Maplewood History: The Legacy of Big Boy #4014


When smoke spewing Big Boy #4014 blasted through Maplewood on August 30 thrilling hundreds of steam engine buffs, railroad fans and curious onlookers; it was a reenactment of an evolution of an event that probably first occurred 167 years ago.  I don’t know yet exactly when the first steam engine passed through James Sutton’s farm as the Pacific Railroad pushed west.  It may have been 1854.

According to the Summer 1994 issue of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, Historical and Technical Society, Inc., “the Pacific Railroad built through the area” (meaning the Sutton farm) in 1853.  According to information from Joe Sonderman’s Facebook page, Vintage St. Louis & Route 66, this first engine reached “Sulphur Springs, (Cheltenham) … present day Hampton and Manchester” on December 9, 1853. It was the first train west of the Mississippi.  It had gone 5 miles, ending at what today we call Dogtown.

I was in that crowd last Monday.  It turned out to be much more exciting than I expected.  And loud!

That $9,000 they paid for that engine would be over 300K in today’s money. Thanks to Joe Sonderman for the above image and info.
A good sized crowd had assembled well before Big Boy showed up. The restored buildings of the Greenwood Historic District are in the background.
My unscientific guess is that several hundred people watched Big Boy pass here in Maplewood.
Proof that a watched railroad track may actually yield a boiling locomotive. The star finally showed up at 9 AM.
Well worth the wait Big Boy’s thundering, ground shaking, ear drum punishing performance was crowd pleasing.
He proved to be every ton of the snorting, steaming, mythical beast that we have made of him.  He is one of the last in a long, proud line.
65 years earlier, at just about the same location, another photographer captured this image of one of Big Boy’s ancestors. This page and the following one are from my new book, Maplewood History – Volume Three. It’s not due out for several more years.  I have to sell a bunch more Volume Twos first.
Thanks to R.J. Foster, Joe Collias and the friendly folks at the TRRA and Historical and Technical Society for permission to use the images in my upcoming book.

Headed west over the crossing at Sutton and Greenwood.
As I walked home I met a gleeful group of folks happily displaying some items they must have found.

Being a researcher and not a reporter, naturally, I forgot to ask this attractive bunch their names. If you recognize any of these folks, please ask them to contact me. I’ll be happy to email to them all of the photos of them that I took that day.

Summer has passed way too fast to my way of thinking.  78 degrees sends me after a long sleeve shirt.  There will be more hot days.  There always is.  Then I’ll gradually acclimate to the decreasing temperatures.  I always do.  I have no choice.  Or do I?  Australia?

Thanks to everyone for your interest and support.

Doug Houser     September 4, 2021

September 6, 2021

After I had posted the above, I discovered the following ad in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published on April 7, 1853.  This is at odds with the December 9 date mentioned on Mr. Sonderman’s Facebook page above.  If the route to Cheltenham (only a mile or a little over east of Maplewood) was complete in April, then I would speculate that the first train may have made it to Sunnen’s farm sometime in 1853.  It is hard to imagine what sort of folks were in the crowd that gathered to watch that.  Sunnen and Rannells both were slave holders.



    • I don’t remember the exact year, but it was about that time I saw it on display in the 39th Street yard (Chouteau and 39th Street). It had steam up and rumbled and hissed. Probably would have gone through Maplewood as it would likely want to stay on UP tracks when it moved.

  1. Doug, you came to mind yesterday. My husband removed the plaster wall from our family room. We found that a window used to be a door. And we found a tiny newspaper clipping from 1923. Old homes like ours yield so many surprises.

  2. I stood where the old Maplewood Station was to get my photos. They are not as great as yours were. It was a delightful day. I met a gentleman who’s father had worked for the Union Pacific as a cook. We had a great conversation about cooking on a train. My older brother had been a cook on the Ringling Brother’s Red Unit train.

    • Hey Margaret, I remember once, many years ago, seeing the circus train sitting idle on the tracks. I had no camera with me at the time. Too bad. Could have made some good photographs. Thanks for your report.

  3. Hi Doug, Big Boy made it through Kansas as well and we enjoyed seeing it again. Thanks for the post with pictures of Big Boy going through Maplewood. I can’t remember Railroad Tracks in Maplewood.

    • You’re welcome, Nancy. I’m glad you got to see Big Boy as well. The tracks were here when you were. You’ve just been gone a long time. It’s always good to hear from you.


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