During the late 1930s, the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad became known for their passenger service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in California. The service was extremely popular as it was significantly quicker than any other railroad offering a similar route at the time.
The route, which was originally called the “Daylight Limited” before becoming “Coast Daylight”, featured Southern Pacific “GS” class locomotive, short for ‘Golden State’ to honor the SP’s California roots. While the majority of these high speed locomotives have been scrapped, Southern Pacific #4449 continues to steam.
Brief History of Southern Pacific #4449
Built in 1941 by Lima Locomotive Works in 1941, SP #4449 was the last locomotive produced for Southern Pacific’s first order of “GS-4” class streamlined steam locomotives. Designed to use oil for fuel, she was built with a 4-8-4 (Northern) wheel arrangement. The GS class was designed for speed since they would be used in passenger service, and SP #4449 proved that with a top speed of 100 mph.
Upon completion, Southern Pacific assigned the locomotive to the Coast Daylight service, so the locomotive was outfitted with the red-orange color scheme that the railroad adopted for the Daylight passenger trains. Over the next 15 years, SP #4449 primarily operated on the railroad’s Coast division though she did have brief stints on Southern Pacific’s ‘Golden State Route’ and ‘Sunset Route’.
When Southern Pacific turned to diesel locomotives in the 1950s, most of their GS locomotives were retired and scrapped. While SP #4449 was replaced by diesel locomotives on the Coast Daylight, she was able to find work on the railroad’s San Joaquin Valley line, though she received a paint job to remove her Daylight livery before running on the new line. When the locomotive was retired and stored in 1957, it appeared that the sun was setting on her.
In 1958, Southern Pacific donated SP #4449 to the City of Portland, Oregon, even though the locomotive did not have ties to the city. In fact, one of the biggest reasons behind its selection for donation was simply that the locomotive was one of the easiest retired steam locomotives for the railroad to move. The locomotive was placed on static display at Oak Park where she remained for more than a decade.
In 1974, the locomotive was chosen to pull “The American Freedom Train” during America’s Bicentennial Celebration two years later. She was removed from static display in December of 1974 so that she could be restored to operational condition. In less than 6 months, she was steaming again. Featuring a red-white-blue color scheme, SP #4449 kept busy the next few years by first leading the Freedom Train followed by pulling the special “Amtrak Transcontinental Steam Excursion” in 1977. Following the Amtrak trip, SP #4449 found herself back in storage.
In anticipation for an appearance at Railfair ’81, #4449 was returned to her Daylight appearance, which she would keep for the next two decades. Since she was the only Southern Pacific GS class still operational, she became known as the “Daylight”. Daylight would spend the next two decades making special appearances and excursion trips, including trips to multiple Railfair events and the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.
The Daylight color scheme would take a short break in the early 2000s. After she was selected to lead a BNSF Railroad appreciation event in 2000, and the locomotive was given a black paint job, which was more common for freight locomotives, as a nod to the BNSF, a Class 1 Freight Carrier. She returned to the red-white-blue scheme of the American Freedom Train following the September 11th terrorist attacks and kept that look for the next few years before returning to the Daylight color scheme again in 2004.
Daylight would continue to make excursion trips and special appearances until she was removed from service in 2013 for her federally mandated inspection and rebuild. Fortunately, the process was relatively quick and SP #4449 was able to return to the rails in late 2015.
Since her rebuild, SP #4449 has been part of several excursions and trips organized by the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. When she isn’t running, #4449 can often be found at the ORHC’s shop which is open to the public. To learn more about the ORHC and to see upcoming events featuring SP #4449, be sure to visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Center website.