Big Boy train arrives in Marfa on way across West

(L-R) JP Schwart, Jonathan Baize and children and Wayne Byrd were a few of many spectators that greeted the Union Pacific’s No. 4014 historic Big Boy steam locomotive as it pulled into Marfa last week as part of The Great Race Across the Southwest. (photos by Maisie Crow)

MARFA — Last Friday at around 5 p.m., a Big Boy train rolled into town.

A crowd of locals, tourists and train enthusiasts gathered to greet the retro steam locomotive — a 1.2 million pound, 132-foot-long beast that was originally built to haul freight in the 1940s.

“The sheer size of the thing was unfathomable,” Nick Bustillos, a Marfa resident, said in a phone interview. “When it finally pulled up, it looked like the gods were going to unload from it.”

Bustillos first heard about Big Boy’s stop in Marfa via social media. He decided to pay it a visit and was glad he did.

“If Batman had a train or needed a train for any reason, it would look like this train,” he said.

Big Boy — a style of train manufactured by American Locomotive Company for Union Pacific — has been retired since 1961. Only 25 were ever built, and fewer than that are still around for the public to see.

This year, though, after a multi-year restoration, Union Pacific is taking Big Boy No. 4014 on a cross-country tour to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. It departed El Paso last week, headed in a month-long loop for Cheyenne, Wyoming. At press time, it was in the Houston area.

Buck Johnston, another Marfa resident, was also in attendance on Friday. She was so excited last week about the train’s pending arrival that she sent out an email to city leaders, suggesting they “pull together a community gathering for this historic event.”

Johnston said Big Boy was “a real, breathing thing of beauty.”

“It was like everyone was a kid again,” she said of the train’s brief visit to town.