Visitors from far and wide come to town for train stop

Mike Burkhart of Abington, Pennsylvania, Steve Barry of Swedesboro, New Jersey, and Nick Hovey of Warren, Pennsylvania, smile outside the Machine Shop after a tour of the Roundhouse and Railyards Complex on Monday, May 6. They were just three of hundreds of visitors from all over the world who were in Evanston to see two steam engines on their way to Ogden, Utah, for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the joining of the transcontinental railroad. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Railroad enthusiasts from at least 28 states across the U.S. and from at least 13 foreign countries converged in Evanston on Monday, May 6, following the Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 steam engine, which was headed to Utah for the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

From as far away as Puget Sound and Hawaii, the Midwest, the East and West coasts, and all across the western states, railroad advocates followed the Big Boy, the largest steam engine in the world, weighing approximately 1.2 million pounds. From many European countries, Canada, Japan, Portugal, Australia, Poland, Taiwan, Netherlands and Switzerland, visitors came to see and follow the only operative Big Boy engine in the world. It was recently restored in Cheyenne.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, people started gathering at Depot Square, on China Mary Road, and other places along the Union Pacific tracks in town. After a wait of more than an hour, the reward came with the sight of steam and the sound of the whistle as the Big Boy chugged slowly into town followed by the UP Living Legend No. 844 steam engine and old passenger cars.  

For two days, the Big Boy and the Living Legend remained in Evanston. People were taken on tours of the Machine Shop, Roundhouse and shown the history of the railroad in Evanston. Many visited the Uinta County Museum and the Chinese Joss House.

Tom Savio from Pasadena, California, calls himself the “Railway Baron.” Savio was interviewed by the Herald at Jody’s Diner, where he had been lucky enough to get a table with people waiting in line clear out to the parking lot.

Savio is a retired Amtrak station master and followed the Big Boy from Cheyenne to Ogden. He said he flew from California to Denver and when he rented a car at the airport, they were discounting the price of a rental if the car was left in Salt Lake City. The rental agency told him it was struggling to get enough cars in Salt Lake due to the crowds coming to see the Big Boy.  

“I belong to the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific railroad clubs,” Savio said. “Originally, the Big Boy was owned by our club in Los Angeles before it was returned to Cheyenne. The Union Pacific railroad has a unique place in the history of our country. I have been an advocate for trains ever since my grandma took me to see an engine when I was 4 years old.”

Mike Burkhart from Abington, Pennsylvania, Steve Barry from Swedesboro, New Jersey, and Nick Hovey from Warren, Pennsylvania, all met on the internet and became friends due to their common interest in railroads. They follow old trains and have been planning this trip to see the Big Boy for five years. They were interviewed at the Machine Shop after their tour of the railyards.

“We are really impressed with what the City of Evanston has done with renewal of the Roundhouse and Machine Shop and the preservation of old buildings,” Burkhart said. “Well done.”

The group said they were planning to stay until the Big Boy left on Wednesday morning and then will travel to Dinosaur, Colorado, to follow an old coal train to Bonanza, Utah.

Mike and Annjean Hillis from Riverside, California, had followed the Big Boy from Bitter Creek to Rock Springs, to Green River and then to Evanston. Mike Hillis works for the Department of Defense and Annjean is a radiologist. For their vacations, they like to find old original rails and visit historical railroads. They had been to see the Uinta County Museum and just finished the tour of the Roundhouse and Machine shop and said they were impressed with the preservation of history in Evanston. 

“We love the history of the railroad,” Annjean Hillis said. “We went to the California railroad museum, where they have one of the old concrete snow sheds. I couldn’t believe those snow sheds, they were something.”

Mike Hillis said that, in 2014, he followed the Big Boy from California during its return to Cheyenne. The couple said they planned to follow the Big Boy all the way to Utah and attend the celebration there.

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