Historic steam locomotive draws crowd as it rolls through Greeley | TheFencePost.com

Historic steam locomotive draws crowd as it rolls through Greeley

Janet Baker takes all of her grandsons on a vacation when they turn 10. Kason Baker is only 9, but he's mature, she said. He was ready for the adventure early.

They had just flown in to Colorado from Virginia. While Kason looked for dinosaurs hidden within the displays July 21 at the Colorado Model Railroad Museum, a much bigger dinosaur rolled into the station outside.

About 200 people, including the Bakers, gathered at the Union Pacific Depot to see Union Pacific's historic steam locomotive No. 844 pull The Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days train in preparation for several trips over the weekend. All along the train's route from Cheyenne to Denver, hundreds of onlookers stopped to wave at the passengers, take photos and see a historic steam locomotive operating.

The No. 844 steam engine is the last of its kind built for Union Pacific and has never been retired. Each car of the Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days train was once part of a train in the Union Pacific passenger train fleet.

“I just thought it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see.”

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This year marks a return for the steam engine. It had been out of commission since 2013 for maintenance. The past two years, the Cheyenne Frontier Days train was pulled by diesel engines.

"I just thought it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see," Baker said. When they scheduled their visit to the train museum, they didn't know the steam locomotive would be rolling through. "We got the extra bonus."

Clair Gross, a 78-year-old from Redding, Penn., is in Denver this week for the National Railroad Historical Society convention. He drove to Greeley when he heard the steam engine would be coming through, but didn't know it would be stopping at the Union Pacific Depot.

Gross grew up around trains, since his grandfather was a carpenter who built railroads. He said seeing the No. 844 was a historic event for him, and he was happy so many people came to see it in Greeley.

"This is a special treat, especially with this locomotive," he said. "They don't run these anymore."

For Heather and Tyler Parker and their 2-year-old daughter, Lily, the treat was getting to actually ride the train. Tyler works with Union Pacific, so he and his family were invited to go on the Thursday's ride. Little Lily said the rocking movement of the train made her feel like she was dancing, and seeing the locomotive reminded her of her beloved cartoon character, Thomas the Tank Engine.

Her mom was amazed by the restored condition of the cars. The glass in the windows of the dining cars have ornate, frosted flowers on them. Tiny green "UP"s are stitched into the seats of the passenger cars. Some cars have detailed curtains and wood panels, and pictures and signs in each car relate its history and some of the trips it made.

"I've never been on a train," Heather said. "I've never known that it has this much detail … It's gorgeous."

Don Allender, a member of the Sherman Hill Model Railroad Club in Cheyenne, helped serve refreshments during the trip from Cheyenne to Denver. The 70-year-old man has loved trains since he was a toddler. In the '70s, he worked for a train company in Loveland. Then, he traveled the world as a steam engineer on ships. In 2012, the 150th anniversary of Union Pacific's founding, he traveled the country on the railroad. Now, he stands a little taller when he's asked questions about the railroad — he can answer all of them, of course — and when he sees people enjoying the trains he's always loved.

"Everybody enjoys this trip," he said. "Especially when they have a steam engine on the front." ❖

See The Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days train

The Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days train and the No. 844 steam locomotive will make several stops where the public can see it in Greeley this weekend. Listed times are tentative.

Saturday — 8:30–8:45 a.m., Union Pacific Depot, 902 7th Ave. in Greeley

Saturday — 6:30–6:45 p.m., Union Pacific Depot, 902 7th Ave. in Greeley

Sunday — 2:30–2:45 p.m., Union Pacific Depot, 902 7th Ave. in Greeley