THE STEAMPUNK SCRAPBOOK: BIGBOY AND 8444 DOUBLE-HEAD

THE STEAMPUNK SCRAPBOOK: BIGBOY AND 8444 DOUBLE-HEAD

Regular readers here know I have this fascination for three things that I suppose could fall under the category of "steampunk." Those are: (1) artillery (the bigger the better); (2) roller coasters; and (3) steam locomotives, which are I suppose the very essence of "steampunk": clanking, snorting, hissing beasts of valves, tubes, and pressures all bolted together, and dreamed up by engineers doing things the old-fashioned way, on drafting tables, using pencils, and slide rules. When you stop and think what the steam locomotive represents in terms of its engineering achievement, it really is breathtaking.

Well, all that's a bit of context for a story I've followed and blogged about on this website occasionally, and that is the Union Pacific Railroad's purchase and restoration of old steam locomotives to fully functional operations, and their conversion to burn oil, not coal. This effort began in the 1990s, and the railroad restored a 4-6-6-4 "Challenger" articulated locomotive, which you can watch the sheer muscle of this locomotive pulling 143 freight cars over the mountain passes in California, and doing the work of several diesels:

And if you've ever been driving around Wyoming, you might have seen engine 844 chugging along and 75 mph or better (you can find many videos by Skip Weythman on youtube with engine 844; check them out, they're fun to watch).

But a few years ago, Union Pacific brought the largest steam locomotive ever built to its "steam shop" in Cheyenne to begin the process of restoration and conversion, the 4-8-8-4 "Big Boy" articulated locomotive, even bigger than the Challenger in the first video above.

Well, that restoration work has been concluded, and the Big Boy has not only had its first "steam up" and trial run, but has joined engine 844 in a "double-header" expedition to Ogden, Utah:

 

Now, pardon me for cramming so many locomotive videos into one blog. As I say, I can't help it; I have a "thing" for these old beauties and marvels of engineering skill and ingenuity, all done without a scrap of "computer-aided design" in their day, just drafting paper, pencils, triangles, French curves, erasers, and slide rules.

There is, however, method to my madness, and I have blogged about this before, and now, with Big Boy's and 844's double-header to Ogden, it's time for a "revision and extension" of my previous high-octane speculations. As I've mentioned before, the restoration work on these old locomotives has been extensive: fireboxes and boilers needed to be rebuilt, many complex parts needed to be completely manufactured anew. In effect, the process of these restorations has meant - I have argued - that Union Pacific probably now has (re-)acquired the knowledge to manufacture a steam locomotive from the bottom up, from scratch. Additionally, it has had to train engineers to operate and run the monsters, and has had to build out the infrastructure to allow them to operate on the company's track, after all, steam locomotives need fuel and water.

What all this means (as I've also previously argued) is that the railroad is laying out a considerable amount of money, so much, in fact, that I highly doubt it's just because it wants to provide photo opportunities for local "railways heritage days" clubs. Something else is definitely involved, and as I've also speculated, that something may be "EMP," electromagnetic pulse. A conventional diesel electric locomotive will be taken down in a heartbeat; so too, will your automobile (unless, perhaps, it is a model T, but that's another story); likewise most aircraft. But a steam locomotive - all valves and gears and levers - will chug along quite nicely. Hence, behind this "steam locomotive restoration" effort I've suspected a much bigger national security agenda, one to reacquire the know-how to build, repair and maintain, and operate these locomotives. (Since I first blogged about this subject, people both in Australia and in the United Kingdom have written me informing me that similar restoration efforts of steam locomotives are under way in those countries as well.)

Which brings us to the last video above, the one showing engine 844 and the Big Boy "double-heading." Now, if you don't know railroad parlance, double-heading is when two or more locomotives are used to pull a train. You see it all the time with several diesels coupled together at the head (and sometimes the middle and ends) of very long trains. Double-heading is relatively easy to do with diesels, since they are built to be able to do so, with the rates of acceleration and deceleration being controlled from one cab via electronic links to the others so that all the engines are acting in an identical fashion, under unitary control.

