A vintage Union Pacific passenger train returns for Frontier Days after a four year hiatus
The Union Pacific Railroad's (UP) Heritage Fleet has proven to be one of their most popular units, drawing crowds during maintenance stops and along the routes in which they run vintage steam and diesel locomotives and restored passenger equipment from the 1940s and 50s.
On July 30, the UP's Museum Special rode between the Denver Union Station and Cheyenne, pulled by Big Boy locomotive 4014, marking the first time in four years that the train has carried passengers between the two cities.
"It  used to work hard pulling freight, making money for the railroad back in the 1940s until it was retired in 1959," said Ed Dickens, the train's engineer and Manager of UP's Heritage Operations. "Now this is its new life."
The locomotive's revised role as a public relations liaison has proven to be incredibly popular since it made its first journey under its own power in May 2019. This followed a multi-year restoration process that returned it to the rails for the first time in six decades.
The train was offered as a fundraiser for the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, a non-profit located in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Frontier Days train, a long-time fixture of railroading in the two states, originated in the early 20th century and continued nearly annually until the early 1970s. It was later resurrected in the early 1990s when the Denver Post began sponsoring the train on an annual basis until it encountered financial difficulties.
"As you can see with this reception we have here, all these people here, this is why the Union Pacific has this program," Dickens said.
The Union Pacific Museum special wasn't initially on the UP's schedule. A longer excursion was planned over the railroad's system on the West Coast and Pacific Northwest, though some complications caused its cancellation this year. In its place, the Frontier Days run was added. Its addition to the schedule was a welcome addition for many railfans.
"We just found out about this trip, and we bought tickets as fast as we could and what we wanted to do was come back this year because when we rode the Denver Post train back in 18, we thought that would be the last chance we would get to ride it," said Darin Fisher, who traveled with his wife, Monica, from Overland Park, Kansas for the event. "We were very happy to see that Union Pacific was going to do this again."
A train for next year's Frontier Days festivities hasn't been formally scheduled, but Dickens said there's a possibility that it could travel the rails between the two cities again.
"We generally announce our trips just a few months out because it takes a lot of logistics and a lot of planning," he explained.
And even while the golden age of railroading has long since passed, the train provides a link to an era when steam ruled the rails and passenger trains connected communities large and small.
"We just think that it's great that they continue to do this," said Monica Fisher. "We hope that the younger folks will keep it going. There's not a whole lot of young people here but it's awesome to see all the little kids lining the route of the trains and just the people come out to watch [are] so excited."