Hours before the Union Pacific "Big Boy 4014" was due to arrive in Chester on Saturday, train fans were already pouring into town, seeking out parking and jockeying to get the best angle.
Union Pacific personnel anticipated around 3,000 people would be on hand to ogle the massive steam locomotive, one of the biggest ever built and currently on tour in Midwest and Western states.
On this tour, Chester was 4014's only Illinois stop, and southern Illinoisans, Missourians and more came from everywhere. Authorities estimated that more like 4,000 to 5,000 people came, cramming every road, parking lot, street, driveway and empty field all along the Union Pacific line.
The area along Rock Bridge Road and Water Street by the old depot was literally packed with spectators. Some had erected pop-up tents, others sat in lawn chairs and still others brought blankets and deck umbrellas to offer protection.
People also experienced the event from airplanes, helicopters and boats on the Mighty Mississippi as well as on foot and on four-wheelers, side-by-sides, motorcycles and in cars and trucks.
The locomotive, along with one tender car, two diesel engines, approximately eight passenger cars and a historic information car, arrived just about right on time with whistles blowing loudly, the sound of the steam engine huffing and puffing, and cheers from the hundreds of people lining the railway.
When the "Big Boy" came to a stop, it was right at the location of the large communications tower that was positioned several yards from the old depot. It was there that people crowded around to get photos of the main attraction.
Walking along the 150-yard road that paralleled the railroad track it was often difficult to see a familiar face. Local Chester citizens were greatly outnumbered by people who had traveled as many as 4-5 hours. Some had even come from across the country and there were a few who ventured from across the globe.
Kevin Semlow and his 15-year-old son, Kaden, came south from Bloomington. The first drove to Ware, Illinois, just to watch the train pass, then followed the train as it headed for Chester.
"We are train hobbyists and for us this is really a huge deal," Kevin Semlow said. "After it departs here, we will drive to St. Louis and we hope to watch it arrive there this evening. We will stay the night and tour the historical cars tomorrow."
Union Pacific authorities asked that spectators remain at least 25 feet from the tracks once the "Big Boy" arrived, but everywhere crowds were pushing up against the yellow police tape that had been positioned for safety precautions.
The heat beat down on people, taking its toll on at least two individuals along the Rock Bridge Road.
One elderly gentleman collapsed shortly after the train arrived and required medical attention from several Union Pacific staff. Literally minutes after that medical emergency, a young lady collapsed just feet away from the older gentleman. MedStar emergency personnel were called to deal with these two heat-related events.
Mike Bunn and his entire family, Rebecca, Nora and Carter, drove over from Arnold, Missouri. "We are train lovers," Bunn said. "Carter, however, is the real train specialist. He has model trains and really is excited about seeing this great historical treasure."
Tyler Blanchett, his wife, Alicia, and their young son, Samuel, made the 30-minute drive from Red Bud.
James Richards and his family of six drove to Chester from Mt. Vernon. Richards used to work for the UP.
"I thought it would be really nice to see this historic train travel on the same lines on which I used to work on a day-to-day basis," he said.
Union Pacific originally built and operated 25 "Big Boy" locomotives that revolutionized train travel and usage. The first was built in 1941. Today there are only nine remaining "Big Boy" locomotives and all but one are on display in museums. The "Big Boy No. 4014" is the only remaining operational "Big Boy" and it is the biggest locomotive in the world.