But double-heading with steam locomotives is a considerably more complicated business, since these are all analog technologies, and no centralized automated electronic control of the engines is possible (and, if my EMP national-security hypothesis is what lies behind this restoration effort, one wouldn't want to devise such a method anyway since it would be vulnerable to EMP interdiction). Double-heading with steam locomotives requires a great deal of experience from the engineers in the cabs of each locomotive. Yet, double-heading was done in the age of steam, and particularly during the American Civil war when both the Confederacy and the Union used railroads to move massive amounts of troops, supplies, ordnance and so on. And it was done with no means of remote or automated radio communication between cabs.

So what I suspect we're now looking at once again (and under the guise of a "railroad heritage days" event) is a bit of trial and practice, a training exercise on how to double-head with steam locomotives, should the occasion ever arise that it would be necessary to do so.

It does make one wonder, especially since President Trump also recently issued an executive order regarding electromagnetic pulse.

See you on the flip side...

20 thoughts on “THE STEAMPUNK SCRAPBOOK: BIGBOY AND 8444 DOUBLE-HEAD”

  1. As was mentioned before, Japan is also restoring steam-powered locomotives.
    This got me thinking based on what Dr Farrell pointed out. Steam locomotives need fuel and WATER.
    Where is there an ample supply of water in Japan that Tepco is desperate to get rid of? See “zerohedge dot com/news/2018-05-20/contaminated-fukushima-water-storage-tanks-close-capacity-tepco-admits”.

    I know, a crazy idea, but you just never know. They could potentially even ship that water overseas to be burned off in those freshly refurbished steam engines.

  2. (A description of a steam engineer in the railyard of Juárez, Mexico, around 1947–excerpted from a memoir by Ozzie Delgadillo.)
    – – – –
    When I was around 13, I told him, “Uncle, I want to be a railroad man. Can you teach me?”
    He said, “Of course you’re going to be a railroad man. I’ll get you the book with all the rules and regulations, and you start studying it. And, meanwhile, when you get out of school for the day, come and visit me. Come straight over to the railyard.”
    “I will!” Man, I was a happy trooper. I wanted to be a railroad man. My God, this was fantastic. I was so excited. I started to study, and I started to read about it: two whistles means this, one flag means one man down, this and that. I studied all that stuff.
    Before, I had been an observer of grown-up action—often by sneaking in some place. But now, I was being given a chance to play in the grown-up world. Oh, I jumped at that opportunity. I always looked up to Uncle Manuel, but soon I found out just how big his responsibilities were. First of all, he was in charge of the railcars in the yard. He knew which cars had to be uncoupled and regrouped every day.
    To do that, he gave orders to El Gordito, the locomotive engineer. El Gordito was probably six feet and two inches and maybe 300 pounds but a really loving guy. He drove a switching locomotive, which operated only in the yard. It was small but super powerful. It could pull 50 to 60 cars, no problem. The locomotive also had a fireman who would shovel the coal into the burner and maintain the steam pressure. Every train had at least one brakeman as well. A railyard is a whole set of parallel sidetracks used to park railcars temporarily. To regroup cars, you have to pull them out of one siding, uncouple and move them. It was a lot of work, and El Gordito could do it really fast.
    Remember, they were working with steam. The control levers were heavy and hard to move. And, even when you moved them, there was a delay in the response of the locomotive. So working quickly took a lot of ability. El Gordito liked to race the locomotive down the tracks and stop it just short of crashing into a car. He could make the drive wheels spin and screech incredibly. He was a jokester. You had to be on your toes when you walked alongside his locomotive. If you weren’t watching, he would hit the release valve and blast you with wet steam. Then, when you looked up at him, you’d see a poker face turning into a sly smile.
    – – – –

  3. There is one difference between these refurbished locos and their original state: most of them are refitted to run on diesel-fueled boilers instead of coal. Not sure why that is, could be diesel is more efficient.

