The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Forrest Hershberger
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Big Boy Brings Back Memories


August 14, 2019

Forrest Hershberger

Left, Union Pacific's Big Boy No. 4014 releases steam as it prepares to leave Sidney. Right: The arrival of the Big Boy No. 4014 steam engine drew large crowds along Hickory Street.

There's something about a train that enraptures people. Maybe it is the sense of power, progress and development.

For some, it is the recollection of days gone by.

Thursday morning, The Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 left Sidney westbound for Cheyenne, Wyo. It was completing its midwest tour commemorating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

It was also an opportunity for an unlikely meeting of generations.

Robert Edler recalls his grandfather working on the railroad in Colorado, a job that developed into a lifelong career.

"My grandfather started on the Denver and Rio Grande, in 1905 or 1907," Edler said.

He was a track foreman in his late teens, working his way to being a fireman. In 1931, he moved to the Union Pacific where he worked as a fireman. In all, he worked about 60 years on trains.

"It was pretty common then, especially with the railroads. You didn't have Social Security," he said.

He and his wife Marcia made the trip from Denver, Colo., to witness the Big Boy making its way west. Watching the train brought back memories of when as a youngster he could watch his grandfather in the train. His family lived in Longmont, Colo., in the 1950s. He can still recall his mother driving the family to a crossing where they could see his grandfather in the train as it passes.

"He'd wave to us as it went by," he said.

It was also a time when ride-alongs, short excursions in the locomotive, could occur. It was an experience Edler had "a couple of times."

It was these memories, his fascination with trains since an eight-year-old boy, that encouraged a road trip to Sidney last week to see Big Boy No. 4014 make its return trip to Cheyenne.

During their Thursday morning sendoff from the road, they met a family equally excited by trains. It isn't unusual for a family from out of state to visit Sidney. The community is adjacent to Interstate 80. It is, however, unique for a family to plan a stop in the vacation on a steam locomotive's itinerary.

Mike and Julia Padula and their three children, from the Chicago, Ill., area, planned a vacation to Estes Park, Colo. In planning the trip, they decided to stop in Sidney and witness the Big Boy leaving Thursday morning. As the two families met, coincidences continued to mount. The Padulas and the Edlers anniversaries are on the same day, and the Padulas' oldest child is the same age as Robert Edler recalls first watching his grandfather in the train.

Edler followed the rebuilding of the Big Boy No. 4014 from its beginning to completion five years later. He and his wife Marcia beam with excitement thinking of the creativity and dedication required to complete the project. When the crew didn't have parts needed, the made them. In desperate moments, they repurposed existing products.

"They've been very creative and ingenious," she said.

Following the arrival of the No. 4014 Wednesday afternoon, the Edlers had the opportunity to meet the engineer, Ed Dickins, later taking him to dinner.

"He's just about the nicest guy in the world," he said.

The Big Boy left Sidney about 9 a.m. Thursday on its way through Potter, Kimball and Pine Bluffs as it makes it way to Cheyenne.

Plans for the Big Boy include returning to southern California to lead a special passenger excursion in October.


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