Like the mythological Phoenix, these former steam tenders have escaped the scrapper’s torch and risen from the dead — not once, but three times. They were built in 1937 and assigned to the Union Pacific Railroad’s first group of 800-series Northerns, Class FEF-1. While their locomotives were retired and scrapped in the late 1950s, these tenders spent just a few months in retirement before receiving a new assignment.
With a bright new Armour Yellow paint job, they became 24,000-gallon oil tenders for the most powerful single engines ever to run on American rails: the UP’s 8,500 horsepower General Electric GTELs (gas turbine electrics, also known as “Big Blows”). Since the turbines drank Bunker C fuel oil, a thick byproduct of petroleum distillation, the tenders were insulated and equipped with steam heating coils to make the fuel warm enough to flow to the engine. When the decade of the 1960s ended, and the turbine program as well, the tenders survived again while their second set of engines went to scrap.
The tenders were nearly forgotten for almost two decades, until the crew from the UP’s Heritage Steam Fleet discovered these tenders and four of their brethren on a disconnected piece of track in Los Angeles in 1988. The six tenders had been piped together to make a large, stationary diesel fuel storage tank. But the “Steam Team” had a problem, and the tenders were the solution.
The UP was (and still is) using Heritage Fleet FEF-3 No. 844 and Challenger No. 3985 as roving ambassadors for the railroad. But with steam-era water tanks a thing of the past, the engines’ range had been limited by the difficulty of supplying them with water. So the Steam Team moved three of the old tenders to its Cheyenne shop in 1989, refurbished their yellow paint jobs, and converted them into auxiliary water tankers for steam excursions.
Between 2006 and 2008, the two remaining tenders, now renumbered UPP 809 and UPP 814, were refurbished again and re-named for two retired members of the Steam Team, pipefitters Jim Adams and Joe Jordan. They continue to be used singly or as a pair when No. 844 or No. 3985 hits the road, and they will likely accompany Big Boy No. 4014 when the UP finishes its current restoration of that engine and takes it out to travel.
Adding a full scale die-cast water tender behind your Premier Line steam locomotives makes a great way to complete the prototypical look of any of these engines. Quality constructed of die-cast metal and featuring die-cast 6-wheel trucks with a Proto-Coupler, each tender is equipped with a plug-in harness that makes hooking up your tender a snap.