To mark the Boise Depot’s 92nd birthday, the Union Pacific Railroad brought in a very special guest from their facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As Engine 844 made the trip from Wyoming across Idaho, the unmistakable sound of a steam whistle rang out at stops in Pocatello, Gooding and Nampa as it headed to the Boise Depot.
When it arrived in Nampa Saturday afternoon, an excited a crowd of hundreds turned out to see the massive locomotive up close.
The main wheels of the engine come in at over six-and-a-half feet in diameter, and, combined with the tender, she’s 454 tons and more than 114 feet long.
Stopping for just 30 minutes in Nampa, Union Pacific’s so-called “Living Legend” engine is a magnet for rail fans.
“I’ve been a railroad nut all my life,” says retired welder James Exler. He’s carrying a big digital camera and taking shots of the great locomotive. “Any time I get a chance to see one, I go and do it,” he says.
Exler is standing in a throng made up of young and old. Former railroad workers stand next to tiny kids looking wide-eyed at the great machine. Exler says the appeal of these one-time industrial workhorses is hard to pinpoint.
“There’s just something about a steam engine you just don’t find with the diesel and what have you," he says. "They have their own—own personality.”
Completed in 1944, Union Pacific 844 was the last steam engine ever built for the railroad. Initially pulling cross-country passenger trains like the Overland Limited and Los Angeles Limited, the engine was reassigned to freight duty in 1957. Union Pacific 844 has the distinction of being the only steam engine never retired from active service.
The engine’s bell starts ringing as the train gets ready to depart Nampa. One onlooker, Connie Taylor, says she has a family connection to the mighty engine.
“My dad was an engineer on the Union Pacific Railroad, and that was one of the trains that he engineered,” Taylor says.
The drivers slowly start turning the huge wheels and the gigantic black engine, with a lurch, begins down the track for Boise. With every chug the train starts moving a little faster. As it pulls away from the Nampa Depot, the locomotive gives one last blast of that iconic whistle.
Standing by the tracks as the final cars go by, Taylor says she loves the sound of the whistle.
“To hear that whistle is such a wonderfu, comforting sound to me, because it reminds me of the past and how beautiful those trains were.”
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