SP 4449

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Southern Pacific Railroad GS-4 class locomotive 4449 on the turntable outside Brooklyn Roundhouse, then departing Brooklyn Yard with Mt Hood sleeper/lounge and GN caboose to move to Union Station, Portland on 8 May 2009 in preparation for National Rail Day celebrations the following day. You Tube Video by Drewster327.

(Click link to go to see the video on Drewster’s You Tube Channel.)

I’ve always regarded really big steam engines as completely amazing. Tiny engines have a magic all of their own and, as befits someone whose first remembered train journey was on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, I have always been drawn to narrow gauge and miniature locomotives. My first cab ride was in TR No. 1 Talyllyn, which reinforced my fascination with small locos. (The original TR locos were single manned by a locoman who carried out the combined duties of driver and fireman. There was barely room for the fireman to swing his shovel, let alone a third man!)

At the risk of offending 90% of BTWT’s readers, I must confess that middle sized steam engines do nothing for me at all. As someone who once bought a BR 4MT tank locomotive from Dai Woodham, I freely admit that the transaction left me stone cold. (I really wanted to buy a Bulleid Light Pacific, but the loco boys were having none of it – they wanted a practical locomotive.) Similarly, whilst I applaud the Ol49s that work the daily Wolsztyn – Poznan turns, I find it very difficult to get enthused about them.

However, as the engines get bigger, the sense of excitement returns. I am old enough to remember Churchward 2-8-0s hauling freight on the GWR main line, seeing Stanier 8Fs in their last days at Willesden Shed and the Riddles BR Standard Class 9F s – arguably one of the best locomotives ever built in Britain – hauling long trains of iron ore in loose coupled 4 wheel wagons on the GWR’s line to Birmingham.

I dream of a 9F coming to Poland and showing Polish railway men what a well designed and well maintained British steam locomotive can do. In the meantime, I drool over pictures and videos of large USA engines, such as Southern Pacific 4449, the only surviving example of Southern Pacific Railroad’s GS-4 class.

The GS-4s were a class of semi-streamlined 4-8-4 type steam locomotive.They were designed for high-speed passenger service and were used on Southern Pacific’s premier passenger trains. From 1950, they were re-assigned to  commuter trains and freight services. They continued to work the occasional San Joaquin Daylight express as late as 1956 which made the San Joaquin Daylight the last streamliner train to be pulled by steam on the Southern Pacific.

SP 4449 is the only suvivor of this class of 28 locomotives. (Two GS-5s, which were virtually identical to the GS-4s were also built and only differed from the GS-4s by having roller bearings. All GS-5s were scrapped.) SP 4449 was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1941. It was withdrawn from service in 1957 and put on static display in Oaks Park, Portland, Oregon, a year later.

The loco slowly deteriorated as all plinthed locomotives always do. Removable parts were stolen and the engine was vandalised. (Polish locomotive owners please note!) A professional railway man, Jack Holst, kept the engine’s bearings and rods oiled in case the loco was ever to move again. Holst died in 1972 and never saw 4449 return to traffic.

After 16 years of display in the open, 4449 was removed from Oaks Park in December 1974, and restored to working order at the Burlington Northern’s Hoyt Street roundhouse in Portland. It returned to traffic in April 1975 and hauled the American Freedom Train, which toured all 48 contiguous USA states for the American Bicentennial celebrations. Since then, 4449 has hauled steam special trains throughout the USA. The engine is currently based at the Brooklyn roundhouse in Portland where it is maintained by the Friends of SP 4449.

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