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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ball Watch Big Boy - REVIEW

PROLOGUE (story)

I remember the first time that I saw it. It was bigger than anything I had ever seen. The most powerful I had ever seen. Let me tell you all about it. I was 9 years old, it was a Tuesday morning around 8am and I was woken-up by a deep rumble. I rushed down to find my parents, as I thought an earthquake was happening, but the ground was not shaking, more like a soft rumble, but it was getting louder!

For some reason my father was very excited and when he saw me, he scooped me up in his powerful arms and asked “are you ready to see something special?” I said sure, but I told him that the rumbling was making me scared. He smiled and said “come on, grab your coat”, so I did.

We headed outside where the rumbling was more pronounced and it did not seem to bother my father, in fact it seemed to make him walk faster. I struggled to keep up. Then he stopped and pointed. I looked in the direction he was aiming and all I could see was a far away locomotive coming our way. My father beamed.

I could not understand why. We have seen countless locomotives come by our property on their way to Ogden, Utah, what was so special about this one. So I asked my father why he was so excited, he said “You’ll see Son...” I wondered if the rumbling had something to do with this locomotive. It couldn’t possibly be the locomotive; it was way too far to be making the ground shake... or was it?

Now I was getting curious. As the locomotive was getting closer the rumbling became louder. It was the locomotive! How was that possible? It was still pretty far away! My excitement started to match that of my father’s and I could start making out the front of the locomotive. It sure looked tall. A few moments later, I tried to count the wheels and... Well, it wasn’t possible... This locomotive was impossibly long...


Oh my gosh! It was now close enough to count and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It had a 4 wheel leading truck, then 8 giant drive wheels and then 8 more, followed by 4 small wheels under the trailing truck. It was a 4-8-8-4! How could that be?  I had never seen anything like it in any of the railroad books my father liked to collect.

My father saw the awe in my eyes and that is when he told me all about it. This was an American Locomotive Company 4000-Class 4-8-8-4 articulated, coal-fired steam locomotive. It was over 130 feet long and it weighed a total of 1,250,000 lbs, with its tender. Yes, ONE MILLION TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND pounds! It is no wonder they nicknamed it “Big Boy”.

I will never forget that day.

“I love it when you tell me that story Grandpa!” said little Johnny “Will we get to see a Big Boy at the Train Museum tomorrow?” We sure are, the 4014, but it won’t be there for much longer. “How come?” asked Johnny, sounding a little sad. Well, they are going to restore it and maybe someday this amazing railway giant will come back to life! “Will you take me to see it when it does Grandpa?” Yes, I sure will Johnny, I sure will...

INTRODUCTION


The above story is fiction, but I can imagine how it must have been to see these gargantuan locomotives in action. There were a total of 25 of them in service for the Union Pacific and they really are restoring the 4014.  To find out more about this project, click on the following link:


The subject of this review is the Ball Watch commemoration to this great locomotive and funny enough; an engraving of the 4014 is on its case back! I say funny, as it is completely serendipitous that is exact locomotive is being restored and also featured on the commemoration watch. Here is what Jeff Hess, CEO of Ball Watch USA, had to say about it:

“We just "got lucky". 

I was scouting around for cool projects and came across this iconic Locomotive called "the Big Boy". One of our sales execs told me his dad was V.P. of Union Pacific. He introduced me to his dad, one thing led to another and I thought what a cool name for a 46 mm watch. We made a deal with the U/P/R/R and created the watch. 

THEN the news came out a few months later that the SAME locomotive from the museum was going to be restored for USE! 

Awesome!

Now I have owned, photographed and reviewed countless Ball watches... yes, how sad is that, I have lost count. That being said, this one has to be one of the most special ones. It is part of the Engineer Master II line-up and shares so many design features with its cousins, but it is distinct enough to be a standalone Limited Edition. In fact, it is limited to 999 pieces and mine is 30/999.

Now I know what you are thinking... it is a Pilot`s watch. Yes, yes it is, but is it not perfect for a railroad watch? It is large, clean, accurate and easy to read in all lighting conditions. What more can you ask for? I bet if you were to go back in time (using your steam-powered flux capacitor) and show an old time railway man a pilots watch, he would think it was brilliant! As do I! After all, what is important is the quick / precise reading of time and this design achieves this goal with flying colors, pun intended.

