Maybe I am a “steam geek.”
When people ask me what I’m interested in, I typically say baseball, the Santa Fe Trail, Route 66, the Transcontinental Railroad — and I usually don’t stop there.
Two of those interests — baseball and the Transcontinental Railroad — converged for me last weekend.
I visited Silver City to partake in what was billed as “Diamonds in the Rough,” a symposium held at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark to provide an in-depth examination of the importance of baseball in the history and culture of southwest New Mexico, with vintage baseball games and emphasis given to the history of the Copper League, aka the “Outlaw League.”
Ironically, the first and previously only time I’d been to Silver City was during my days as the sports editor at the Valencia County News-Bulletin, when Los Lunas was playing in the state tournament, hosted in that early 1980s season at Silver High. (Another baseball omen.)
As (my) luck would have it, “Big Boy 4014” was going to be chugging through Lordsburg and then Deming on its lone visit to the Land of Enchantment last weekend. “4014” is a 4-8-8-4 steam locomotive — a behemoth of sorts and a testament to U.S. craftsmanship, built in 1941 by Baldwin.
Excluding that handful of Transcontinental Railroad buffs who understand this already, the railroad is celebrating its 150th anniversary and the Union Pacific Railroad has sent 4014 on a journey through the West and Southwest. It was back on May 10, 1869, that the ceremonial “Golden Spike” was hammered in at Promontory Summit in Utah, signifying the completion of the rails from Omaha, Neb., to San Francisco.
Train enthusiasts had been posting videos of the beast rolling through California and Arizona. I wanted to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to photograph it as it left Lordsburg, where it spent the night of Oct. 19.
It’s part of 4014’s two-month junket, which began Sept. 27 in Cheyenne, Wyo., and ends there on Nov. 27, along the way passing through Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. (Find the schedule if you’re interested at up.com.)
Bright and early on the 20th, we made the 44-mile trip from Silver City to Lordsburg. We arrived at the “scene” about a half-hour before 4014 departed, and saw a couple-dozen other steam fans — including a family from Rio Rancho, of all places.
For more background, check this: Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for Union Pacific, the first of which was delivered in 1941 to handle the steep terrain between Cheyenne and Ogden, Utah. Only eight still exist, and this is the only one owned by the UP.
Once the trip is over for 4014, it’ll be retired for good and be put on display someplace.
My geekiness on this subject began long ago, when my grandfather used to take me on occasional train trips — pulled by a steam locomotive — from my home in Royal Oak, Mich., to Durand on the Grand Trunk Railroad. (Yes, to old-time rock-and-rollers, that’s where the band Grand Funk Railroad got its name.)
Many of my recent vacations out West have included seeing these old steam-powered beats and/or riding them, including a ride on the Virginia-Truckee line from near Carson City to Virginia City, Nev., on our 2019 vacation.
Back in 2011, we drove to Alamogordo one Sunday morning to see locomotive 844, a UP steam locomotive 4-8-4 (not a 4-8-8-4, but still huge) on the rails passing through New Mexico, albeit a different route. It was celebrating New Mexico and Arizona’s statehood centennials, coming up in 2012.
That may also explain my interest in the old ATSF locomotive, 2926, being restored in the Duke City … and in the Cumbres & Toltec and Durango & Silverton narrow-gauge railroads, so close to home.
Someday, these trains will all be gone, except for being in museums, I suppose.
I’d conclude this by saying, “Ya gotta love history,” but you really don’t.
So excuse my foray into the past.
Yeah, I still love baseball. And just how do you think those old-time baseball teams traveled from the East Coast to St. Louis, “way out West,” for their ballgames before airplanes and charter trips?
By rail. It’s all connected, at least for me.