Good Morning America, How Are You?
April 21, 2009 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Union Pacific's steam locomotive No. 844 has a rich and storied history. Delivered in 1944, No. 844 pulled the Overland Limited, the Los Angeles Limited, the Portland Rose and the Challenger. When diesel locomotives began pulling passenger trains, No. 844 was transferred to freight service in 1957, and in 1960 it was held for special service. Today, No. 844 travels the country as Union Pacific's "living legend". Here's its schedule. If you're in the Bay Area, No. 844 is on display today, from 8a to 6p at the Oakland yard.
posted by mattdidthat (14 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

It's worth noting that, while the Union Pacific did have a passenger train named the Challenger, the link in the post goes to the Union Pacific's other steam locomotive, #3985- the largest steam locomotive still running on the planet.

Also, this is a flimsy excuse to (re)post my favorite bit of youTubery of the 844. Watch as she goes from a dead stop to over 70 MPH, and marvel as the approximately 8 TONS of connecting rods spinning. Picking them up and laying them down.
posted by pjern at 12:59 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

For those of you in the Oakland area, UP says the address for the yard is 1408 Middle Harbor Rd, Oakland, CA 94607
posted by zippy at 1:02 PM on April 21, 2009

Great history and all, but I sure wouldn't want to breathe in that black cloud.
posted by netbros at 1:08 PM on April 21, 2009

Here are some pictures taken a few days ago as it passed through Reno.
posted by twsf at 1:19 PM on April 21, 2009

Good Morning America, How Are You?

Um... New Orleans is not in California.
posted by erniepan at 1:21 PM on April 21, 2009

I would like to see a chunk of history like that travel on the tracks next to my house in Houston. Unfortunately, I see that the schedule only lists locations on the west coast.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:45 PM on April 21, 2009

If you get a chance to see it, go do it, even if you aren't "into" trains.
There is something about an old steam engine that seems to appeal to kids of all ages.
posted by madajb at 2:14 PM on April 21, 2009

It's worth pointing out that although admittedly, the coal-fired steam locomotive is not the cleanest technology ever developed, photos and video taken at railfan excursions are not necessarily representative of the smoke they produce when in normal revenue service.

I'm fairly certain that the firemen on modern excursion trains sometimes stoke or agitate the firebox in order to create a more dramatic smoke plume (I have an old video of N&W 1218 [that's not the video, although I might dig it up and put it online] where it's quite clear the operator adjusts something and suddenly increases the smoke volume tremendously, just in time for a particularly nice photo op). This is a little different from when steam locomotives were in normal operation, when I've been told that firemen prided themselves on operating with minimal smoke output (which translates into less wasted fuel; that black smoke is unburned carbon, after all).
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:27 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow awesome! We're going to go see it Saturday in Roseville!
posted by Big_B at 2:54 PM on April 21, 2009

The amount of smoke you see issuing from a steam locomotive is a direct reflection of the air/fuel mixture in the firebox.

When I used to fire a steam locomotive (in my case, an oil-fired one, although the general principles are the same), upon first lighting the oil fire, the stack would produce a thick, completely opaque column of black smoke because the initial conditions under which I had to light the fire were very rich, in terms of mixture. Once I had a stable fire burning, I'd start cranking open the blower valve, which sent jets of steam directly up the stack, creating a venturi to draw air from the firetubes, hence the firebox, causing an inrush of fresh air to the fire, which caused it to lean out and become hotter. I judged all this by watching the smoke from the stack lightening, as I added air indirectly via turning up the stack blower , the smoke lightened until, at maximum efficiency (equaling maximum heat extracted from the fuel) the stack smoke was an almost clear haze.

The reason you see variations in the smoke on steam locomotives is because the level of work required of the engine varies over time, and there is an hysteresis between inputs (water and fuel) and outputs (steam and motion). The fireman has to add coal at intervals- even if there is a mechanical stoker on the locomotive, the fire will require trimming or banking (added shoveling of coal to correct deficiencies in the distribution of the stoker pattern or building up reserve layers of coal in anticipation of heavy loads). In either case, an observer outside the engine will see variations in smoke output.

On oil-fired locomotives, the oil burner nozzles are directly controlled via a handle that the fireman manipulates, and it's a little bit easier to meet demand in a timely fashion. You can still produce awesome displays on oilburners by "sanding the flues", which is basically taking a horn with about 5 pounds of sand and spreading it into the firebox while the engine is working hard. The hurricane inside the firebox distributes the sand into the flues, where it scrapes the soot from the oil fire off the walls of the tubes and out the stack. Result: *immense* clouds of black smoke.
posted by pjern at 3:51 PM on April 21, 2009 [10 favorites]

Steam locomotives are just so mechanically impressive, in a way that diesel-electric locomotives will never be. Not better, just more impressive, as though the solution to most engineering challenges was just to make the thing bigger and heavier. I love this stuff, thanks for posting it. Oh, and pjern, that 0-70 video was awesome too.
posted by FishBike at 4:04 PM on April 21, 2009

Pjern - oh my god is that cool. More stories!!!!!
posted by notsnot at 4:10 PM on April 21, 2009

A friend took a few pix at today's stop in Oakland.
posted by ...possums at 4:25 PM on April 21, 2009

Oh rats, I missed this! I love trains, especially the big steam monsters, and some day I'll catch up with one of these legacy engines. We took a long trip on Amtrak this fall and saw plenty of UP diesel/electric engines hard at work or lolling around the yards. They're powerful no-nonsense machines, but they just don't have the cinematic presence of the classic steam engines. (And the current breed of Amtrak engine is disgracefully dorky looking.)

Anyway, it's cool that Union Pacific still keeps these vintage engines running - it's probably a real pain since they likely have to custom-make replacement parts, and I bet some of the original materials (alloys, lubricants, etc) aren't even made any more. Thanks for blowing some smoke at us, pjern - it's always neat to hear from MeFites who have esoteric inside knowledge!
posted by Quietgal at 8:49 PM on April 21, 2009

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