Lineside Legacy - September 2003

Southern Pacific SD7 No. 1518

Southern Pacific No. 1518, EMD's first SD7, joined Chicago & North Western No. 1518, EMD's first GP7, at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois, on Memorial Day Weekend 2003.
In late May the Illinois Railway Museum took delivery of Southern Pacific SD7 No.1518, a gift from the Union Pacific Railroad. Normally, the donation of such a unit wouldn't he particularly newsworthy; plenty of SD7s are still in service, and a few have already been preserved. But don't let its faded red and gray paint fool you - No.1518 is no ordinary SD7. It is, in fact, the very first EMD six-motor road switcher ever built. It was originally EMD No.990.

In May of 1951 EMD outshopped demonstrator No.990 the first of the new model series "Special Duty," or "SD." EMD had already found success with the GP7, so a locomotive with two additional axles and traction motors seemed natural. But by mid-1951 the other major builders Alco, Baldwin and Fairbanks-Morse - had already introduced their own six-motor road switchers, so EMD's version was not seen as a technological breakthrough. No.990 didn't possess the railfan-pleasing looks of its counterparts, but in performance and reliability it excelled. Under its long hood was EMD's proven 567B 16-cylinder, 1500-h.p. engine, a solid performer. In its cab were dual controls to allow it to demonstrate on railroads that operated diesels long hood forward. The unit also rode on the newly-developed EMD Flexicoil trucks, another under-appreciated innovation. And, perhaps most important of all, on the road No.990 proved itself time and time again.

Late in 1952, its barnstorming tour over, No.990 entered the EMD backshop at LaGrange for a complete rebuilding and refurbishing. Just about every part was overhauled or replaced, essentially creating a new locomotive. (Interestingly, the dual cab controls were retained.) What had been EMD No.990 emerged in October 1952 as Southern Pacific No.5308, complete with the orange, black, and silver tiger stripe paint job. It was soon at work on the west coast in both freight and passenger service.

Early SD's proved to be survivors. Long after the Baldwins, Alcos and most of the FM's had succumbed to the scrapper's torch, No.5308 and the majority of SP's SD7s were still hard at work. Over the years changes had been made, of course. A huge "ashcan" headlight was added shortly after delivery, along with a steam generator. No.5308 was painted into the black widow scheme in the mid-1950s, and then into the gray and red bloody nose scheme by the early 1960s. When rebuilt in the 1970s it lost its steam generator and water tank, but gained new electronics and other refinements. Numbers were changed as well. It became No.2715 in 1965, then No. 1415 ten years later. Its final renumbering coincided with its last major rebuilding in 1980, when it was upgraded into an SD7E and numbered 1518.

During the 1960s and '70s EMD power ruled American rails. The 1966 product line, which included the 5D40 and SD45 (powered by the new 645 engine), was largely responsible for EMD's leading position in the locomotive market. The Dash-2 line, begun in 1972, introduced the 5D40-2, quite possibly the best diesel locomotive ever built. With the success of the "SD" series, it was easy to forget the engine that started it all, but remarkably, as late as 1997 No.1518 was still running off the miles, now for Union Pacific. Eventually time caught up with the historic unit, as it was sidelined in March 1997 with mechanical problems. Fortunately, Union Pacific recognized it as an historic artifact and had it shipped to Cheyenne, to be stored with the rest of UP's railroad treasures until a decision could be made regarding its final disposition.

In May reports circulated on the internet that No. 1518 was on the move. Its final destination: Union, Illinois, home of the renowned Illinois Railway Museum. It arrived, appropriately, on Memorial Day weekend during the museum's annual summer season kickoff, when many trains are running and volunteers are working on many different projects. While IRM's Frisco 2-10-0 and the Nebraska Zephyr garnered most of the public's attention, over by the shop a group of volunteers were at work trying to start No.1518's prime mover, which hadn't been turned over in over five years. A credit to their skills, by the end of Monday, May 26, they had the engine running.

