Big Boys: Head to Head

With the restoration of Big Boy #4014 by the Union Pacific railway in 2019, and the locomotive’s subsequent participation in the Spike150 celebrations in Utah, both Athearn Genesis and Broadway Limited Imports have rereleased their HO Scale Big Boys with new features and details, paying tribute to this now famous example. In this article, we’re looking at the highlights of both models, exploring their differences in design, construction, and features.

A Brief History

First rolling off the production line in 1941, with the final member of the class entering service in 1944, the Big Boy was the last great steam locomotive designed for the Union Pacific Railway. Based on the articulated Challenger locomotive, the Big Boy extended the length and power of the design from a 4-6-6-4 wheelbase to a massive 4-8-8-4 design. Although the type could be found in various parts of the UP system, they were designed primarily to tackle the mighty Wasatch Mountains, transporting heavy freights east from Utah into Wyoming.

Despite the unprecedented power and relative success of the type, it arrived just a little too late in the steam era to enjoy a full career. After just 15 years in service, the Big Boys were sidelined in favor of diesel power, and all were removed from the active roster by 1963. Of the original fleet of 25, 8 were saved for preservation, ending up in museums as far flung as Southern California and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

For many years it was firmly believed that the Big Boy’s time had come and gone, as no heritage organization could conceivably bring one of these behemoths back to life. In 2013 however, the unthinkable happened. The Union Pacific, which already operated two historic steam locomotives for goodwill trips, announced that #4014 had been repurchased by the railroad, and would be restored to active use. In the spring of 2019, coinciding with the 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the project was completed, and for the first time in 60 years, a Big Boy took to the rails. Its future now secure as a member of the Union Pacific Heritage Fleet.

The Models

Thanks to both Athearn Genesis and Broadway Limited Imports, you can bring what is likely now America’s most famous locomotive to your HO Scale roster (along with other members of the class – but we’ll get to that later). Both have been finished in a semi-gloss paint job, replicating the fresh-from-restoration appearance of #4014, and both include a wide range of stunning details and excellent features.

What You Get

Athearn’s model comes ready to run in collectable packaging, decorated in UP colors to commemorate the Golden Spike celebrations (note – this packaging and certain features are exclusive to the Promontory example, which we will be reviewing). Inside you’ll find the standard Genesis line packaging and a well designed information booklet featuring instructions, diagrams, and both historical and technical information. The Broadway Limited Imports version comes in the standard Broadway packaging, and features several add-on details, traction tires, and a funnel for pouring smoke fluid.


Athearn model shown

The Athearn Genesis example has been produced in high-quality injection molded plastic, with the locomotive shell being mounted to a weighted die-cast chassis. Certain components such as driving rods have been produced in metal, and the model features finescale wire handrails.


Broadway Limited Imports model shown

The Broadway Limited example has been produced entirely in die-cast metal and features mostly metal details, giving it a pleasing, authentic feel. Other components on the model include brass boiler details and certain smaller features molded in plastic. Despite the difference in construction, there is only a slight difference in weight between models, with the Athearn version weighing in at 2.2lbs, and the Broadway version at 2.5lbs.

Design and Details


Athearn model shown

While the models look largely the same, eagle-eyed modelers will notice that there are some slight differences in piping and detail application. The Athearn version has been finished with additional details and piping placement specific to #4014 post-restoration, and includes the signature chalk “Big Boy” insignia on the smokebox door, separately painted valves, printed builder’s plate, and a prototypical green cab interior.

Broadway Limited Imports model shown

The Broadway Limited Imports version retains essentially the same construction as their historically based models. Highlights of the Broadway Limited model include a front coupler, brass whistle and bell, and painted crew figures in the cab. Both locomotives feature a detailed backhead.

Tender details on Athearn (left) and Broadway Limited models (right)

Each model features the oil tender used by #4014 (rather than the original coal tender), however details differ between the two models. Broadway’s model is again fully constructed in die-cast metal, while Athearn’s tender is completed in precision molded plastic.


Athearn model shown

Athearn’s #4014 can be purchased with or without Soundtraxx Tsunami2 DCC and sound, featuring crisp, clear sounds recorded directly from the real #4014. Additional sounds include steam release, coupling, general announcements, and radio chatter.


Broadway Limited Imports model shown

Broadway’s model comes exclusively with their Paragon3 DCC and sound system built in. Sounds are based on historical recordings, and feature additional effects such as general announcements, radio chatter, and ambient effects. Broadway’s sounds are fully compatible with their Rolling Thunder subwoofer system.

Smokebox details on Athearn (left) and Broadway Limited Imports (right)

Both models feature dimmable headlights and lighted number boards, while the Broadway Limited Imports example also includes a cab light and working marker lights. Broadway’s model features a built-in smoke unit programmed to produce synchronized chuffing, and a functioning smoking whistle which works alongside the whistle function.


Athearn (left) and Broadway Limited Imports (right)

Both models demonstrate excellent smooth performance with slow running capability. Athearn’s example, while smooth-operating out of the box, can be programmed further to operate with realistic rolling momentum, while Broadway’s model demonstrates a smooth immediate response from the controller, with less of a noticeable change with controller programming. Thanks to their weight, both are excellent pullers that should have no trouble handling a realistically heavy train, and both feature fully functioning metal drivers which work in accordance with the speed and mechanical sounds from the respective decoders.

Other Examples

Both Athearn Genesis and Broadway Limited Imports have produced their #4014 excursion models as part of a larger release of Big Boy models. Other examples from Athearn include the preserved fleet in their as-delivered form, while Broadway Limited Imports has released 4 as-delivered examples and one fantasy example in UP’s gray scheme.

Order your HO Scale Big Boy today at!