The Union Pacific Class 4000 Big Boy is widely considered to be the most powerful class of steam locomotive ever built. Starting in 1941, 25 Big Boys were built for the Union Pacific Railroad by the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, New York. The Big Boys were articulated, meaning they could bend in the middle to go around curves, and had two sets of driving wheels, with eight drivers (four pairs) per set. Four smaller wheels made up the pilot truck in the front, to help ease the huge locomotive around curves. A trailing truck at the rear had another four wheels to carry the weight of the firebox. This gave the Big Boy a wheel arrangement of 4-8-8-4*.
The Big Boys were designed to pull heavy freight trains over the Wasatch Mountains. Prior to their delivery, long trains needed extra helper locomotives to get over the mountains. This meant delays while the helpers were put on and taken off, as well as paying for extra crews to operate them. Using Big Boys, each capable of pulling more than 4,400 tons up the 1.55% grade, resulted in significant savings of time and money.
Technology marches on, however, and even the most powerful steam locomotives in the world could not stay in service forever. The Big Boy’s last run came in 1959. The diesels that replaced them were individually far less powerful, but could be connected such that multiple units were all operated by a single crew. Today eight Big Boys still survive in museums, although none of them are in operating condition.
One thing about the Big Boy locomotives that I did not know until recently is that they can also operate in outer space, at least according to this anime. Yep, that’s right. Trains traveling through space, pulled by steam locomotives. Complete with steam whistle, and a big plume of smoke (The Big Boy first appears at around 2:10. If you freeze it at 2:18, the overhead view clearly shows coal in the tender.). And on top of everything else, this English language version of a Japanese cartoon also features space panzergrenadiers.
Every time I think that anime just can’t get any stranger…
* Steam locomotives are classified by wheel arrangement, read in order from front to rear.