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Waiting For The Union Pacific Streamliner

Nathan Heffel
The Union Pacific E-951 Streamliner outside Henderson, Colorado

It's an early Saturday morning and a handful of spectators are poised near a railroad crossing at 120th Ave and U.S. 85 in Henderson, Colorado. They're waiting to see a piece of history, a vintage Union Pacific Streamliner as it sets off from Denver bound for the "Daddy of 'em All," the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in Wyoming.

The E9 locomotive is a living relic of the 1950’s - iconic high-speed diesel electric engines just like it hauled famous passenger trains including the City of Denver, the City of San Francisco and the City of St. Louis during the waning years of the golden age of passenger rail travel.

All along the Union Pacific line from Denver to Cheyenne, thousands stood next to the tracks to watch the train cruise by. One of the spectators was model railroad enthusiast Ken Love of Aurora.

“I watch it every year. I’ve even chased it a few times,” Love said.

Standing near the crossing, Love said typically a massive steam engine, the UP 844 leads the special VIP train, however, this year it's in the shop.

The headlight from a distant locomotive appears on the horizon, sending scores of people to the side of the tracks. They're expecting the E-951, instead it’s only a passing freight train. The train they're expecting was delayed in Denver.

“Flat tire,” Love quipped.

Standing on the other side of the tracks, Dave Vanhynling of Aurora waited expectantly for the E-951 with his family.

“There’s just something about trains, I typically take photos of them. Steam trains mostly,” he said.

Joined by his elderly father as well as his brother and sister, Vanhynling said while the E-951 is pretty, the steam locomotive that typically hauls the special train is better.

“It’s bigger, it’s louder, it’s great,” Vanhynling said.

Another headlight appears in the distance, it’s the E-951. Spectators line the tracks, cameras at the ready. Others sit in cars, ready to dart onto U.S. 85 to chase the train all the way to Cheyenne.

Imposing but graceful, the Streamliner glides through the crossing, horn blaring. It was helped by another vintage locomotive, the UP 6936 Centennial, the largest diesel-electric locomotive ever built.

Riders on the train waved to spectators track side, holding onto their cowboy hats as they stuck their heads out the open doors.

After the train passes, Vanhynling and his family gather over the track. His father picks up a coin he placed there to be flattened.

It’s still warm.

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