Western Pacific Railroad History Online Banner

Phase 2, Dieselization Plans A and B

As previously outlined, the War Production Board eased its restrictions following World War II and WP got in line with everyone else for replacements for its steam locomotives. Management fully intended to dieselize all operations as soon as possible. Diesel passenger power was next on the railroad’s agenda. In June and July, 1947 three Electro Motive F3 sets, 801,802 and 803 ABC, were delivered for the California Zephyr that was under construction at Budd. Until the Zephyr’s inauguration, the A-B-B sets were used on the Exposition Flyer, the premier passenger train on the WP system. With the delivery of the new F3’s, the WP introduced a new road unit paint scheme: a silver and orange design with black lettering and a “winged” Feather River Route herald (identical in design, but smaller than the non winged emblems on the switchers) on an orange nose. The underframe, trucks, and pilot were painted silver, as was the portion of the roof directly above the cab. The rest of the roof was black. Delivery of these covered wagons would doom sixteen smaller steam locomotives during the latter part of 1947 and one more steamer a year later. By 1948, “Dieselization Plan A” had been conceived and was being implemented as quickly as possible. The first division to be fully dieselized was the 607 mile Eastern Division. Several passenger trains, among them the Exposition Flyer and the Royal Gorge, had been dieselized since 1948. In fact, the end of 1948 saw almost 60 percent of all assignments protected by diesels.

By the end of 1949, twenty-two more steam locomotives had been retired, leaving a total of one hundred thirty steamers on the active roster. Subsidiary Tidewater Southern Railway had been fully dieselized since 1948. Sacramento Northern, on the other hand, was employing a curious mixture of diesels and electrics to haul its freight (a practice that continued unchanged until 1965). Western Pacific eventually returned to EMD for successive orders of FT’s, F3’s, F7’s and FP7’s. It also acquired a handful of F3’s cast off from the defunct New York, Ontario & Western Railroad. Steam locomotives, meanwhile, continued to be phased out, roughly at the rate of thirty per year between 1949 and 1951. (WP’s graceful Challengers, incidentally, ran their last miles in November 1950.)

During 1950, all of the railroad’s main passenger schedules were powered by diesels. WP’s freight operations were fully 89 percent dieselized. Continuing deliveries of F7’s permitted the carrier to consistently operate profitably throughout the early 1950’s.

The year 1950 would be a milestone of sorts for the WP. EMD would again challenge steam on the mainline with the purchase of nine A-B-B-A sets of Electro Motive F7’s for freight service, a move that would all but wipe out the remaining steam power on the railroad. These covered wagons, numbers 913 through 921-ABCD, unlike their predecessor FT units, were not semi permanently coupled and were delivered in the then standard silver and orange colors. With the delivery of these locomotives, a freight pattern was designed that differed from the passenger scheme slightly. Although consisting of the basic silver and orange concept, the entire roof and underframe was black and the pilot was orange with black tiger striping. Instead of a “winged” herald on the nose, the freight units sported two black stripes that wrapped around the simpler square Feather River Route emblem. The FT’s were also now being repainted into this scheme. This occurred after numerous experiments with different variations of the original green and yellow combinations, and after some locomotives were painted all orange.

Realizing additional power was needed for the California Zephyr delivered in 1950 was EMD FP7’s 804A, C and 805A, C, plus F7B’s 804B and 805B in stainless steel and steam generator equipped. The 2 "C" suffix units were changed to "D" suffix's on April 11, 1951 to match freight unit designations for cab units. This enabled the complete dieselization of the railroad east of Portola, Calif. All steam locomotives on the Eastern Division at the time were either stored serviceable or were dispersed to locations on the Western Division. By the end of 1950, 78 percent of all operations were dieselized (85 percent of all yard operations). By that date, most terminals, including Portola, Winnemucca, and Wendover were fully dieselized. Some steam road locomotives were held in reserve for business surges and emergencies, including examples of larger types of road power.

