On Bundschu Road, where it crosses the Union Pacific tracks just west of Indian Trails Elementary School in eastern Independence, a handful of people gathered.

On Bundschu Road, where it crosses the Union Pacific tracks just west of Indian Trails Elementary School in eastern Independence, a handful of people gathered.

A couple of them were there about an hour early. Some showed up even as the distinctive sound of a steam engine whistle could be heard in the distance, rolling down the valley.

Then at about 9:40 a.m., a headlight appeared on the horizon. Here came steam locomotive No. 844, racing to the southeast as it cut across Independence, on its way to stops in Malta Bend, Boonville and Jefferson City before stopping for the night near St. Louis.

Rene Perez of Independence was among the early arrivals.

“When I was a kid, I used to ride them, and I got the bug then ...” he said. “That was a lot of fun.”

Perez and John Stephens, also of Independence, are among the many people who wouldn’t miss the passing of an old steam engine for anything.

“I thought it was cool,” Stephens said after No. 844 rushed past. “There’s not a lot of them.”

The Union Pacific has two old steam engines that it runs out on goodwill excursions a few times a year. The railroad took delivery of No. 844 in 1944 – its last steam locomotive – and used it until 1959, mostly for high-speed passenger service. This is the railroad’s 150th anniversary, so No. 844 is on tour, leaving its base in Cheyenne, Wyo., last week and arriving in Kansas City, Kan., late Sunday. It wasn’t on display, though Perez, Stephens and probably others drove around trying, unsuccessfully, to get a glimpse. On Tuesday, the train made a brief stop at Union Station and then headed east, over the Sheffield Junction Flyover in northeast Kansas City, then through Sugar Creek and Independence, past Lake City, then Buckner, Levasy and points east.

By tonight, it’s scheduled to be in Marion, Ark., just west of Memphis. The railroad hasn’t posted a return route, but in the past steam engines headed home from Arkansas have sometimes made another pass through Independence or at least a stop at Union Station. That would be fine with Perez and Stephens.

“We’ll chase it down,” Perez said.