The museum took good care of the locomotive, Dickens said, and many of the original components are usable.
RailGiants agreed to give the Big Boy back to the Union Pacific in exchange for some other equipment to display.
No. 4014 has been moved from the museum to a Union Pacific shop in Colton, Calif., where a crew is preparing to tow it across Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to Cheyenne, arriving May 8. The UP maintains two other working steam locomotives there, and Dickens and his crew of seven can manufacture almost anything they need.
"This equipment, nobody's going to come in and fix it when it breaks down," he said. "We're it."
Restoration is expected to take three to five years. The railroad would like to have the Big Boy operating by 2019 for the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Utah, which linked the Union Pacific with the Central Pacific and completed the first transcontinental railroad.
It's too early to predict where the restored locomotive will travel. Railroad officials said they will have to choose the routes carefully to make sure bridges and tunnels can handle the Big Boy's weight and size.
Overjoyed railroad fans are following closely. Wrinn heard from an American soldier serving overseas who was watching live video of the project. People have offered to donate money or even buy lunch for the Union Pacific steam crew, Dickens said, but he allowed that the Omaha, Neb.-based railroad — No. 138 on the Fortune 500 list — can afford the project on its own.
Dickens declined to say how much restoration will cost. It might be less than people think, he said, because the railroad can do much of the work in-house.
Pouring money into a 73-year-old mechanical relic makes good marketing sense, said Glen Gilmore, a digital and social media marketing expert who also teaches at Rutgers University.
"Nearly everyone has a fascination with trains," Gilmore said in an email to The Associated Press. "Giving people an image that immediately calls to mind so many good things about an industry and brand is a smart marketing move."
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