Of the 208 steam locomotives that had been on the rolls of the
Western Pacific, all but thirty-one of them were delivered new. Of
these 208 the railroad started business with in 1909, just over half
that many, not considering engines used in construction which did
not become a part of the regular roster. There were sixty five
2-8-0’s, numbers 1-65; thirty six 4-6-0’s, numbers 71-106 and twelve
0-6-0’s, numbers 151-162, all new machines, plus two second hand
4-6-0's acquired with the Alameda & San Joaquin Railroad, a total of
115 engines. The succeeding years saw the acquisition of the only
2-6-0, three more 4-6-0’s, one more 2-8-0 and four more 0-6-0’s to
round out the smaller power. The first big power arrived in 1917 in
the form of five 2-6-6-2’s.
The steam engine reached its zenith on the Western Pacific in 1938 with the delivery of four 2-8-8-2’s from Baldwin and seven 4-6-6-4’s from Alco. Up until the fall of 1937, except for seven locomotives, the WP’s entire steam roster was intact, consisting of 180 locomotives. But during the latter part of 1937, the railroad scrapped twenty two of its thirty five ALCo 4-6-0’s and one Baldwin 2-8-0.
For almost thirty years the bulk of the passenger service on the Western Pacific had been handled by the 71 and 86 class 4-6-0’s trains with names typical of the era: Pacific Express, the 1915 Mail, Panama Pacific Express, Salt Lake Passenger, Stockton Express, Scenic Limited and Feather River Express, and in later years these engines even occasionally were used on the Exposition Flyer and Royal Gorge, although these two trains were usually hauled by ex Florida East Coast 4-8-2’s and SP patterned 4-8-4’s. The first through westbound passenger train, the Press Representative Special, over the new line back in 1910 was powered by 4-6-0’s, the 104 from Salt Lake to Elko, 89 to Winnemucca, 84 to Gerlach, 94 to Oroville and the 92 from Oroville to Oakland.
The diesel made its first appearance in 1939 with the arrival of three 600 HP switchers and in May of 1940 GMC’s big demonstrator growler, the FT, all four units and 193 feet of it, showed up on the WP after having exhibited its drawbar busting ability to several other western roads. An ironic passage is quoted from the May 9, 1940 Oakland Tribune. "Railroad men pointed out, however, that marvelous as the new giant is, it will never replace entirely the old ‘iron horse’ on the railroads. This engine would be economical for certain runs only, they said, and would not be practical for all hauls." Unfortunately, an erroneous prognostication.
This was the beginning of the end for steam. By 1942 eight 660 HP switchers and three 5400 HP four unit freight engines were in service. In 1943 eight 1000 HP switchers and three more big freight jobs had been added. Except for four of the oldest engines on the system and two others that had been in wrecks, the steam motive power was all intact up until the fall of 1937 at which time the Western Pacific did something it was many, many times to regret in just four years: It scrapped twenty two of its remaining thirty five husky little Alco (American Locomotive Company) 4-6-0’s and one worn out Baldwin 2-8-0.
World War II temporarily saved many another WP steamers, but by the end of 1947 time was running out and with 39 diesels then in service, including the first of the three unit passenger engines, sixteen more of the smaller steamers were condemned. Things looked up a bit in 1948 with just one engine leaving the roster, but that was just the lull before the storm for in 1949, 1950 and 1951 the boom was lowered on eighty one more including all the remaining 4-6-0’s except No. 94. By June of 1952 all of the high stepping 4-8-2’s upon which so much care had been expended in 1936 were gone, and all ten of the great 2-8-8-2’s and all seven of the new 4-6-6-4’s were eliminated practically in one blow. The close of 1953 saw only nine steam engines left on the roster: three 2-8-0’s, one 2-8-2, three 0-6-0’s and two 4-8-4’s, with a total of 77 diesels in operation. Two other engines remained on WP property, No. 26 which was donated to Travel Town in Griffith Park in Los Angeles and was still being worked on, and 4-6-0 No. 94, retained for historical purposes.
In 1951 high hopes were held that another WP engine might be saved for it was then that the Sierra Railroad decided that it needed another unit of non diesel power and gave serious consideration to both 203 and 334. The 334 was rejected, so we are told, because of too great axle weight, and the two roads could not get together on a price for the 203. It was also rumored that the SP wasn't too enthusiastic about ferrying either of these engines down to Oakdale on its branch line, and of course the Santa Fe branch from Riverbank with its light rail was out of the question. Both engines were in fine condition and there were many among rail enthusiasts who were highly unhappy to see the deal fall through. The Sierra subsequently purchased a 1930 vintage Baldwin 2-6-6-2 compound from the Weyerhaeuser Timber interests at Klamath Falls, Oregon.
During the approximately forty seven years that there were steam locomotives in general operation on the Western Pacific (No. 2 on November 15, 1906 to No. 329 in June, 1953) there were a number of significant changes affecting their appearance: headlights and headlight placement, front end hand holds, pilots, different arrangements of the road name, initials and locomotive numbers, cabs, stacks, and on the 2-6-6-2’s and some 2-8-2’s the addition of supplemental main air reservoirs and Elesco feedwater heaters.
The Western Pacific steam roster was very stable. There was no rebuilding from one class or type to another and there were no renumbering's within the system. The change in corporate title in 1916 from Western Pacific Railway to Western Pacific Railroad didn't affect the identification of locomotives, which continued to bear just the words "Western Pacific." Perhaps the most notable mechanical change was the conversion of the C-43’s, 2-8-0’s 1 to 65, from slide to piston valves and the application of superheaters and power reverse gear. The TP-29’s, 4-6-0’s 71-106, were superheated after being on the road for a few years and power reverse was applied.
For fuel the Western Pacific used both coal and oil. Coal was used extensively, though not exclusively, Winnemucca and east, and prior to 1928 many of the engines were changed back and forth between coal and oil as one became cheaper than the other. Coal was not used west of Winnemucca and in later years all engines on the Western Pacific were oil burners except a few of the Baldwin 2-8-0’s, a few 4-6-0’s, eight 2-8-2’s and all of the 4-6-6-4’s.
Before the advent of diesels, WP was a veritable haven for locomotive types considered obsolete on connecting and competing lines with some notable exceptions. The undisputed “kings” of the Feather River Canyon were WP’s 251 class 2-8-8-2’s. These monstrous single expansion articulated's possessed a 26” bore, 32” stroke, had 63” drivers and operated with a boiler pressure of 235 lbs. The weight on their driving wheels was 549,900 lbs. with a total unit weight of 1,073,350 lbs. in working order. With a starting tractive effort of 137,000 lbs. (use of the booster added another 13,900 lbs), they were rated at 4,000 tons up the 117 miles of one percent compensated grade east of Oroville. These locomotives, although they had relatively low starting tractive effort when compared to the FT’s, were reliable and sturdy and it was this class that obviated the need for helper service in the canyon.
Further indications of the impending demise of steam came when WP was in the market for new power, and considered ordering ten new 4-8-8-4 locomotives similar in design to its highly successful 251 class. Top management also evaluated data received from its extensive testing with GM103 and Santa Fe Nos. 101 and 103, also Electro Motive FT’s. The decision was made in favor of the diesel. Western Pacific would never see another new steam locomotive.
Most Western Pacific engines until diesel pre-eminence in 1950 worked out their years although five, Numbers 43, 57, 85, 91 and 325, were destroyed in wrecks. Many others, of course, were in wrecks but were repaired and put back on the job.
Used with permission from the book Steam Locomotives, Passenger Trains and Cars by Guy Dunscomb and Fred Stindt.