Union Pacific is the proud owner of an incredibly large fleet of some 8,300 locomotives, which zig-zag across 23 American states with regularity, covering a total of 32,200 miles (51,800 km) of railway network. Just to give you an idea of much that is, considered our planet's diameter at the equator is 7,900 miles (12,700 km)!
The locomotives presently fielded by Union Pacific are among the most powerful such things you could find anywhere, including of the Challenger and Northern varieties. The company also once operated the Big Boy we're here to discuss now, one of the most impressive steam locomotives ever made.
The Big Boy is a product of a crew called the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) and it was only in production for three years during the Second World War (1941 - 1944). Just 25 of them were made, but they were more than enough to break records.
The locomotives were made to satisfy the cargo transportation needs between Utah and Wyoming, but that's not what made them special. The first thing that did was the fact they were the only ones in the world to use a 4-8-8-4 wheel setup: the first four were used to increase stability during curves, the following 16 provided support and movement for the locomotive, and the final four held the firebox.
Burning coal like crazy, the Big Boy was capable of developing a total system power of up to 6,290 horsepower, more than enough for it to reach speeds of up to 80 mph (130 kph) when the conditions were right.
The last railway run of the Big Boy in regular service took place back in 1959, and of the 25 units ever made only around eight survive to this day, most of them in various American museums. One of the lucky eight was briefly brought into the spotlight in the 2010s as a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of America's first transcontinental railway, but overall these incredible pieces of engineering are slowly sinking into oblivion.
Well, not if a LEGO Ideas user called Whiz has anything to say about it, because we're now facing a potential revival of the Big Boy in plastic brick form.
The design was submitted to the toy maker's LEGO Ideas platform, and it's a simply (and fittingly) huge design. When fully assembled, it measures 31.5 inches long (80 cm), and that does not include the track segment it can be fitted on.
The exact specs of the model are not known, but we are told the LEGO Big Boy comes with a lot of internal components, down to the boiler that in the original vehicle was used to produce the steam that powered the locomotive.
Like all LEGO Ideas design, the Big Boy needs a total of 10,000 supporters to make it into production. At the time of writing there are just 815 of them, but the design has an extra 401 voting days left to reach 1,000 backers and move into the next stage, when it will have six month to reach 5,000 votes (and then another six to reach the goal set by LEGO for production).
Like with all other fine ideas that try to make it into the world this way, the Big Boy might not actually make it into production. Personally, the train non-fan that I am, I kind of hope it will make it through though, as this is probably one of the best ways to cement the image of what is the largest and most powerful steam locomotive ever made into our collective memory.