The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 165


© January 4, 2011   

 ©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.


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Union Pacific Strikes "Pay-Dirt"
as Fans Vote to Bring Legacy Steam to Town

Legendary steam locomotive No. 844 celebrating the 50th anniversary of its move from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Cheyenne, Wyoming. © Union Pacific Railroad Photo

Written by Jim O'Connor

It's called "Union Pacific's Great Excursion Adventure - You Route the Steam".  But what it's turning out to be is a publicity Bonanza.  Here was the question:  How do you market your annual steam excursion with a tight budget?  Another problem, the steam excursion will appeal mostly to rail fans, so you don't want to waste your budget on newspaper, TV, and radio ads that go to everyone and don't target any group in particular.  So, you place ads in  rail fan magazines and rail fan websites like the Union Pacific has done for years.  But this year, Union Pacific has gone straight to the rail fan with two simple ideas. 

On November 9, 2010 the UP announced an "online" voting system called "You Route the Steam".  Railroad fans were asked to "vote early, vote often" and were encouraged to rally friends and family to do the same.  In a press release, UP states they "will bring its popular and legendary steam locomotive to the cities along the route garnering the most votes." They continued with: "Five individuals who score the most contest "points" will win two tickets each for a special leg of the excursion, as well as lodging and air fare".

The second part about winning two tickets for a special leg of the trip has sparked a friendly rivalry among railroad enthusiasts.  Union Pacific provided twitter posts, facebook links, a promo video, and even banner ads which could be posted by persons with access to websites.  So for a month, people voted and votes started racking up as they nominated their hometowns to be included in the steam trek.  The promotion stopped for a month while the Union Pacific's so called "Steam Team" worked out 4 possible routes.

Starting January 4th, the voting opened up again and, for a 2 week period, you can vote for one of these four route schedules (see below).


Here's where you come in.  If you are anywhere even close to one of these routes, you should vote for it.  If your route is the winner, get out your camera 'cause one of these monster steamers will be chuffing your way this summer.  And don't forget, seats on the train will be available, too.  Space on the steam train will be limited, so you will want to purchase your tickets as soon as the winning route is announced.

When you vote, you will be asked to pick a route and verify your email.  Why send the UP your email?  They will notify you by email which route was the winner and provide dates and times to ride the train or view it as it passes or you can visit it when it makes a passenger stop and to take on water and fuel.   I checked with them and they will not sell or give out your email address, and you can cancel emails at any time.

So, even if the train will not pass your area (the UP track system does not extend east of Chicago) you should still vote.  If you are a first-time voter in this contest, votes from this page will credit me (your web master and live steam nut Jim O'Connor) and perhaps earn me and my son, Mike, a couple of seats on one of the legs of the trip!

You can vote once a day from your email address.  If you have more than one email address, GREAT!  We can sure use the votes.  If you know others that can help, tell them about the contest and give them this link: .  The most popular route and the individual winners was announced January 18, 2011.


More about the Union Pacific's Steam Locomotives

Union Pacific Steam Locomotive No. 844

This year marks the 50th anniversary of No. 844 moving from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to special train service out of Cheyenne, Wyo. Steam Locomotive No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific Railroad. It 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.

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.

When diesels took over all of the passenger train duties, No. 844 was placed in freight service in Nebraska between 1957 and 1959. It 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, 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. During the 1990s, No. 844 pulled numerous Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days specials and visited several Oklahoma cities during the Oklahoma Centennial in 2007.  Earlier this year, No. 844 traveled to Harlingen, Texas, and Milliken, Colo., to be a part of those communities' heritage celebrations.

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, Wyoming.

Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985

Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985  was designed by Union Pacific and built in 1943 by the American Locomotive Company. It is one of 105 Challengers built for Union Pacific between 1936 and 1943 and is the only operating engine of its class in the world today – the largest and most powerful operating steam locomotive.

No. 3985 last operated in "regular" train service in 1957. It was retired in 1962 and stored in the roundhouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, until 1975 when it was placed on display near the Cheyenne depot. A group of Union Pacific employees volunteered their services to restore the locomotive to running condition in 1981.

The name Challenger was given to steam locomotives with a 4-6-6-4 wheel arrangement. This means that they have four wheels in the leading "pilot" truck, which helps guide the locomotive into curves; two sets of six "driving" wheels, and finally, four "trailing" wheels, which support the rear of the engine and its massive firebox. Each set of driving wheels has its own steam cylinder. In essence, the result is two engines under one boiler.

The frame of the locomotive is "articulated," or hinged, to allow it to go through curves. When watching the approaching locomotive go through a curve, you can see the boiler swing out left or right independently of the lower half of the engine, as the rear half of the locomotive remains in a straight direction until its wheels and frame are halfway through the curve.

The Challengers were designed for fast freight service, but occasionally pulled passenger trains. No. 3985 originally burned coal and pulled a tender with a 32-ton capacity. In 1990, it was converted to use No. 5 oil. The top speed of No. 3985 is about 70 miles an hour.

No. 3985 has traveled thousands of miles to be either on display or pulling special trains including the 50th Anniversary of Santa Clause Special in Kingsport, Tenn., in 1992; Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 in Houston, Texas; on the Pacific Northwest Tour to Portland, Ore., in 2005; the 2007 Colorado State Fair special to Pueblo; the Upper Midwest Tour to St. Paul, Minn., in 2008; and multiple Frontier Days specials in Cheyenne, Wyo.


A few days after the contest was over, I was notified I was among the 5 winners of a steam excursion trip.  By my calculations, I had come in 3rd by only one vote!  Thanks everyone that voted and sent my son Mike and I on this trip. 






Written by Jim O'Connor


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