Hundreds of people made their way to the downtown area on Friday morning to catch Union Pacific’s “Big Boy” engine roll through town briefly, but it was nothing compared to Geoffrey and Fatinha Kerr.
The duo traveled 4,441 miles from Mafra, Portugal, to Columbus, part by plane and the rest by RV, in order to get a glimpse of newly restored Big Boy No. 4014, which is the world’s largest steam locomotive. The Kerrs retired overseas, but each year take two to three months to vacation in America. This year, they decided to follow “Big Boy” due to their passion for trains that have been part of his family for generations.
“Railroading is deep in my family’s history,” Geoffrey said. “My grandfather graduated from the University of Glasgow and moved to Oregon and was the lead engineer on designing the Cascade Tunnel which at the time was the longest tunnel ever done back in the 1920s or ’30s. He had a memorial to him that was given by the Great Northern. It goes way back in history. My father was in charge of the Pennsylvania Railroad during World War II.”
The Kerrs plan on following ‘Big Boy’ into Omaha, where it will stay for a couple of days.
The trips that Geoffrey and Fatinha take are based on a book by Charles Steinbeck called “Travels with Charley,” which is Steinbeck’s travelogue when he toured the country with his dog, Charley. The Kerrs named their RV Charley for this reason.
“Earlier we mentioned, I read a book back in the 1950s, ‘Travels with Charley,’” Geoffrey said. “I’ve been motivated to duplicate that and really get into talking to people. I really want to talk to some of the normal people here, but anybody seeing a train isn’t really that normal are they?”
Geoffrey also uses the trip to visit family that still lives in the states.
The Kerrs weren’t the only ones that packed the 26th Avenue crossing area, as nearly 500 people gathered in Columbus to see the largest steam locomotive in the world on its Midwest tour as part of the “Great Race across the Midwest.”
One of them was Jeff Danhauer, who took the opportunity to introduce his granddaughter to one of his passions.
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“I’ve always liked steam trains,” he said. “There’s just a little more beauty than the diesel locomotives. It’s just kind of hard to warm up to diesel locomotives. I’ve just always liked steam trains. Now I have the granddaughter. I brought her out here to see it.”
Danhauer said he hopes that it could be an educational experience for the people in attendance.
“(I hope people learn about) the grandeur of times past,” he said. “To see something, that normally you just see part. Like the one down in the park. See it operating.”
Theodore Cooney-Bordy and Ian Drummond were a pair of 6 year olds that could barely contain their excitement as Big Boy No. 4014 sounded its horn in the distance.
“My son absolutely loves trains so this perfect,” said Theodore’s mother, Amy Cooney. “So does his cousin Ian.”
Theodore’s passion for the locomotives began right at Daylight Doughnuts watching the trains go by around the age of 4.
The Big Boy steam engine is now in Omaha and will be there until Sunday when it moves on to its next stop in the “Great Race across the Midwest,” which is part of the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad completion.
The Big Boy locomotive will be back in Columbus at the 21st Avenue crossing at 11:45 a.m. on Aug. 4 before leaving at 12:30 p.m.
Peter Huguenin is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.