When we made plans to see the restored Big Boy 401 steam locomotive on its way to Duluth a couple weeks ago, I didn’t expect to learn a life lesson in the process. The excitement of my little boys at seeing such a huge train helped me realize how important it is to appreciate the little things in life.

The world’s largest operating Union Pacific steam engine visited Minnesota during the Great Race Across the Midwest, a six state tour commemorating the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railway’s completion. Not only were our boys eagerly anticipating the chance to see a train, but my husband was also hoping to see the full size engine up close, since he has fond childhood memories of playing with a large replica train set. The drive was almost two hours, but my camera was charged and the sun was shining.  

After exiting the highway towards the scheduled stop in Bruno listed on the UP Steam website, we began to wonder if we would even arrive. The traffic was backed up for a stretch over eight miles long, creeping from Askov to Bruno. Being stuck in the car with our destination so close, my frustration quickly mounted. The train had come and gone when we finally got into town, where we saw a large number of pedestrians freely crossing the county road, the cause of our hour long delay.

Instead of staying positive, we gave voice to some of the irritation that had built up, which didn’t actually make us feel better. As if to match our mood, the cloudy sky turned dark, and it began to rain hard on our long drive home. After some self reflection, I had to admit that focusing on the disappointment had blinded us to our blessings. Our kids had been extremely well behaved and patient, and we could have made some fun memories if we had looked past our missed opportunity.

Two days later was my son’s birthday, and the train was heading back to St. Paul from Duluth. I decided to put on a smile, load up the three kids, and try to catch the train in Grandy. Whether we saw the steam engine or not, I was determined to make good memories. We parked on the road next to the small railroad crossing with minutes to spare, and stood with a handful of other people watching the train quickly approach. The boys were beside themselves with glee, and when that engine roared quickly by, they were awestruck.

On a whim, we decided to chase the train’s route, but this time we encountered another setback. The train made an unscheduled stop just up the tracks from where we waited in the hot sun, and for half an hour the lucky folks at that junction got to go up close to the engine. Watching my boys play with rocks and sticks, I decided to try harder to find happiness in all circumstances. When the Big Boy finally chugged past, I savored the moment, grateful for the chance to experience this beautiful relic from America’s history.  

Danielle Wiener, a stay-at-home mom, has a family cabin in McGregor and lives on a farm in Stacy.

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