Legendary Steam Locomotive Visits Rail City

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SPARKS, NV - It was a sight guaranteed to draw a crowd and it did.

The Union Pacific's historic steam locomotive made a stop Wednesday at the Sparks rail yard.

844 no longer pulls passengers and freight for a living. It's a rolling piece of history, a public affairs prop for the railroad.

This stop was part of a tour of the West, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Union Pacific.

It may be 70 years old, but this 5,000 horsepower behemoth is still up to the task. Engineer Ed Dickens says it's departure from Winnemucca yesterday was delayed, but it arrived three minutes early in Sparks, pulling a couple of more modern diesel electrics behind it.

"It did what it was designed to do 70 years ago," says Dickens, who must have the best assignment on the whole line.

As it emerged from the Truckee Canyon headed toward Sparks, whistle blowing, one imagines anyone witnessing the sight cheered. The old engine has that effect on people.

"I've had people in the cab admit to me they've had an emotional moment as it moves through a crowd with the whistle blowing," says Dickens. "It's very nostalgic," he says, "the effect that it has when we come rolling through at speed with the whistle echoing off buildings, echoing off the mountains is something you don't see every day."