The Age of Steam has passed, but fortunately a few of the old giants live on. Union Pacific's No. 844 is one of those lucky locomotives and the last of its kind.
The great locomotive is the third largest steam engine and the second largest engine still in operation. The last steam locomotive built for the Union Pacific Railroad, it has been in service since December 1944.
Since 844 and its brethren were intended primarily for passenger and high speed freight service, it was built to be relatively fast, with a top speed of 110 miles per hour. The giant locomotive pulled such famous trains as the Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose, Challenger, and the Overland Limited.
Eventually, diesels assumed all passenger train duties for the Union Pacific Railroad. The aging locomotive was then placed into freight service in Nebraska between 1947 and 1959. It narrowly avoided being scrapped in 1960, but instead was saved for special service. It was then moved into the roundhouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which has been its home since 1960.
There is some confusion among railfans about the big Northern's real number. This was caused when an extra "4" was added to its number in 1962 to distinguish it from a a new diesel fleet which were numbered in the 800s. When the diesel was retired in June 1989, the extra number was removed and the old locomotive was restored to its rightful number.
Since its retirement, the great locomotive has served as Union Pacific's goodwill ambassador, making appearances at events throughout the west. It was present at the opening of California's State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, graced the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, among others. One of most eagerly awaited events at Denver's annual National Western Stock Show is the arrival of No. 844 from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Railfans line up along the track to greet the giant engine, and a lucky few have tickets for the excursion back to Laramie, which takes it over the legendary Sherman Hill between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming.
This great locomotive was the last of 45 steam engines known as the Northern type built at the American Locomotive Company at Schenectady, New York. Its wheel arrangement is 4-8-4, and it is rated at 4,600 horsepower. Its eight driving wheels are 80 inches in diameter. It is capable of generating 80,000 pounds of steam per hour with a steam pressure of 300 lbs psi (pounds per square inch). The Northern locomotives were originally built to burn coal, but were converted in 1946 to burn fuel oil. Together, the locomotive and its tender weigh 450 tons when loaded with water and fuel.
Locomotive No. 844 has accumulated a total of over 1.7 million miles, mostly while in active service. Now it travels the country as a living memorial to an earlier time in our country's history.