In addition too more conventional kinds of motive power, WP purchased two Budd RDC 2 self propelled railcars in May and July 1950 to protect the schedules of train Nos. 1 and 2. Costing $130,000 each, they replaced conventional equipment on the Royal Gorge and were henceforth dubbed the “Zephyrettes” by the railroad. Their schedules complimented that of the famous California Zephyr. These two Rail Diesel Cars, numbers 375 and 376, would provide local service on a tri weekly basis between Oakland and Salt Lake City, which replaced the little used service of the Royal Gorge, formerly the Feather River Express, which was discontinued September 14, 1950. Shortly before the RDC’s inauguration in Zephvrette service, single F3’s made a few appearances on the Royal Gorge. Because one unit did not have the necessary water capacity to operate heating and air conditioning and still propel the train, a pair of tenders from 4-8-2’s were converted into water cars. They were painted silver and orange and operated behind the lone F3 for the short time before the train was discontinued. The RDC’s provided Zephvrette service until they were sold to the Northern Pacific, later becoming Amtrak 31 and 32.

In 1951, thirty seven more steam locomotives were retired and disposed of, leaving a total of fifty three either in service on the Western Division or stored serviceable. Diesels now handled 90 percent of all assignments! “Dieselization Plan B” (the dieselization of the Western Division) was now nearly complete. Returning to EMD again in June 1951 three more A-B-B-A F7 sets arrived, numbers 922 through 924-ABCD. Altogether between 1949 and 1951, eighty one steam locomotives were retired, including all 4-6-0’s except for number 94, which was retained for historical purposes.

After June 1951, all steam power was banished from both the Feather River Canyon and the “High Line.” Steam was now even further confined between Oakland and Oroville, Calif. Business expansion on a steady basis and a desire to eliminate remaining steam led WP to contemplate additional acquisitions of road power. At first additional F7’s were considered, but were later rejected, as management wanted each unit to have its own cab and set of controls. EMD offered WP the GP7 instead, which was nearly mechanically identical to its formidable stable of F7’s. Both neighbors AT&SF and D&RGW were enthusiastic about theirs and many other carriers were buying them in large numbers. Wearing silver and orange paint nine GP7’s numbered 701-709 arrived as Western Pacific motive power philosophy suddenly shifted. The GP’s were the first WP locomotives to be equipped with dual cab controls and Pyle National “Barrel style” headlights that so characterized later classes of WP power. WP also applied discarded steam locomotive headlights on the "B" end of its F7 Booster units. Apparently the railroad felt that EMD’s standard backup light was inadequate. The "B" suffix boosters in the 913-924 sequence were also equipped with steam generators for emergency passenger service.

Steam was dead on the WP by 1953. All ten 4-8-2’s, all ten 2-8-8-2’s and all seven of the new 4-8-4’s were eliminated from the roster by the end of 1952. The 251 class 2-8-8-2’s had previously been bumped to helper service on the High Line out of Keddie. The latest order for F7’s and GP7’s eliminated even that service. Complete dieselization of WP came with the delivery of four EMD GP7’s numbered 710-713 on April 14, 1953. At the end of 1953 there were still nine steam locomotives left on the WP roster, including three 2-8-0’s, one 2-8-2, three 0-6-0’s and two big 4-8-4’s. Number 164, an 0-6-0, is believed to be the last WP steam locomotive to run on its own power over WP rails (excluding excursion trips) when it ran light from Gerlach, Nevada to Portola, California after service at the United States Gypsum plant at Gerlach. Today, the 164 is one of five WP steam engines to be preserved and is on display in a park across from the station in Oroville, California. Another 0-6-0, the 165, is being restored to operational service at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California: 2-8-0 number 26 resides at Travel Town in Los Angeles, 2-8-2 334 and 4-6-0 94 are now both at the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista Junction, near Sacramento.

The year 1954 saw a slump in traffic and resultant revenues, precluding the purchase of new power during that year. WP returned to EMD in April 1955 for eight new GP9’s, numbered 725-32. Built at a cost of $184,700 per unit, they were delivered at a time when none of WP’s neighbors was receiving similar units. All WP GP9’s came equipped with “standard” WP accessories such as dual controls for bi-directional movement and Pyle National “Barrel style” headlights. This would be the last new power purchased until the late 50’s when an order for thirty-two additional GP9s was placed with EMD.

Previous PagePrevious Page Next PageNext Page

Copyright © 1996 - 2017 by Frank Brehm. All Rights Reserved.