Was one of the West’s greatest cities born from the luck of the draw? One thing we know for sure, Cheyenne would not exist if the Union Pacific tracklayers had found an easier route over the Rockies. Destined to meet up with the Central Pacific Railroad, UP brass identified southern Wyoming as the route with the fewest obstacles.
In 1867, a survey crew set up a camp at the site of the present city. Before long, as one early resident noted, “four or five hundred of us pitched our tents here, where there wasn’t a sign of civilization, and about half of us woke up at daylight the next day to find that the other half was living in shanties!”
The end of the tracks stayed in Cheyenne for nearly six months as rail crews navigated the tricky Laramie Range. That gave the burgeoning city an economic boost that ultimately made it the obvious choice for a major depot. In one year, 4,000 people lived within spitting distance of the tracks, lured by the promise of prosperity.
On May 10, 1869, the “driving of the golden spike” joined the Union Pacific line with the Central Pacific line. That final blow marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad in Promontory, Utah.
Fast forward to 1941, when Big Boy steam engines were the biggest, baddest, loudest trains on the track. These massive steamers were a common site seen, rumble felt and bellow heard by Cheyenne residents during the mid-20th century.
Big Boy lives up to its name—three 40-foot-long school buses would fit inside the locomotive that stretches 132 feet long and more 16 feet high. The mighty engine weighs more than 1.2 million pounds. Big Boy 4014 steamed more than a million miles on its Cheyenne to Ogden route before being retired in 1961.
The largest steam locomotive in the world just wrapped up a five-year renovation in Cheyenne, making 4014 the only Big Boy in operation today and one of only eight that still exist. To honor the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad, Big Boy 4014 made his familiar trip once again, along the Union Pacific line from Cheyenne to Ogden.
Big Boy 4014 will make whistle stops in many communities along the Union Pacific lines throughout 2019. Track his route this year to plan a trip to see this magnificent engineering feat and operational piece of Wyoming and American history in person.
Railroad attractions draw visitors to Cheyenne year-round. Cheyenne Depot Museum’s collection of railroad artifacts, its spectacular model railroad and its location inside the former Union Pacific depot make it a favorite for history buffs and families. Plus, visitors can see another Big Boy (4004) on display in Holliday Park and Wyoming’s oldest steam engine—Engine 1242, a.k.a. “Ol’ Sadie”—at Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. The Merci Train, a railroad car gifted to the United States from France after WWII, is on display at Cheyenne’s American Legion Post #6. And the Ames Monument, a 60-foot granite pyramid located at the highest point of the Transcontinental Railroad just west of Cheyenne, honors the state’s railroad legacy.Plan your getaway to Cheyenne, America’s “Railroad Capital.”