Nearly 2,000 visit Union Pacific steam engine in Cape Girardeau

Monday, June 6, 2011
Visitors to Union Pacific's steam locomotive No. 844 on static display watch Sunday as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe No. 5786 leads a freight train on the main line south of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

For sightseeing enthusiasts, history buffs and lovers of locomotives, witnessing the arrival of Union Pacific Railroad's "living legend" Saturday in Cape Girardeau, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And as the Union Pacific No. 844 steam engine sat still and on display Sunday on the tracks along the Mississippi River with the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge as a backdrop, the hundreds of visitors snapped photographs almost constantly to commemorate the occasion. Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 1,973 people visited the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific.

Martin said people came from all over Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois, exceeding attendance expectations.

"The sight here is beautiful today," said Pauline Asmus of Chaffee, Mo., who was exploring the steam engine with her husband, Sylvester. "We do a lot of sightseeing things together, but I just always had a liking to trains."

The engine's weekend stop in Cape Girardeau was one of many on the Little Rock Express tour route that began in Cheyenne, Wyo. It was one of four proposed routes in the Union Pacific contest completed earlier this year. It received 76,217 of the 178,675 online votes.

Ed Dickens, the steam locomotive's engineer since 2004, said it never gets old seeing the public's reaction to the train. As a main line of transportation during World War II, steam engines ran regularly until the 1950s, so, Dickens said, the public recognizes the history that travels with the locomotive.

"The steam locomotive is very animated. It does something to the soul, I think," he said. "And that whistle, you're not going to hear anything like it."

The size of the steam engine surprised many of the visitors. Sylvester Asmus, 70, said the driving wheel is bigger than he thought it would be. Its diameter measures in at 80 inches.

Traveling with the engine were a number of other cars including a dome coach called Challenger, another coach called Katy Flyer and a business car called Feather River. A car commemorating the workers the Missouri Pacific Railroad was also traveling with the engine. A concession car was open to the public to buy Union Pacific souvenirs.

For Chris Bollinger of Jackson, visiting Living Legend No. 844 Sunday brought back memories of his time as an engineer on a steam locomotive. Bollinger became a qualified engineer for a steam engine when he was 19 and now works for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway. The last time he worked on a steam locomotive was in the summer of 1999.

"It's completely different compared to a modern day diesel," Bollinger said. "It's very hot for one thing, and dirty, too. On a day like today it would be 130 degrees in the cab."

On such hot days, working a steam engine isn't something he misses, but overall, Bollinger said it was a good part of his career. Bollinger took his 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to see the engine. He said due to his profession, she's started to become interested in trains, too.

"It's really great," she said. "We saw it come in yesterday, too."

The train's arrival triggered memories for Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger, who in a brief welcome ceremony said he and his wife used to travel by railway from Omaha, Neb., to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"Those days are memories we will never forget," he said. "We are so privileged in our city to host old 844."

Rediger and about 40 others will ride the steam engine Monday to Poplar Bluff, Mo.

The locomotive departs Cape Girardeau at 8 a.m. Monday and will arrive in Dexter, Mo., and Poplar Bluff after noon. It is scheduled to arrive back in Cheyenne on July 3.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

500 Aquamsi St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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