Union Pacific Oil-Burning, Steam 4-8-4, #844 on Donner Pass, CA, on Sept. 27, 2012 by Mike Tisdale

Click for Union Pacific page on #844 with lots of info.

Mike Tisdale, a computer expert by profession, living in northern California, is a dedicated rail buff who has traveled the world, including Sri Lanka, to see and photograph trains. He is the one who supplied me with the ‘The Breathtaking ‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’ U.K. (GWR) Steam Enginepictures.

You can find more of his work on Facebook or on this ‘Russian’ Website (Mike having started with them long time ago when they were one of the few that offered free, unlimited picture hosting.

Here are some notes from Mike about these pictures … some based on questions I asked as to how hard the steam engine was working and the nature of the yellow tender right behind the black one.

“Union Pacific 4-8-4 844, came west over Donner pass on 27 September, and, in common with every other northern California railfan who could, I followed it, getting some photos along the way. It will be in Sacramento for the weekend as part of UP’s celebration of its 150 anniversary. Here is a selection of the photos I took on Thursday.”

“The only photos where it is going uphill are the first few at Stanford Curve in Coldstream Canyon. It was definitely working there, but the air was warm, so no steam condensation and the fireman was doing his job correctly and had the firing valve keeping it hot, but not putting out excessive clag. As it is an oil burner, the firing valve can be quickly adjusted for the work required, and, other than “burning of Rome” smoke effects for photo runbys or sanding the flues to get the carbon build up out of them, it runs with a pretty clean stack. As you guessed, that is a second tender for extra water.”

“Many western US steam locos were oil burners. We didn’t have any major coal deposits west of the Rockies. UP had a mix of oil and coal, and 844 was an oil burner. 3985 was a coal burner. I was on an SLC-Provo excursion in 1982 or 83 that set half the state of Utah on fire from sparks and shortly after that, UP rebuilt it as an oil burner. Some UP engines were converted from one to the other and even back again, depending on what divisions they worked. 

Nearly all modern SP steam was oil burning with the exception of the AC-9 cab back 2-8-8-4s, which worked on a division in Arizona and New Mexico that partly burned coal, there used to be coal towers along the ROW until UP finally knocked them down after the merger at places like Demming, New Mexico and Mescal, Arizona. WP was all oil burning, as was Santa Fe in the west. Rio Grande operated in the Rockies and had coal on line and burned it.

Pakistan’s steam at the end was all oil burning, as it has no coal.”

Wikipedia on the 4-8-4.
Click the pictures to ENLARGE them to full size.


  1. Kelly Huston

    Great images! Thank you for sharing. Love these old steam engines. Now if we only knew what day and route it will take out of Sacramento after this weekend’s event.???

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