|This review by Tom Kelcec appeared in the April, 2003 issue of Railfan & Railroad Magazine.|
The bottom line here is simply, "buy this program." A number of Big Boy videos are on the market, most from Pentrex or its predecessors, but here, in one place, is all the familiar footage plus some new and really exceptional imagery that's never before been seen. Skillful editing packages this in a unique way: between the prologue and epilogue, each of the 25 engines built is covered in numerical sequence by combining all the imagery available from all sources (including eleven cinematographers).
The most important visual addition is the substantial amount of exceptionally high-quality 35mm b&w film footage shot in December 1953 by NBC for a television program. The amount of detail in this footage is vast, as are its tonal range, unique angles, extensive engine terminal scenes and so on. Another huge bonus is that a number of run-bys thankfully include the entire train (you could only do this with electrically powered cameras then, out of the reach of amateurs). This allows one not only to count the number of cars a Big Boy could pull, but to see probably every fallen flag freight car paint scheme and car type of the era. With the DVD format, you can "freeze frame" anyplace for a clear still image absent any noise (imagine a JPEG computer image), which should delight the modelers in the audience.
The prologue includes some shots of engines that preceded the Big Boys, such as the 4-12-2s, 2-8-8-0 compounds, several Challengers in the greyhound scheme, a few shots of Cheyenne in 1953, the construction and opening of the New Line over Sherman Hill, and the background of shooting of UP's Last of the Giants promo. As we see each engine in turn, the coverage includes a b&w still photo and whatever movies are in the archives. We see numerous excellent run-bys; all manner of Cheyenne engine servicing, roundhouse and turntable views; unique angles on the road; cab rides; pacing scenes; shots during and after blizzards; doubleheaders and so on.
With rare exception, all the footage was shot between Laramie and Cheyenne. There are few marginal scenes. Some new shots are notable, such as the Laramie yard, riding a pilot into Hermosa Tunnel, details of several coal docks, views from atop the Colorado & Southern overpass in Cheyenne, inside Tower A at Cheyenne and the Green River roundhouse. For those with strong stomachs, the epilogue includes a few scenes of engines being scrapped.
Sound is fresh and well-dubbed. The narration is good. The DVD chapter menus are, simply, each engine number, so you can jump right to No. 4015 if you wish. Very well done. The only possible encore would be similar programs on the C&O's Alleghenies, the DM&IR Yellowstones, and the GN and NP articulateds. This tape is a must for all steam fans. -- Tom KelcecUnion Pacific Big Boy Collection product info: VHS DVD