Now on with the review.

CASE & BEZEL

  

  

  

  

The entire 46mm wide case is made of brushed stainless steel. It is generously curved and it shares the same bezel configuration with all the others in this line. It is rather difficult to explain, but this is my 6th Ball Watch within this family and all I can say is you know it is an Engineer Master II just by looking at it. Just like all the Fireman have the same design cues, as do the hydrocarbon and all the other lines.

There is something about it that makes you think this is a refined watch and that someone took a lot of time carefully brushing all its surfaces. This is not a cookie-cutter case by any stretch of the imagination. Someone took the time and methodically brushed each surface, all the angles and crafted this case with great care. There are no sharp edges, rough corners or unfinished surfaces.

As previously mentioned the screw-down case back is decorated with the engraving of the Big Boy 4014 locomotive. In fact, it is an exact rendering of the 4014 on display in Southern California, including the staircase that allows visitors to pear inside its great belly. The signed crown is also screwed-down and the whole is water-resistant to 100m. While this is not a dive watch rating, it is still plenty enough to allow for swimming. It is also anti-magnetic thanks to the soft iron inner cage that surrounds the movement.

CRYSTAL, DIAL & HANDS

  

  

  

The giant crystal that covers the dial is ever so slightly domed and coated with anti-reflective material on the inside. The latter helps reduce some of the glare, but not all reflections. The dial is very clean and lacks the inner hour chapter ring the Aviator features, instead the Ball Watch branding is larger and just above the 6 o’clock marker there is an applied Union Pacific logo. This is not just some painted on logo, there is actually some depth to it that is very difficult to capture on camera.

The hands are very large and long enough to reach the minute track, which is a pet-peeve of mine. Nothing frustrates me more than enormous dial real-estate and tiny hands. Luckily there is nothing to complain about here.

Speaking of nothing to complain about, let us talk about lume, shall we? This is a T-100 watch, thus it glows like Chernobyl!  Now I am not going to get into the T-25 vs. T-100 thing, as it has been beaten to death and you can find tons of material on the subject. Google is your friend. This watch is a ton of fun in the dark! You can actual read by the light of the dial.

My only complaint about the dial is that I wish the date wheel’s colors were inverted; white writing on black background, instead of the reverse. It would have offset the printing on the other side of the dial and it would have given it a more balanced look. I find this is a issue with many Ball watches and I truly wonder why they do not do anything about it.

MOVEMENT

  

This watch houses the ever popular ETA 2836, which is basically a day-date version of the ETA 2824. Again, Google is your friend. Many more qualified people have written up these workhorse movements, so if you need more details do a little search-a-roo and you will find more information that you can shake a stick at.

As for the performance, mine has been a consistent +4 seconds / day since day one. No breaking in period, nothing. Just bang on solid performance. This is terrific, as it is not COSC certified and it just goes to show that Ball must regulate their watches before sending them out. I have owned a tremendous amount of timepieces with these movements and not all are created equal, I assure you.

BRACELET

  

  

  

Unlike Ball’s Aviator watches, I prefer this one on its steel bracelet. In fact, I find the bracelet design very railroad inspired, with alternating lines on the inner and outer links. It is perfect for this watch and somewhat “odd” on the Pilot’s watches, which should be worn on leather. It is thick and extremely supple, with screws for adjusting the size. The end-links are solid, like on all Ball Watches and the clasp a hidden double-deployant, which is very comfortable to wear.

I feel this bracelet goes with this watch just like a nice chain goes with a railroad pocket-watch. It is the perfect combination for this tribute watch, in my opinion of course.

CONCLUSION

  

  

  

Ball Watch has recently made many successful Limited Edition railroad inspired watches, like the Canadian Railway Time Service and many others, but to my knowledge, this is the first outside of the Fireman collection. This move is quite a step up, as the Engineer Master II collection is much more refined and there is quite a bit more attention to detail.

I truly feel this is a worthy tribute for this incredible locomotive and just like Johnny in the story above; I look forward to the day the Big Boy runs again. Until then, I will proudly wear my Ball Watch Big Boy and smile every time I look for the time.

By the way, the tiny arm in the above wrist shot is that of my 10 year old son Alexi. After reading the prologue story he wants to go back to the Exporail Museum again. It would be our third visit.

Thank you for reading,

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