Union Pacific 4-8-4 #844

Union Pacific 844 is a 4-8-4 steam locomotive which the Union Pacific dubbed, originally enough, "Four-Eight-Fours" and classed them as such (Class FEF-1 through FEF-3). The locomotive was simply one of nearly four-dozen 4-8-4s the railroad had built between 1937 and 1944, and were used originally in passenger service but during their later years served as freight power. The UP saved the locomotive from scrapping in 1959 and a few years later it was being used around the system for promotional tours and in general, as a good public relations tool. 


The idea has been phenomenally successful for the railroad and 844 operates excursions regularly each year all over the Union Pacific system, from the Midwest to Pacific Coast, making it one of the most famous steam locomotives in the country.  It appears the locomotive's task in this regard will remain for years, and likely, decades to come as Union Pacific continues to utilize steam as a history and teaching tool.

Following 4-6-6-4 #3985's restoration, the big Challenger and #8444 team up to battle Southern Pacific's Donner Pass in April, 1981. The duo was headed to Railfair '81 in Sacramento. Roger Puta photo.

UP 844 was the last 4-8-4 design the railroad received. It arrived in a batch of ten, road numbers 835 to 844, and having been constructed in 1944 received the latest in steam locomotive technology. Overall Union Pacific had 45 4-8-4s constructed, all of which were built by the American Locomotive Company. One particular feature that made the 4-8-4 wheel arrangement so successful was its versatility where it was just as capable of pulling a time-sensitive passenger train clipping along at 70+ mph as it was at lugging a heavy freight train over stiff grades. This versatility, along with the locomotive being equipped with some of the latest technology, made the Northern Type one of the most successful designs of all time with over 1,000 built for 36 different railroads.

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #844 steams over Cajon Pass on an overcast November 19, 2011. The railroad is known to often run its heritage units with the big Northern. Drew Jacksich photo.

Perhaps the most well known Northerns to ever operate including the Norfolk & Western’s handsome J Class, Southern Pacific’s Golden States, and New York Central’s Niagaras just to name a few (there were many others). The Union Pacific's 4-8-4 designs were primarily meant to be used in passenger service with their 77" to 80" drivers. As mentioned earlier the railroad designated their 4-8-4s as Class FEF (which stood for Four-Eight-Four) and UP 844 was the last locomotive in Class FEF-3. All three classes featured a bit of streamlining and weighed roughly the same although each subsequent class was a tad lighter than the previous. All three classes could produce 300 psi of boiler pressure and between 63,600-63,750 pounds of tractive effort. 

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #8444 leads a fan trip between Denver and Sterling, Colorado on July 11, 1981. The excursion was sponsored by the "Rocky Mountain Railroad Club." Roger Puta photo.

Being the last 4-8-4s purchased by and delivered to the railroad, UP 844 and her siblings saw the shortest service life. They were used on UP's secondary named trains like the ChallengerPortland Rose, and Overland Flyer (by this time diesels had already taken over UP's primary passenger trains, the City fleet) until 1957 at which point they were bumped into freight service. Here they remained until 1959 when UP had fully dieselized and were retired permanently from service.  As early as 1960 Union Pacific realized the benefits of having a steam program and chose #844 to head the new division.  The locomotive was restored to active service in 1962 and since then has been a wildly successful PR tool for Union Pacific running numerous excursions over the railroad each year, usually in the name of safety such as the "Operation Lifesaver" program.

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #844 steams across Spanish Creek Trestle on the Keddie Wye in Keddie, California on May 2, 2009. The old Western Pacific is still alive and well in the UP system thanks to its lower grades. Drew Jacksich photo.

Union Pacific 844 and Class Specifications Of Its "Four-Eight-Four" Locomotives 

Class Road Numbers Date Built Builder Quantity

Today UP 844 also operates with sister #3985, a 4-8-8-4 Challenger which was restored in the early 1980s. Some interesting facts about UP 844 include that the locomotive has never been officially retired from the railroad's roster, ever since its purchase from Alco in 1944. Also, the locomotive was originally a coal-burner but was later converted to run on oil while still hauling freight and passengers for the UP, which it continues to use today. Lastly, between 1962 and 1989 the locomotive's number had to be changed to 8444 as UP's numbering system bumped the steamer for an EMD GP30 which used the 844 number.  

Union Pacific #844 passes the former Southern Pacific depot in Oakland, California with the company OCS bound for Roseville on April 24, 2009. Drew Jacksich photo.

In 1989 the 4-8-4 was returned to its original 844 numbering and now the railroad has reserved it exclusively for the steamer. Normally restoring and operating steam locomotives is an endeavor that most groups have a hard time just being able to pull off and maintain year after year (must always tip their cap to them for accomplishing such a difficult task). However, when seemingly endless funding is available, as in the case of the Union Pacific's steam program, it's truly amazing what can be accomplished.   For more information about the program please click here

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

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