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Zooming past me and other curious railroad enthusiasts, the Union Pacific’s “Big Boy” steam locomotive (and accompanying support cars) raced westward on it’s way back to Cheyenne, Wyoming. This image was taken on September 2nd at approx. 0948 hour between Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas.

After photographing the restored beauty at Union Station, I wanted to witness this behemoth on the open road which is where he was intended to function…and for pulling freight across America’s mountains. It may be years, if ever again, he runs our way. I would call this steel wonder a ‘she’ if it were named Big Girl, but gender selection must have been by a man !

Hearing his steam whistle miles distant, seeing the approaching steam skirt and smoke rising from his boiler, the anticipation of Big Boy was over in seconds…kind of like a lot of things we experience in life. Was it worth researching a decent spot to shoot him as he approached? Was it worth hurrying to the predetermined location and hoping I didn’t miss his arrival? Was it worth feeling the rush of air hit me as he passed, similar to what I used to experience once-upon-a-time as a locomotive engineer for Santa Fe? Yes, it was worth it.

Life is made up of moments-some last only seconds while others several minutes. When we add them all together we realize that our lives comprise myriad moments. Some good, some bad and many neutral, but they all count. A worthwhile goal, at least in my opinion, is to make as many moments as pleasant as possible. These are the ones that put a smile on our faces and bring about happy thoughts. Life is tough, and seems to be getting tougher, so occasional moments such as watching an old steam locomotive zoom by at highway speeds is a nice distraction. This pleasing moment will not soon be forgotten.

Whether coming or going, we have many opportunities to make a positive impact upon others. When we meet with family, friends, acquaintances or strangers, we have the privilege of creating a meaningful and positive moment. My success rate at accomplishing this lofty goal falls short of what I feel should be my personal Gold Standard, but I achieve far less if I fail to try.

B I G B O Y

Union Pacific “Big Boy” steam locomotive

Our Native American ancestors nicknamed the steam locomotive, The Iron Horse, after this new mode of transportation began rolling across freshly laid tracks in the vast western United States. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. The locomotives then were much smaller than this giant, but performed well enough to carry millions of passengers and freight across plains, mountains and deserts over the course of 1900 miles (3000 kilometers) of steel rails.

I wish I could state that the advent of transcontinental rail travel was a success for everyone, but that is not the case. Certainly, the myriads of settlers heading to the Promised Lands of the West Coast were overjoyed to abandon the wagon trains which preceded them. However, our Native American brethren (they were called Indians) suffered much as the railroad basically cut their living and hunting domain in half, and quickly brought about the wholesale slaughter of buffalo and added to the demise of their nations.

As technology advanced, locomotives became more powerful as the terrain and loads dictated. The Union Pacific commissioned a score of these behemoths, the largest steamers built, between 1941 and 1944. They traversed the steep grades of the Rocky Mountains until 1962. Diesel Electric locomotives eventually replaced these marvels of steel and steam.

Two key ingredients are necessary to make steam: water and heat. Steam locomotives have large boilers which accept water from their holding tanks. Heat is created by burning wood, coal or oil. Just as todays vehicles need refueling / recharging so did the steamers require frequent stops for taking on water and fuel.

The Union Pacific recently finished an extensive refurbishing of this locomotive, and it is currently operating along their rail lines from Cheyenne, Wyoming to New Orleans, Louisiana; making a ten-state, round-trip tour. Kansas City is fortunate to be one of the longer stops. The Golden Age of Rail may be over, but nostalgia isn’t as can be attested to by the throngs of folks who flock to see this steam engine and its train.

As with all things related to man, technology and the ability to produce it creates blessings and curses. How we view innovation and use technology often determines the end result…I try to remain positive in this accelerated world we live in.

P.S. I DO like my air conditioning, refrigerator, house, car, fresh food, etc. Oh, and the freedom to enjoy them. Grateful, hopeful, and cautious.