored and operating today it
would not be too many. There are several good super-power steam
locomotives across this great country of ours operating special
excursion trains today, thrilling literally millions of people.
This article certainly isn’t meant to take away or detract one
thing from any of them. However, these facts still remain and place
the fabulous 8444 in a class all by herself. She is the only steam
locomotive in the United States today that never has been retired
and officially dropped from the locomotive roster. She is the only
locomotive that has run under steam every year since she was built,
and she is still owned and operated by the Union Pacific who
originally purchased her new. These facts have placed the 8444 in a
special place in the history of American steam locomotives that no
other of the thousands of locomotives that have run the rails of
our great country can top. She has made a unique place in history
for herself and truly makes the UP 8444 ‘Queen’ of all the
steam locomotives, both past and present.

On May 1, 1971 regularly scheduled passenger service ended on
the Union Pacific and the 8444 was accorded the honor of heading
train No. 104 over Sherman Hill for the final passenger train.

The Union Pacific is the only Class I railroad in the United
States that can say they have run their own steam locomotives on
their own tracks every year since 1865.

With the tender loving and professional care 8444 is currently
receiving from the UP crew, she is assured many more years of
special service. Hopefully the UP management in Omaha will always
remember her greatness and place in American railroad history and
the beautiful 8444 will be pulling special trains for many years to
come, so a future generation not even born yet can see how it used
to be. Current plans call for the locomotive to be renumbered back
to her original number 844 sometime later this year.

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