  4. There is the EMP component to all of this, but there is also the AI (aka Cylon) threat. Absolutely anything with electrical components could be vulnerable to AI ‘infection’ and shut-down. So, you (re)develop the analog and mechanical side of things. Locomotives included…

    Jim Stone also came out with an interesting ‘conspiracy’ take on EMP. He views EMPs as being unable to effect modern electronics (outside of very long runs of wiring). He has posited a False Flag event using EMP fakery. “Everyone” knows a powerful EMP will render cars/trucks inoperable, by frying their electronics. But what if that were not true? The PTB could still fake an EMP event taking-out transportation by having radio-receiver chips embedded during manufacture. Send out a ‘kill switch’ command (fail open) after an EMP event, and – voilà – instant transportation emergency…

    1. The analogue model was never abandoned for certain types of very highly-classified documents.
      I wonder what a modern analogue document security system would look like? Deep Underground Vacuum Tube networks linking typing pools staffed by Voice-Activated Shorthand Transcribers?! Those were the days, my friend…..

      1. Apologies, my poor old analogue brainlette forgot to add that the military take the threat of EMP very seriously indeed and have done since 1945.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this, Doc. I never gave steam locomotives much thought before, but thinking about all the pressure building up in there to move the wheels, and all the moving parts, while watching the videos, really was a pretty intense experience. I think we need way more rail in this country for commuting, like they have in Europe and Asia.

    1. Let’s hope it’s already too late to build rail for commuting. In fact, let’s hope it’s too late for commuting – it’s such a waste of time and resources. For those who will still have to commute, the future appears to be in autonomous air taxis, which are already waiting for regulatory approval: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tIBFaxGYoc
      Even property developers are starting to incorporate them into residential projects: https://moneymaven.io/mishtalk/economics/miami-condo-prepares-landing-pad-for-flying-cars-cm5MwqhzLkKfV38hqraHpA/

  6. At the time you blogged about this; there was also the analogue typewriter being used for security purposes.
    I’m sure they’re just the tip of an analogue iceberg. When war comes; if the U.S. has the capability of use the Sun as a weapon[think solar flare]; so do others.

    In that scenario,
    See you on the well-done, sunny-side-up side.

  7. This brought up the image of The Hunger Games in my mind. Isolated districts with enslaved populations unable to travel about freely or communicate. How did the privileged elites move between districts and in and out of the capital? By train, of course…

  8. Interesting. I am almost finished reading a Clive Cussler novel called ‘Dragon’. I think Dr Farrell you might find the plot somewhat interesting in relation to your speculations……..

    Having said that, I did read ‘Lightning’ by Dean Koontz 18 months ago (as a literary ‘break’ while writing my thesis on the Nazi atomic bomb). Yes that book had strange parallels to the Bell research. The novel itself as a great read!

  9. I am assuming that by EMP you are also referring to a large CME. As the reduction of the magnetic shield continues, the likelihood of even a smaller CME causing disruption of the grid increases. The poles are shifting and the magnetic shield is weakening is a recognized fact. We may be seeing preparations for a natural event as well as an act of war.
    Our nation isn’t the only one preparing for such an event it would seem.

  10. Metallic poetry in motion if ever I saw it. What a laudable achievement to gladden the hearts of little boys of all ages, like me. Isn’t it interesting how fire can breathe life into metal? Japan Rail also preserves and maintains its knowledge of steam operations.

    1. I enjoyed that too . . . I grew up with men and cousins who were train hobbyists. My grandfather worked for MKT and lived next to a switch station. We had model train sets in the garage (no basements in Texas) and went trainspotting. I’m still fascinated with that ‘metallic poetry in motion’ as you so well describe it . . . like the choreography of gigantic clockworks.

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