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The Union Pacific 4015 Big Boy 4-8-8-4 circa 1960

Trix model 22599

Review by Neil Wood


10 minute stop to cool the train's wheels after the long braking descent
from the top of the Wasatch grade. William Coons, 1942.

Central to Union Pacificís network is the steep line between Cheyenne and Laramie which traverses the Wasatch Rocky Mountains. At the end of the 1930s freight trains on this route became longer, faster and required time-consuming, costly double heading with several locomotives.  Union Pacific required a single locomotive capable of pulling 3,600 tons of train unassisted over the 1.14% grade of the Wasatch route.

A tractive effort of 135,000 lbs would be needed to pull 3,600 tons.  With an axle loading of 67,500lbs each, this required 8 drivers or a 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement.  The result was considered by many to be the most successful articulated steam locomotive ever built.  The first in the series of 25 was delivered to Omaha on 5/9/41.  Built in two batches by Alco Locomotive works, the first batch 4000- 4019 was built in 1941 and the second 4020-4024 delivered in 1944.

The last revenue freight pulled by a Big Boy was in July of 1959. Most were retired in 1961, although the last was retired in 1962.  The average mileage was around 1,000,000 miles.  While there are other locomotives which have exceeded the Big Boy in terms of weight, length, horsepower, and tractive effort it is generally agreed that this is the largest steam locomotive to run in regular service. 

As this was the largest steam locomotive in history it created the opportunity to make a superlative model.  This is an expensive model and stands at the top of the Trix HO price range.  This for Trix is no mean feat as their models are generally regarded as expensive.  Billed as the largest H0 steam locomotive ever built by Trix this was one model I was waiting for with baited breath.


4015 under the coaling tower   Denver , 1954. Photo R. Kindig.

Specifications of the 4-8-8-4 Big Boy

Length of the locomotive: 85' 10"
Length (tender): 47'
Wheelbase: 117' 7"
Total Length Over Couplers:  132' 10"
Top of rail to smokestack:  16' 2.5"
Driving wheel diameter: 68"
Cylinders: 23.75" diameter with 32" stroke
Timken roller bearing axles
Articulated-type side rods
Walscherts valve gear
Max speed: 80mph
Tractive effort: 135,000 lbs. max
Max curvature: 20 deg.
Weight (locomotive): 762,000 lbs.
Weight (tender unloaded): 171,500 lbs.
Tender water capacity: 24,000 gal.
Tender fuel capacity: 28 tons


4004 sm
okes up the sky  Photo Stan Kistler, 1958.

Trix model number 22599    Released; 2003    Price; US$798 (₤440)

Model specification : Length 465mm(18-5/16"); Weight 1.2kg (2 lb 10 oz); Running No: 4015; Livery: Union Pacific; Period: 1960; Features: Die cast metal locomotive frame, body, tender frame, tender body, High-efficiency can motor with bell-shaped armature and flywheel in the boiler, 8 axles powered, centre driving axles spring mounted, RP 25 wheels, Kadeeģ compatible couplers, built-in DCC decoder with the following effects, Acceleration and braking delay, Headlights, number board lights, backup light on the tender, Light in engineer's cab, Steam sound effects, Steam injector, Whistle, Bell; Smoke generator ready, Engineer and fireman figures are included, Close coupling between the locomotive and tender,

The first impression given is the size of the box.  Itís big!  Inside is another wooden presentation box. Once opened you get your first sight of the locomotive.  It is immense.  The box is foam lined to protect the model.  Due to the heavy weight it is secured onto a wooden display plinth by three screws.  There are optional parts for the front guard, driver and fireman figures, a two year warranty, an assembly diagram and multi-lingual operating instructions.

The first thing you want to do is fire her up and see how she goes, however first you have to remove her from the display plinth. This isnít easy as the loco and tender have to be unscrewed from the plinth.  When unscrewed it drops into the foam box underneath.  Due to the weight of this model it can be awkward to get the loco out of the box while upside down then turn it the right way up and place it on the track.  While the carry box is a good idea for transporting and presenting the model, it isnít easy due to the difficulty in moving and securing the loco and tender.

On the tracks it is an imposing model.  It will be the largest loco on any HO layout.  There are seven digital functions, front and rear lights, Cabin light, minimising starting and braking delay and four sound effects, basic operating noises, bell, whistle and injector.  I had expected more than four sound effects.  The Marklin Big Boy with the MFX decoder had sixteen digital functions so I felt slightly short changed. 

When it moves off it does so slowly with the inertia expected from a gigantic locomotive.  The sound is coordinated precisely with the motion of the loco.  Operating noises like brakes squealing are triggered by changes in motion.  It may be disappointing to some that the operating noises are not all individually controllable and are automated.  Similarly the whistle length cannot be controlled.  It is preset to a specific length.  While this did not bother me to start with, it does now. The sound is loud.  It is the loudest loco I have heard.  The bell is so loud I hardly use it at home.  My wife complains from the other end of the house!  The sound level would be ideal for exhibitions.

There are provisions for two smoke generators.  When combined with the sound the overall effect is very impressive.

With all those wheels you would be correct to be concerned about derailments.   However, as long as it is not run through points at high speed there are no problems.  Consideration has to be given to the track radius.  The manual recommends 450mm but says it can be run on as little as 360mm.  Another consideration is the large overhang as the loco goes round corners.  Careful thought has to be given to the proximity of buildings to the track. The tighter the radius the greater clearance required with 34mm being the maximum required. 

The ride is very smooth with no noise.  With the sound turned off it glides silently around your layout.  The detail is incredible and unlike cheaper models it is securely attached.  It takes a lot more than brushing against a model tree to knock parts off of this.  This is a model that is built to last.

The competition comes from Rivarossi who make a budget model.  It is DCC ready, a plastic body, no lights, sound or smoke generator provision.   It is aimed at a budget market and not comparable to the Trix item in terms of features, detail and build quality.  At a third of the price it may be better value for those who do not care for extras.  The Athearn Big boy has sound, lights and smoke generator provision.  It costs a third less than the Trix model but having a plastic body instead of a metal one does not have the robustness of the Trix model.  The sound decoder is no match for the Loksound one.  If you are considering $500 for the Athearn then you should definitely consider the extra $300 for the Trix.  The real competition will come from the forthcoming release by Precision Craft.  They make a model which is almost identical in specification but is $50 cheaper.  It has metal body, Loksound decoder, directional lights although no provision for a smoke generator.  The decoder seems to have more functions and options for programming.  This, however, has not been released yet.

Overall this is a fantastic locomotive.  It is beautifully detailed and with sound, steam and lights going is extremely impressive.  The down side is the cost and the sound effects are mainly automated rather than individually controllable.  Being realistic though how many modellers really know when all the individual sounds would be appropriate?  I admit I wouldnít.  So maybe it is not such a bad idea that the decoder does.  So is this a superlative locomotive?  In many ways yes, if bought, it would certainly be the centrepiece of many collections, however there is competition on the way. Marks out of ten?  Iíd give it nine and a half.  It costs a lot of money but it sure is a lot of locomotive.

Programming Table of the most important CVs
CV Designation Area Factory setting
1 Locomotive address 1-119 3
2 Starting voltage 0-63 4
3 Acceleration time 0-63 8
4 Braking time 0-63 6
5 Top speed 0-63 63
6 Middle speed 0-63 25
8 Restore basic factory settings 8 -
29 Configuration Register 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,16,17,18,19,20,
21,22,23,32,33,34,35,36,37,
38,39,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55
4
63 Noise volume 0,1,2 2

Neil Wood - May 2006

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