Fun times with Big Boy 4014

I created this print of Big Boy 4014 as it chugged through an old bridge near Plaquemine, La.

Patience results in unique photos of old train

I've really wanted to shoot photos of Union Pacific's old Big Boy 4014 for several years, ever since a buddy captured it on a tour through Texas. So I immediately started planning when I found out the old coal-burning steam locomotive was traveling through South Louisiana in early July.

Big Boy 4014 was slated to make a couple of stops within 35 miles of my home, so I drove across the Mississippi River a few days before its arrival to scout things out and decide where I wanted to set up. I finally settled on Plaquemine, La., where the old train engine was set to stop for a few minutes.

My alarm clock rang at 5 a.m. the morning of the shoot, and I was out the door by 6 a.m. I arrived in Plaquemine 45 minutes later, parking near the town's old train depot. I spent the next three hours sipping coffee and nailing down my plan.

I knew I wanted to get a shot of Big Boy as it crossed the old rusted metal cantilever bridge over Bayou Plaquemine. The resulting image would be a unique l0ok at the train, while adding the vintage look of the old bridge. It was just a matter of planning things out.

Flexibility and patience

My hopes that crowds wouldn't be a problem were soon dashed. People came out of the woodwork about an hour before Big Boy's planned arrival. This required me to rethink my plan.

Initially I was going stand far down the track and use my Nikon 300mm lens to shoot the train emerging from beneath the bridge trusses. This would compress the scene and really make for a nice composition. I even spoke with one of the police officers on hand to keep people away from the track, securing permission to stand right next to the track for the far-off shot.

Unfortunately, others had the same idea of using the bridge as a background, and soon a smaller crowd began camping out between me and the bridge. It quickly became apparent I would no be able to get the shot without some of those people showing up in the final image.

So I quickly adjusted, traded the 300mm for my trusty Nikon 24-120mm f/4 and moved so I was only 100 yards or so from the bridge. This put me in the perfect place to capture the old locomotive emerging from beneath the bridge trusses. 

It was then a matter of waiting in the stifling South Louisiana heat, which pushed the mercury to 90 degrees by 9 a.m. But when the train rumbled into view, all thoughts of the sweat pouring down my face were forgotten.

I shot a number of photos as Big Boy chugged over the bridge, and the image at the top of this blog was my favorite composition. The question was should I leave it in color or convert it to a black-and-white photo.

Honestly, I like both treatments.

You can see the black-and-white photo by clicking here.

I shot until the train barreled past, with the conductor laying on the steam whistle. The rumble of the locomotive coursed through my body as it slowed to a stop. It was amazing!

I hoped to get some nice shots of it at rest, but there were just so many people crowding the train that I ended my shoot with a tightly framed shot of the front of the old locomotive.

Big Boy 4014 is a massive steam-powered locomotive that now tours the country for Union Pacific.

About Big Boy 4014

The locomotive dubbed Big Boy 4014 is just one of 25 huge coal-burning train engines ordered by Union Pacific beginning in 1941. Each measured 132 feet long and weighed in at a staggering 1.2 million pounds.

Big Boy 4014 was delivered in December 1941 and logged more than 1 million miles before it was retired in 1961.

These locomotives operated mainly between Ogden, Utah, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Seven of these massive train engines remain on public display in various cities around the United States.

Big Boy 4014 ended up at the RailGiants Museum in Pomona, California. However, as the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad approached, Union Pacific purchased the locomotive and restored it. it was put back into service in 2019, and it is now the world's largest operating steam-powered locomotive.

Big Boy 4014 operates on steam. Originally, the old engine carried 56,00 pounds of coal to heat the 25,000 gallons of water. However, Big Boy was converted to No. 5 oil as the fuel for steam generation.

Click here to keep up with Big Boy's touring schedule.

Big Boy 4014 crosses Bayou Plaquemine on its way to New Orleans.