Going Locomotive in Arizona

Arizona is a pioneer state, but what really got the state into gear and encouraged development was the arrival of the railway in 1877. With the entry of the iron horse into Arizona territory what followed closely behind was industry, agriculture, people and towns

This year Arizona celebrates its centenary, so it is only fitting that that an acknowledgment of the railway’s importance will be represented by special tour of the fabled Union Pacific locomotive No. 844.

A giant of a beast, No. 844 is a Northern class steam locomotive with a wheel arrangement of 4-8-4 and a massive weight, tipping the scales at 907,980 pounds, or 454 tons.

This powerful engine was the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific Railroad. At a time when steam was king, and before monotonous diesels were introduced, No. 844 was used for pulling high-speed passenger trains. Its service began in 1944, when it pulled trains such as the Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited, Portland Rose and Challenger between cities such as Chicago, Portland and Los Angeles.

The locomotive had a top speed of 120 miles per hour and could pull 26 passenger cars at more than 100 miles per hour if the track was smooth and level. The top speed limit, though, was usually kept to a more prudent 80 miles per hour.

The less costly and more efficient diesel locomotives took over passenger travel in the 1950s,that was when No. 844 found a second life as a freight engine in Nebraska from 1957 to 1959.
There were plans to scrap No. 844 in 1960, but good sense prevailed and the loco was retired to special service instead and used as Union Pacific’s railroad ambassador.

Since then, the loco has made many appearances, especially at events such as the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and the 50th anniversary of Los Angeles Union Station in 1989.

For the centenary celebrations, visitors will get much access to No. 844. For those who have never had the privilege of seeing inside the cab of a genuine steam engine there will be the opportunity to climb up on a special platform to marvel at its technological simplicity. As well, Union Pacific engineers will be on hand to answer questions about this iconic loco.

Engine No. 844 will visit many town in Arizona and tentative stops for the Arizona Centennial Steam Locomotive Tour include Willcox, Benson, Vail, Tucson, Red Rock, Coolidge, Queen Creek, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix, Eloy, Casa Grande, Maricopa, Gila Bend, Wellton and Yuma, all towns and cities that exist today because the railroad came to town..

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