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Restoring Big Boy: One Gigantic Task

Posted at 6:12 PM, Aug 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-03 19:12:38-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — For five decades, this marvel of 20th century innovation, sat dormant, collecting dust, spider webs and a little rust out in Southern California.

Many thought it should stay there because it would be too difficult to make the locomotive run again.

"If you don't want something to happen people tend to say it won't work, and convince others it won't work, with the hopes that maybe they'll stop asking,” says Ed Dickens, who managed the nine-person crew that restored Big Boy.

Eventually Union Pacific stopped listening to the naysayers, and said they'd restore it.

"So when we returned it home, we wanted to strip everything apart again,” says Dickens.

Other than the boiler, the team led by Ed Dickens, rebuilt the train from the ground up.

"Everything that you see here was in pieces,” says Dickens.

But before they even began working on it. They re-built their shop, so they could complete the overhaul.

"Put a big overhead crane in the shop, bought lots and lots of tools, we didn't have many of the tools that we needed. So we re-built tooling, re-built machines, re-built the shop, before we could re-build the locomotive,” says Dickens.

They had to make one major change, and some thought it would be tough. The original Big Boy trains ran on coal. That's no longer practical, so they had to power it by oil instead.

"That was supposed to be one of the most difficult obstacles we would face, was the oil conversion and it was actually one of the more simple,” says Dickens.

After a few minor hiccups they completed it and Dickens says he marvels at the craftsmanship, below the train, between the wheels and under the frame.

"It looks immaculate under there, it's really too bad we can't put mirrors, down where people can see it, because it really is. I don't know if it's appropriate to say it's beautiful but it really is a beautiful locomotive,” says Dickens.

He's just completing the first major trip since restoring the locomotive and is still making minor adjustments. He hopes eventually he can enjoy the work he did.

"In some respects we still haven't been able to let our hair down and enjoy the moment because we're busy with everything it takes to keep this big machine running,” says Dickens.