Some came because they love trains. Others came because they especially love steam engines. And some came just because it was a nice day.
That was the vibe from the estimated 3,000 visitors who flocked to the Rochelle Railroad Park on Tuesday morning to see the Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014 steam engine.
“I went to Utah back in May to see it,” said James Ellison, 27, a train enthusiast from Logansport, Indiana. “I saw on the schedule that it was coming to Rochelle and I thought that would be good way to see it and bring my parents along and have some fun.”
Ellison was in his element on Tuesday morning as the steam engine, dubbed as one of the world’s biggest and most powerful steam locomotives, arrived on one of the westbound UP lines to the cheers of onlookers.
“Ever since I was three years old I loved trains,” said Ellison. “I used to build trains out of Legos.”
Meanwhile, Jerry Hinrichs, 72, of Oregon, was casually walking along the viewing platform as others listened to their portable scanners to try and pick up train chatter on Big Boy’s ETA.
“No I’m not a train guy. It was just a nice day, but there sure is a huge crowd here,” he said.
Big Boy left West Chicago around 8 a.m. and arrived at the railroad park around 10:25 a.m., not quite on schedule, but that didn’t matter to most camera-phone ready viewers.
“I can hear it coming now,” said one expert chaser. “It’s about a mile out.”
As the large, black behemouth chugged to a stop, the crowd rushed to its side snapping photos and taking videos.
Rochelle Police Officers, Ogle County Deputies, and Union Pacific Police made sure excited visitors didn’t get too close to the train.
“We don’t know for sure how many people are here, but someone from the Union Pacific estimated the crowd at 3,000,” said Rochelle Police Chief Eric Higby.
The merchandise shop at the park was packed with people buying or looking at train-realted items. The official 4014 T-Shirt sold out before the train left, but park officials said they are ordering more and should have them in a couple of weeks.
After leaving Rochelle, the train passed through Ashton, Franklin Grove, Dixon, and Sterling en route to its next stop in Clinton, Iowa.
The train’s trek is part of Union Pacific’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of completion of the Transcontinental Railroad through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
At 133 feet long, the steam engine is longer than two city buses and weighs more than a Boeing 747, with enough power to pull 16 Statutes of Liberty over a mountain range.
Big Boy steam locomotives were used to haul freight between Wyoming and Utah in the 1940s and 50s. Of the 25 engines built, only eight remain, and only the 4014 is operational.
And how did Big Boy’s appearance rate in Rochelle?
“It was definitely worth it,” Ellison said smiling.