Transcontinental Railroad Locomotives

The header of my website shows Union Pacific’s locomotive #119 approaching Promontory Summit, Utah, where the golden spike ceremony marked the completion of the first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Notice that the smokestack on this engine is straight, indicating the locomotive burns coal. A diamond-shaped smokestack, commonly seen on locomotives of the time period, indicates a wood-burner.

Book one of The Iron Horse Chronicles, Eagle Talons, takes place in 1867 when the locomotives used by both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific were diamond-stacked, wood-burning engines. After the Union Pacific discovered extensive coal deposits along the route of their construction in Wyoming and Utah, the company began to use the cheaper, more efficient fuel. The diamond-stack was designed to contain sparks thrown off by the burning of wood. The stack caught most of the embers before they could scatter over the landscape, or drop on the following cars in the train. Still, fire was a danger.


This close-up photo of Union Pacific’s #119 locomotive reveals that it is a 4-4-0 (“four-four-oh”). The first number indicates there are four, small pilot wheels (two on each side) behind the cow catcher. The second number indicates there are four driving wheels (the large ones), beneath the boiler. The third number, a “zero,” indicates there are no small, trailing wheels. (The wheels seen on the tender behind the locomotive do not count.) Railroads used this number identification system during the period when steam locomotives ruled the rails. A 4-4-0 is also called an “American” model. Check out this Wikipedia article for more information on how locomotives are designated:

The National Park Service operates the Union Pacific’s #119 and the Central Pacific’s, diamond-stacked “Jupiter,” at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah. There the locomotives can be viewed up close and seen in reenactments of the golden spike ceremony. The site is worth a visit for history and railroad buffs. I took the header photo and the close-up photo of #119 when my wife, Barbara, and I visited Utah in 2008. The following link will take you to the National Park’s site for information about visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site:



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4 Responses to Transcontinental Railroad Locomotives

  1. James Logsdon says:

    I find all of Mr. Murphy’s work to be accurate and his story, compelling. I look forward to reading every one of his novels.

  2. Joyce Regan says:

    Mr. Murphy’s books are written so well you can feel as if you are there with what is happening.

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