New rail days photo

The new Rail Days logo.

Nebraskans along the historic Union Pacific mainline will get their first looks at the railroad’s newly restored “Big Boy” — the world’s largest operating steam locomotive — in July and again in August.

U.P. officials announced Thursday that Engine No. 4014, returned to service in time for May’s 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad’s completion, will park unofficially in North Platte July 9-11 on its way east from U.P.’s steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

It’ll return west Aug. 3-6, pulling a special “Experience the Union Pacific” car celebrating the “Great Race to Promontory” that ended with the driving of the “Golden Spike” in Utah on May 10, 1869.

Big Boy and its special car will be on public display from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 6. Omaha-area visitors can inspect them during that city’s Omaha Railroad Days July 13-14.

To take advantage of Big Boy’s presence, the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center in North Platte will hold its annual Rail Days Aug. 3-5 instead of in its previous mid-September time slot, according to the attraction’s Facebook page.

Big Boy also will stop unofficially in Sidney, Chappell, Julesburg (Colorado), Ogallala, Cozad and Lexington as it tours U.P. tracks in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to the railroad’s website. It will return to Cheyenne Aug. 8.

Both of No. 4014’s North Platte stops will be on the Bailey Yard sidetrack opposite East Front Street between Chestnut and Poplar streets, just north of The Telegraph’s offices.

That track has long hosted visits by U.P.’s special locomotives and “Heritage Fleet” passenger cars. Engine No. 4141, the specially painted diesel that pulled former President George H.W. Bush’s body to its final Texas resting place, stopped there unofficially in February.

It’s also where a special train carrying Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King stopped on April 21, 1945, to visit North Platte’s World War II Canteen on his way to the United Nations’ founding conference in San Francisco.

By then, Union Pacific’s original 25 Big Boy locomotives had been in service for four years. The articulated 4-8-8-4 locomotives, retired in 1959, were designed especially to pull freight over the steepest parts of the railroad’s original transcontinental line in Wyoming and eastern Utah.

After 2½ years of restoration, No. 4014 retraced those steps beginning May 2 as it rumbled toward Ogden, Utah, for the railroad’s 150th anniversary Golden Spike celebration there.

Accompanying it was Engine No. 844, U.P.’s only continuously serving steam locomotive, which touched noses with Big Boy in Ogden in the same manner as their U.P. and Central Pacific predecessors at Promontory Summit.

Seven other Big Boy locomotives are on display at various locations, including No. 4023 at Omaha’s Kenefick Park above Interstate 80 near Lauritzen Gardens. No. 4014 had resided for many years at the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona, California, before its restoration.

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