Big Boy No. 4023

Union Pacific No. 4023– a 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” type steam locomotive– was moved from the Durham Western Heritage Museum to a permanent display location at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens. The Big Boy and DD40AX No. 6900 represent the largest steam and diesel locomotives used on the Union Pacific and are the focal point for the garden’s new Kenefick Park (named in honor of retired Union Pacific President and CEO John C. Kenefick.) Wasatch Railroad Contractors performed a complete cosmetic restoration of the steam locomotive during the five months following the move.

(Click on any image above to enlarge it.)

There were numerous tasks required to complete the project, however, four basic steps were accomplished.

  1. First, preparation and evaluation work was performed to provide the best-possible restoration.
  2. Next, missing and deteriorated parts needed to be fabricated or replaced, while the remainder of the locomotive was thoroughly cleaned and prepared for paint.
  3. The locomotive was then completely repainted to original Union Pacific specifications, including accurate lettering styles and colors.
  4. Final touches and assemblies were performed to produce a complete interpretive display that will fascinate people of all ages for years to come.

The new Kenefick Park opened to the public in Spring 2006.

Preparation and Repair

The first order of business was to set up the work site in such a way that the environment of the surrounding gardens was not damaged in any way. A huge array of scaffolding was set up around the locomotive to allow the crew to work safely at any location on the locomotive.

The tender was set aside during this early phase of work, and all efforts were concentrated on the locomotive itself.

Most of the jacketing surrounding the boiler was removed and discarded in favor of brand new sheet metal. These sheets were fabricated at Hemple Sheet Metal Works of Omaha.

In addition to a new jacket, many functional appliances were replaced with new “mock” appliances. This was done for three reasons:

  1. Some of these appliances, like lubricators, contained residues of grease and oil that could possibly seep into the ground and contaminate the park;
  2. These parts should be kept protected and in a functioning condition for use on other locomotives, and leaves the possibility for 4023 to someday return to operation;
  3. Non-functioning mock appliances are less likely to be stolen, and if they are, they are not nearly as valuable as their real counterparts.

Mock replacements were fabricated from simple metal parts to look very similar to their originals and allows an accurate presentation of No. 4023. These included items such as safety valves, the whistle, lubricators, air distributors, etc.


Once the locomotive body was ready for paint application, the scaffolding was converted into a large paint booth. This paint booth, complete with an air filtration system, was successful in trapping the toxic paint fumes and over-spray and preventing contamination of the surrounding gardens. Air flow was created with the help of four large dairy fans.

This isn’t your basic house paint from the hardware store. The locomotive was painted with a high-grade autobody-type paint that protects the locomotive from the elements and will be easy to maintain over the years. The Big Boy was painted to resemble a typical UP locomotive fresh from the shops. The smokebox and firebox are not painted silver, but are painted to match the color of freshly applied graphite. The tender was removed from the cribbing aside the locomotive and placed back on its wheels far behind No. 4023 to create a safer work area for the crew. Once the locomotive was painted, the paint booth was taken down, and later the scaffolding was moved to the tender.


Even as the boiler jacket was being sanded and repaired, drawings of the UP lettering specifications were collected and reproduced from archives in Cheyenne, WY, and sent to the WRC Graphics Department in Spanish Fork, UT.

Obtaining a pre-designed computer font and merely punching in the correct letters and numbers was not good enough. It was discovered that the different specifications of sizes found on the drawings were not directly proportional to each other. Each size of letters and numbers had to be plotted from scratch on the computer.

The resulting computer files contained the layout and proper spacing for each group of lettering. They were then e-mailed to a local sign shop and used to cut a removable vinyl mask that was used as stencil material. With these stencils, the letters and numbers were painted onto the locomotive.

The finished product– computer-precise letters and numbers painted on the side of the cab– look better and will last much longer than adhesive vinyl decals.

The Tender

With the locomotive mostly completed, the scaffolding was then set up around the tender and crews worked hard to remove old paint from the tender body, repair damaged parts, and prepare the tender for painting. Once the tender was painted, a short piece of track was built to connect the work area to the display track, and the tender was rolled in behind the locomotive. After the tender was in place, WRC stabilized the suspension system by replacing worn parts to prevent other aspects of the assemblies from wearing out over time.

Completed Project

The restoration of Big Boy No. 4023 was completed prior to the park’s opening ceremony on October 15, 2005. The locomotive sparkled under blue skies and bright sunlight, and was a fascinating attraction for the many guests who attended the ceremony.

The 4023 is finally complete with headlight, number plate, and classification lights, and looks like it would have 72 years earlier when it was delivered brand new from the American Locomotive Company.

Kenefick Park is open to the public with no admission charged. As of this publication, the park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. For more information about the park, visit the Lauritzen Gardens web page.