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Many chances to celebrate Nebraska's railroad history

Diane Becker, "Country Life"

This summer has been a great time to celebrate Nebraska as a true train state.

I was in Columbus a couple of weeks ago when the Big Boy #4014 engine made a stop.

At last 200 people who wanted to see what an 80-year-old steam engine looks and sounds like stood near the tracks to watch the 1941 engine chug its way into town.

The Big Boy is named so because it weighs about 1.2 million pounds and if it was stood on its end, it would reach 13 stories into the sky.

After a couple hours, the huge wheels that were connected like giant gears started turning, the engineer gave a loud true train whistle and then started the engine down the track.

It literally made a chug chug chug sound that went faster and faster as the train picked up speed until it chugged down the tracks and out of sight.

The Big Boy is one of only 25 used by Union Pacific in 1941 to deliver war supplies across the nation. This is only original Big Boy still running. It is on a celebration trip across the nation for Union Pacific’s 150th year.

It was a train summer even before the Big Boy showed up.

In early July, we made a quick stop in North Platte to see the Bailey Railyard, which is the largest rail yard in the world. Every day the yard handles 10,000 rail cars and we were able to watch a little of the train action from the top of the Golden Spike Tower overlooking the yards.

I counted 60 Union Pacific engines sitting on the side tracks. Around 9,000 of the locomotives are serviced here each month.

A former worker of the railroad, who now serves as a volunteer at the Tower, told us how computers control which cars go with which engine headed to the east or the west coasts. We watched with awe as individual cars coasted down a track and hitched up with the correct train.

My latest train adventure occurred closer to home. A small Nebraska Central Railroad line runs about a fourth a mile from our farm.

Last week, I happened to glance down the valley at the train that runs through daily and saw that it was loaded with over 50 wind turbine blades. One of our daughters and I jumped into the car and raced to the nearest intersection so we could video all those turbines smoothly riding by. It was quite the sight.

With the Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha, the Bailey Yard in North Platte and hundreds of trains crossing the state every day, you’d have to say that Nebraska really is a train state.

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