UNION PACIFIC'S FEF-2 and FEF-3
No. 844 has no rival as the most durable steam locomotive operating on a major railroad in the U.S. today. It is the only steam locomotive that has been in continuous active service on a major railroad since it was built. During that time it has made periodic short trips from its operational base of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and has made major journeys to the far reaches of the Union Pacific system. It has pulled trains for various groups, including railroad enthusiasts, shippers, cattlemen, historical societies, and symphonies. Its performance has been a tribute to the entire 800-cIass steam locomotives fielded by Union Pacific. Built as No. 844 in 1944 by American Locomotive Company (Alco), this locomotive was the last of the 4-8-4 wheel arrangement placed in service by Union Pacific.
In 1939 an order was placed with Alco for Nos. 820-834 (Class FEF-2). Improvements were made in the basic design (FEF-1) and there were modest but significant changes in the overall appearance. The new locomotives had 80-inch drive wheels that theoretically (and later proven in tests) made them capable of 110 miles per hour. Larger 14-wheel tenders capable of carrying 25 tons of coal were constructed.
The crunch of passenger and troop traffic during World War II placed new demands on the railroad, and a final batch of 4-8-4's, Nos. 835-844, arrived in 1944. They were similar to the Class FEF-2 locomotives, but did feature a twin stack arrangement. All the 800's performed well and averaged about 14,000 miles a month.
Following World War II the locomotives received a two-tone gray paint scheme with white or yellow trim. They were converted to oil fuel as coal supplies became disrupted by miners' strikes. As all passenger train assignments were gradually taken over by diesels, the 4-8-4's were relegated to freight service in the 1950's and reacquired black paint. They distinguished themselves in freight service, mainly in Nebraska, but were displaced by diesels following the 1958 summer freight rush. All were retired except No. 844, which Union Pacific maintained on the roster for special train operation.
It was renumbered 8444 in 1962 to avoid conflict with a GP30 diesel. In 1987 it received a new paint livery recreating the two-tone gray scheme of the late 1940's. Retirement of diesel No. 844 permitted Union Pacific to schedule for June 1, 1989 restoration of that number to the great steam locomotive.
Beginning on September 10, 2001, UP crews began dismantling 844 for a major rebuild. There is an excellent story on this project in the November 2005 issue of TRAINS magazine called "A Legend Reborn". Almost 4 years later (November 10, 2004) UP 844 was again running under its own steam power. This steamer is projected to run many promotional trips throughout the UP system in 2007. Over 50 years after her birth, UP 844 is still going strong.