Thomas G. Lee and Stephen A. Lee in the cab of Locomotive #8444.
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.