Larger-than-expected crowds swarmed like bees Saturday over the train yard of Union Pacific Railroad. The Big Boy steam locomotive No. 4014, the world's only operating Big Boy locomotive, was in town.
More than 250 out-of-town guests checked in at the visitor information center—the most in more than 10 years, Mary Raum, Palestine's tourism and marketing manager, told the Herald-Press Monday. Altogether, more than 5,000 people attended the event, some from out-of-state, as local businesses took in tens of thousands of dollars.
“We were excited to see parking lots overflowing and a significant number of people from the Dallas and North Texas area,” Raum said, adding that visitors came from as far as Arkansas.
“Union Pacific underestimated how many people would come to town to see the Big Boy. They were overwhelmed by the turnout and humbled by the appreciation our community showed.”
Anticipating the train's 2 p.m. arrival, downtown Palestine buzzed throughout the day. While in town, many visitors dined, shopped, and even stayed overnight.
“Many of our merchants sold through specialty items, including Oxbow Bakery and Eilenberger Bakery.” Raum said. “Our stores and restaurants were very busy, as guests opted to spend the night to see the train off in Sunday morning.
Tourism Advisory Board member Randi Stringham met visitors in Cream & Coffee on Saturday night, and Stringham had to call four hotels before finding a vacancy for them, Raum said.
Visitors parked up to six blocks away to see the antique – part of the Great Race Across the Southwest and the company's 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad. The exhibition toured Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Not everyone, however, was cheerleading the event. Locals sour on UP took to social media to remind their friends and neighbors about the company’s layoffs earlier this year.
Comments included “A complete waste of money,” and “Nothing but a PR show for the company.”
In April, 30 UP car shop employees reported for work and were told they no longer had jobs. With more layoffs in the north, UP employees in the south expect another round of cuts here after the holidays.
The layoffs of local mechanical workers were part of a nationwide workforce reduction by Union Pacific. The city had no legal recourse to reverse the layoffs.
The contract calls for the railroad to retain, in Palestine, slightly more than 0.5 percent of its total workforce nationwide. The local number has declined over the years, along with the railroad's aggregate workforce.
The layoffs of roughly 30 people left about 65 local UP employees, including four foreman, two foreman generals, and two managers. Average annual salaries amounted to roughly $65,000 — almost double the local average.
Twenty-five Big Boys were built exclusively for UP to handle the steep terrain between Cheyenne and Ogden. The first locomotive was delivered in 1941. These engines pulled trains of up to 4,200 tons.
Of the eight remaining, No. 4014 is the only operational Big Boy. The Big Boy’s return to the rails follows more than two years of restoration work by the Union Pacific Steam Team.