West Chicago, Illinois: August 9, 2019 – It’s been a week since West Chicago said farewell to the Union Pacific’s Big Boy, and having reveled in its visit, some feel the community will never be quite the same. As more than 45,000 people converged at the Larry S. Provo Union Pacific Training Center on Spencer Street, and thousands more stole glances and captured images from the Eugene Rennels Bridge, the West Chicago Metra Station, and other vantage points, the City is just now catching its breath and basking in the afterglow.
Train enthusiasts came from all over Illinois and many other states including Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Ohio. Many international visitors from Italy, China, Brazil and the United Kingdom, who learned about the Big Boy during their stay, prioritized a stop in West Chicago to get a glimpse of the world’s largest steam locomotive and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion.
Crowds of people patiently waited their turn to tour the Experience the Union Pacific Rail Car, the brand new multi-media walk-through exhibition that provided a glimpse of the past while telling the story of modern-day railroading. Equally exciting, was a chance to talk with Union Pacific Engineer Ed Dickens, who shared his experiences with the restoration of the incomparable Big Boy.
Staff and volunteers of the West Chicago City Museum were on hand for extended hours over the course of the three days to share local railroad history at the Museum and the CB&Q Depot. A post on its Facebook page reads, “It was an amazing experience for our staff and Friends of the Museum to be up close to such a piece of history on Turner Junction historic ground!”
The mention of West Chicago’s former name of Turner Junction references the fact that the community sprang up around the intersection of three major railroads: the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (now the Union Pacific), the St. Charles Branch Railroad (which later merged into the C&NW), and the Aurora Branch Railroad (now the Burlington Northern). The railroads were instrumental in the community’s growth. The population – and subsequent construction of new homes and schools – increased tremendously from the mid-1870s to the turn of the century; the 1900 census indicated that 40 percent of the workers employed in non-agricultural jobs worked for the C&NW.
“The Big Boy’s visit was a thrilling event for our West Chicago residents and visitors”, said Mayor Ruben Pineda. “We are grateful to the Union Pacific Railroad for choosing West Chicago for this historically meaningful and relevant visit to our community.”
It also proved to be a great opportunity for the City to showcase its restaurants, public art, and beautification efforts.
As one Facebook contributor wrote, “It put West Chicago on the map.”
Many first-time visitors to West Chicago shared positive comments as they explored downtown restaurants or stopped to take pictures in front of public art pieces which provide the City with its unique sense of place. The search for parking on neighborhood streets led some to notice and comment on the outstanding gardens for which West Chicago has become known. One resident shared her delight after returning home from her visit to see the Big Boy to be told by a neighbor that her garden was a big hit with the train crowd. The steady stream of people coming and going stopped to remark on her flowers and take photos of her gardens.
Post event comments circulating on social media and throughout the community in workplaces, backyards and baseball fields, praised Mayor Ruben Pineda and City Council for pulling out the red carpet; and the West Chicago Police Department and City staff for the outstanding job it did with logistics and crowd and traffic management.
But the star of the show was unquestionably the magnificent No. 4014. Weighing in at 1.2 million pounds, and measuring 133’ long x 16’ 4” tall, the Big Boy lived up to its name.
An ESRI StoryMap produced by the City compiles some of the stunning photographs taken by community member Sarah Bass, and is now available for viewing at https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/bb57789df32c4fb69ecce57f3655d8de.