Steam locomotive stops in Union County
Nearly 100 people of all ages gathered at a railroad crossing in western Union County one day last week to see living history steam its way through the Union County community for what was being billed as a “Trek to Tennessee.”
Union Pacific’s “Living Legend" No. 844 steam locomotive made a stop at the railroad crossing on the State Forest Road in Wolf Lake at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Union Pacific reported on its website that No. 844 was on a journey of more than 1,200 miles, one way, to celebrate the Oct. 22 opening of Big River Crossing in Memphis, Tenn.
The trek was the first multi-state venture since the locomotive’s three-year restoration.
No. 844 traversed Union Pacific’s main line through Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee beginning on Oct. 13. Brief stops were being scheduled throughout the 19-day roundtrip journey.
Along with the well-attended visit early on a warm October afternoon in Wolf Lake, No. 844 was scheduled to make stops in Chester and Gorham, before heading south on to the Thebes bridge and crossing over the Mississippi River to Southeast Missouri.
No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific Railroad. The locomotive was delivered in 1944. A high-speed passenger engine, it pulled such widely known trains as the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose and Challenger.
Union Pacific noted on its website that many people know the engine as the No. 8444, since an extra “4” was added to its number in 1962 to distinguish it from a diesel numbered in the 800 series. The steam engine regained its rightful number in June 1989, after the diesel was retired, Union Pacific added.
When diesels took over all of the passenger train duties, No. 844 was placed in freight service in Nebraska between 1957 and 1959. The locomotive was saved from being scrapped in 1960 and held for special service.
The engine has run hundreds of thousands of miles as Union Pacific’s ambassador of goodwill. It has made appearances at Expo ‘74 in Spokane, Wash., the 1981 opening of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and the 50th anniversary celebration of Los Angeles Union Station in 1989.
Hailed as Union Pacific’s “Living Legend,” the engine is widely known among railroad enthusiasts for its excursion runs, especially over Union Pacific’s fabled crossing of Sherman Hill between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyo.
Housed in Union Pacific’s Steam Shop in Wyoming, No. 844 underwent a major overhaul and made its return to the rails for Cheyenne Frontier Days in late July.
Those who gathered last week in Wolf Lake joined thousands of others who have seen No. 844 on its journey. A crew member said that 7,500 people saw the locomotive during a stop in Kirkwood, Mo.
Another person who was traveling on the train summed up the reason for why so many people are interested in the “Living Legend” – “because they’re Americans, and this is history.”
The accompanying photographs were taken during No. 844’s visit to Wolf Lake, which lasted for about 15 minutes – but left memories which likely will last for a lifetime.