Big Boy steam engine brings crowds, memories to city

Staff Report

Andre Ennis felt like a part of his childhood returned Sunday.

A crowd of more than 200 watched the arrival of the Pacific Big Boy steam engine in Plaquemine on Friday.

The Seymourville resident joined more than 200 other people for the second visit of the Pacific Big Boy steam engine train.

The locomotive passed through Plaquemine after runs through White Castle and Donaldsonville as part of the steam engine train’s return from New Orleans.

“I just like to hear the heavy machinery come through,” said Ennis, 55, who retired after serving 21 years in the United States Marine Corps. “It’s like seeing poetry in motion.”

More:Union Pacific Big Boy visits Plaquemine

The Pacific Big Boy steam engine train made its first visit to Plaquemine on Friday morning, with about 200 people out along Railroad Avenue to greet the train for its short stop next to the Depot. At the stop, Mayor Ed Reeves Jr. welcomed the train conductor, Ed Dickens, and presented him with a key to the City of Plaquemine.

The Sunday run came after a huge crowd gathered downtown on Friday morning to welcome the locomotive on its run through Plaquemine en route to New Orleans.

The train’s arrival brought fond memories to Ennis.

“When we were kids, whenever a train came we would count the engine and every car including the caboose,” he said. “I loved the caboose and I wish they’d bring it back … something about it made the whole train complete.”

For Plaquemine resident Medric Smith, the locomotive’s run through Plaquemine served as a reminder of what has been a large part of the city history and remains so today.

“Everybody has some nostalgia, brings people back to their youth. I used to love to watch the trains, and never at 65 would I have thought I’d have been out here watching a train,” he said. “But look at all the people over here today for this, and everyone is smiling.”

Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific Railroad, the first of which was delivered in 1941. The locomotives were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million pounds. Because of their great length, the frames of the Big Boys were "hinged," or articulated, to allow them to negotiate curves. They had a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement, which meant they had four wheels on the leading set of "pilot" wheels that guided the engine, eight drivers, another set of eight drivers, and four wheels following, which supported the rear of the locomotive. The massive engines normally operated between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyo.

There are seven Big Boys on public display in various cities around the country. They can be found in St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Omaha, Neb., Scranton, Pa., Green Bay, Wisc., and Cheyenne, Wyo.

The train that visited Plaquemine was Big Boy No. 4014, which was first delivered to Union Pacific in December 1941. The locomotive was retired in December 1961, having traveled 1,031,205 miles in its 20 years in service. Union Pacific reacquired No. 4014 from the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, Calif. in 2013, and relocated it back to Cheyenne to begin a multi-year restoration process. It returned to service in May 2019 to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad's Completion.

The crowd was not comprised solely of residents from the local area.

David and Ginger Heuval drove from Watson to see the locomotive.

“We couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Ginger Heuval said. “I grew up in Denham Springs, which was also a big railroad town, and our grandson Abe has always wanted to see something like this – and it was very much worth the drive.”

For Ennis, the locomotive brought back memories of what he and friends did when they saw a train pass through the community.

“Whenever a train came, we would count the engine and every car including the caboose,” he said. “I loved the caboose and I wish they’d bring it back … something about it made the whole train seem complete.”

Trains brought a sense of comfort, Ennis said, even with the loud, bellowing whistles day and night.

“Everybody thought it made noise, but living close to the track, it would put us to sleep with the rocking and making the house shake a little bit,” he said. “It was like a comfort of home, and we would never miss a beat of it.

“Seeing this here today has been like seeing part of my childhood come back,” Ennis said.