What does the future hold for No.1518? The unit will pull IRM's weekend diesel trains this summer. Its tired paint leaves much to be desired, however, and many are eager to see it repainted, but IRM volunteers are divided on how. Some want to see it back in its red demonstrator paint scheme. Others favor returning it to one of its early SP paint schemes and numbers. A few want to leave it in its current configuration and number, which could cause some confusion (IRM also has in its collection the world's first GP7 - also numbered 1518). Whatever the final decision, it's nice to know that No. 1518, a unit truly worthy of preservation, now has a proper home in Illinois.

SP 2-8-2 No.771

The city of Victoria. Texas has sold its longdisplayed Southern Pacific 2-8-2 No.771 to the Grapevine Steam Railroad, the Fort Worth-based excursion train known as the Tarantula owned by the city of Grapevine (it was formerly operated by the Fort Worth & Western). Despite some local opposition, the Victoria city council voted in June to sell the Mikado to Grapevine for the sum of $10.00. It will be moved north to Fort Worth for restoration in the near future.

Baldwin built No.771 for SP subsidiary Texas & New Orleans, one of 57 Mikados in the MK-5 class. The first batch (Nos. 750774), of which No.771 is a part, was built during April and May 1913. Subsequent MK-5s were built by the American Locomotive Company and by the T&NO's Algiers shops in New Orleans. These were big engines for fast freight service, with 63' drive wheels and large Vanderbilt tenders.

After retirement in the mid-1950s No.771 was donated to Victoria and placed on display in the center of town at Memorial Square, where it has sat quietly rusting for the past 45 years. The engine was painted and refurbished in 1987, but has deteriorated to the point that further restoration is needed. Not having the funds, Victoria sold the engine rather than repair it.

In 2001 Victoria was contacted by the city of Grapevine, which was searching for another steam locomotive to use on the Tarantula excursion. The normal motive power, former Southern Pacific 4-6-0 No.2248, has experienced its share of mechanical problems over the past five years, and has spent quite a bit of time out of service (a diesel pulls the train when the Ten-Wheeler is down). It was decided that a second steam locomotive was needed to take some of the demand off 107-year-old No.2248 and allow for its ongoing maintenance. No.771, which appears to be in generally good mechanical condition, fits the bill.

Victoria actually agreed last year to sell No.771 to Grapevine, but local opposition ran high and the offer was withdrawn. The city council eventually agreed to give a local group time to raise funds for a community restoration effort. ROAR (Rescue Old 771 and Restore) was formed to move and cosmetically refurbish the 2-8-2, but despite raising $16,000.00 they were not able to move the engine to a new location by the May 31 deadline. In early June the group voted to abandon its efforts.

The city of Grapevine estimates it will cost between $30,000.00 and $50,000.00 to remove No.771 from its display site and truck it to Fort Worth. Restoration to operating condition is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $300,000.00.

No. 771 is the third MK-5 earmarked for restoration. Sister No. 786 operated until recently on the Austin & Texas Central and is now under repair again to fix a cracked cylinder casting, and No. 745 is nearing the end of a long overhaul in New Orleans. One other MK-5, No. 794 is displayed in a San Antonio park. A fifth MK-5, No. 743 was once displayed in a Lafayette, Louisiana park, but was scrapped in 1970.

White Pass Correction

Reader Mike Peltier sent the following information and corrections regarding my information about the WP&YR narrow gauge War Department 2-8-2s covered in the July 2002 LINESIDE LEGACY: "USA 190-200 were the first locomotives of the narrow gauge wartime 2-8-2 design that Baldwin built, which makes them unique. This initial sales order of meter gauge (39 3/8") locomotives was ordered for India's extensive meter gauge railway system. However, the first eleven went to the WP&YR as 36" gauge, and another 20 went to Queensland Railway as 42" gauge, and the rest went to India as meter gauge, where the order was destined before the Alaskan and Australian diversions. None were ever destined for Iran as is often stated in WP&YR history books. Iran's government railway was all standard gauge. This myth about Iran has been perpetuated since the 1950s by authors who copied someone else's mistake. I've spent the last six months or so tracking down the origins of the myth and researching the correct data. It seems that any author who visited Skagway came away with the Iran myth, including such notables as Omer Lavallee, Cy Martin, and Stan Cohen. Furthermore, the engines were not converted to 36" gauge by the Skagway shops but rather were shipped from Baldwin as 36" gauge." Thanks for setting the record straight, Mike.


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