Union Pacific Challenger number 3985, the world’s largest operating steam locomotive, is making a rare visit to the Chicago area this weekend. The 20th Century Railroad Club booked the big engine for two day trips from West Chicago to Milwaukee, both of which sold out in a toot (at prices that would buy a round-trip cross-country flight). But Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis says the real view is from trackside anyway. Built in 1943, retired in 1962, and restored in 1981, the Challenger is 122 feet long and carries 6,000 gallons of fuel oil (it was converted from coal in 1990) and 25,000 gallons of water. Fully loaded it weighs more than a million pounds and has a top speed of 70 miles per hour. In its heyday it was used primarily to haul heavy trains in the west, but on this trip it’ll pull five regular coaches and two dome coaches, plus baggage, concession, and tool cars. Run by a crew of 12, it has to stop every 100 miles for lubrication. Davis says UP is the only freight railroad that has kept any of its steam engines (two, but the second isn’t running), and they do only three excursions a year, rotating through UP’s 23-state area. Stan Brandt of the 20th Century Club says it’ll be years before we see the Challenger in these parts again. Crew members will be at the West Chicago Metra station at 508 W. Main from 9 AM to 5 PM Friday, June 14, to talk about the engine; it’ll boil up and pull out at 9 AM Saturday and Sunday (June 15 and 16) with a stop at the Elmhurst station (128 W. First St.) at 9:25 AM. You might glimpse it along freight lines as it goes through Des Plaines and Lake Bluff later both mornings. Call the club at 312-829-4500 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John H. Kuehl.