MakerBot: Recreating the 4-8-8-4 Big Boy Locomotive

by MakerBot®

Paul Fischer makes 3D sketches of big, complicated machines for fun. He recreated the King Tiger and other German tanks from World War II, but that only made him more ambitious. “I was looking for something bigger to draw after tanks,” says Fischer, who has been drafting since high school.

So he ordered the original blueprints of the 4-8-8-4 Big Boy, an American steam locomotive used by Union Pacific Railroad from 1941 into the 1960s, when diesel supplanted steam. He began with the main drive wheels, which were in two parts. “Even something as simple as those wheels, I always assumed that they were one piece of metal.”

MakerBot® Big Boy Locomotive Model Wheel  (Photo courtesy of MakerBot®)

MakerBot® Big Boy Locomotive Model Wheel   (Photo courtesy of MakerBot®)

Fischer reconstructed an entire Big Boy engine, first in SolidWorks 3D modeling software and then in real life, on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer in his basement in Earleville, MD. “From what it looks like on the outside, I made it as close to the original as possible,” says Fischer. Fischer spent between 700 and 800 hours drafting and another 1,000 hours 3D printing the locomotive.

All told, Fischer spent eight months on the Big Boy. At times, it was like having a newborn. “In the middle of the night I would hear the printer stop, and I would get up and start a new build.” Fischer went through 16 rolls of MakerBot True Black PLA Filament and two 2-oz. tubes of Zap Super Glue. “I used more Super Glue than I probably should’ve,” says Fischer. He filed some parts to fit them together, but the Big Boy is black, so there was no need to paint it.

The finished engine is six feet long. “Just short enough to fit in the SUV when I put the seats on one side down,” says Fischer, who drove his model up MakerBot headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. “It was a tough journey,” says Fischer, “But when I got to the end and saw the look on Bre’s face, it made it all worth it.”

Paul Fischer (left), Bre Pettis (right) with Big Boy Locomotive Model  (Photo courtesy of MakerBot®)

Big Boy Locomotive Model with Paul Fischer (left) and Bre Pettis   (Photo courtesy of MakerBot®)

As formidable a project as Fischer undertook, Union Pacific is restoring Big Boy No. 4014, which is now on display in Pomona, CA. At 132 feet long including a tender, it will not fit in an SUV, but Union Pacific will find a way to bring it to its Cheyenne, WY, headquarters, this spring.

Big Boy No. 4014   (Photo courtesy of Union Pacific and MakerBot)

Big Boy No. 4014  (Photo courtesy of Union Pacific)

If you’re an experienced model maker and want to make your own Big Boy, Fischer has posted a complete set of files on Thingiverse. You should finish your Big Boy before Union Pacific restores No. 4014. Or if you’re not ready to commit, you can start with the main drive wheels, like Paul Fischer did.

About MakerBot
Founded in 2009, Brooklyn‐based MakerBot® ( has grown to be the global leader in desktop 3D printing. MakerBot had 16 percent market share of all 3D printers (industrial and personal) made from 2009 to the end of 2011. MakerBot had 16 percent market share of all 3D printers (industrial and personal) made from 2009 to the end of 2011. In 2011, MakerBot had 21.6 percent market share. In 2012, MakerBot estimates that it now has a 25 percent market share of the overall 3D printer market. There are more than 15,000 MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers in use by engineers, designers, researchers, and people who just like to make things.

The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer has been named Popular Mechanics “Overall Winner” for best 3D printer and was honored as one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2012. In addition, MakerBot was named “Best Emerging Tech” at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, won Popular Mechanics Editor’s Choice Award, the Popular Science Product of the Year, and recently was awarded the Fast Company 2012 Innovation by Design Award.

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