The Southern Pacific 4449 (SP 4449, X4449 or “The Daylight”) is the last currently active “Northern” 4-8-4, GS-4 class, fuel-oil, steam locomotive. Its iconic black, orange and red paint scheme that calls a sunrise to mind and distinctive, streamlined Art Deco design have captured the attention, admiration, and imagination of people around the world. “Trains” magazine noted it in 1983 as the United State’s most popular locomotive. Over the years, it has received repeated restoration and upkeep from volunteers after the city of Portland in Oregon received the train as a donation in 1958 from Southern Pacific. Since then, it has been stored at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center when not in use for local and national events.
Whether a person loves riding trains or merely enjoys reading about a bit of history, this article breaks down everything anyone might need to know about SP 4449:
When Was Southern Pacific 4449 Built?
Southern Pacific Railroad hired companies to manufacture a finite number of GS-4 (General Service or Golden State) steam locomotives. Completed on May 20, 1941, by Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio, SP 4449 represents the last of its class built by the Southern Pacific Railroad network.
The “4-8-4” designation refers to the number and distribution of its wheels. It features four unpowered wheels in the front attached to two axles, eight powered, piston-driven driving wheels attached to four axles in the middle, and four unpowered wheels attached to two axles near the back.
No other GS class Northern steam locomotive still exists in public working condition except for the GS-6 SP 4460, which has become a display attraction at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation in Missouri. One other GS-6 exists: The Portola Western Railroad Museum in California keeps it in storage.
Why Is it Referred to as a Northern?
The wheel arrangement combined with the primary location of original use is the reason why SP 4449 is referred to as a Northern steam locomotive. Southern Pacific Railroad, a railroad network founded in 1865 and operated by various companies (i.e. Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company) that eventually merged under the Southern Pacific Transportation Company name with Union Pacific Railroad in 1996 after Union Pacific Corporation acquisition, primarily designed this class of locomotives for use along the Northern Pacific Railway route. This route extends for more than 6,800 miles across the northern part of the country from Wisconsin to Oregon.
From 1941 to 1956, SP 4449 primarily ran during its revenue-generation years from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Portland and back again as part of the Daylight Limited, later Coast Daylight, passenger train service. At on point, it received temporary reassignment to the San Joaquin line and Golden State and Sunset trains and then eventually back to the Coast Division.
After the Southern Pacific 4449 was pulled from storage in 1974 and rebuilt in early 1975 at Portland’s Burlington Northern Railroad’s Hoyt Street train maintenance shed, it toured the Western areas of the country from 1975 to 1976 as part of the Bicentennial American Freedom Train. The Freedom Train offered members of the public who couldn’t travel to the nation’s capital and other historic sites and museums the rare opportunity to view in the train’s 10 cars several hundred original and replica American treasures, including a copy of the Constitution, a moon rock and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s robes and pulpit.
For the Freedom Train, the engine received a temporary red, white and blue paint job. More than 30 million people received the opportunity to walk the cars to view the artifacts and appreciate X4449’s design at the time.
How Fast Is the Daylight Train?
Although Daylight has a length of 110 feet and weighs 433 tons, its 80-inch-diameter drivers, booster truck, and 300 psi boiler pressure allow the 10-foot-wide and 16-foot-tall engine to safely reach speeds above 100 mph via 5,500 horsepower.
The engine’s strength and speed received recognition throughout its revenue service, especially after it was used along with Southern Pacific 4447 to pull a 10-car train from Los Angeles to Owenyo in California and back again for the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society on October 17, 1954. Over the last several decades, these traits along with their outward appearance have continued to make Daylight a sought-after locomotive for special events around the country.
Who Restored 4449?
Also known as the “Queen of Steam,” SP 4449 has received a lot of support over the years from former railroad workers, train enthusiasts, and others who have spent thousands of hours restoring and maintaining it. After the railroad retired it from revenue service in 1956, it acted as an emergency backup until late 1957 and then Southern Pacific stored it near Bakersfield. In 1955, it had been repainted black-and-silver. As part of the donation to Portland in 1958, the engine received restoration treatment, including the removal of the black-and-silver paint, before it was placed on display in an outdoor setting in Oaks Amusement Park (Oaks Park).
The elements and vandals damaged the engine over the years. The only person to take care of it at the time was a Southern Pacific employee named Jack Holst. Theft of the whistle, builder’s plates, and other parts resulted in the locomotive’s further decline. Holst did what he could to maintain the bearings and rods in case the city ever wanted to move it in the future. After his death in 1972, it continued to decline until the American Freedom Train restoration. At that time, it also received two new whistles to replace the stolen one. These whistles, a Hancock 3 chime and a Southern Pacific Railroad 6 chime, were pulled from other locomotives.
Upon completion of the Freedom Train tour, Southern Pacific 4449 became an excursion train briefly for Amtrak in 1977. Eventually, it was returned to Portland, but stored in a more protected manner. Since then, a volunteer group known as the Friends of 4449 Inc. through the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation has maintained it and aided the city with arranging excursions and other events. A locomotive enthusiast and collector and former Union Pacific engineer, Doyle McCormack, is the president of ORHF. He became SP 4449’s chief engineer in 1975. Every 15 years, the locomotive has to be re-inspected and repaired to meet safety standards. This process takes approximately two years.
What Is Its Current Status?
Over the years, Southern Pacific 4449 has been pulled from storage on many occasions for special events. A restoration in 1981 returned its black, orange, and red colors so that it could be placed on display at the Sacramento California State Railroad Museum’s “Railfair.” It helped publicize the 1984 World’s Fair by pulling cars along the record-setting “longest steam train” route of 7,477 miles cross-country from Portland to New Orleans and back.
In the 1980s and 1990s, SP 4449 regained attention and popularity after being used in a movie. It then handled business service, appeared in the 50th-anniversary celebration for the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, repeatedly participated in Railfair, and handled excursion trips between various points. It also participated in the 2009 Owosso Train festival in Michigan.
Throughout the years, the Friends of 4449 Inc. and others repainted it for various events. It not only appeared again in black and silver but it was also altered to its Freedom Train colors after the 9/11 attacks before receiving restoration once more to the black, orange, and red Daylight colors. It also receives decorative holiday lighting.
Since the last inspection in 2015, Southern Pacific 4449 has been used extensively for train excursions and event trips. According to the Friends of 4449 Inc., it often takes them two to three years to plan and obtain appropriate insurance and any approvals for excursions and other events. Sometimes private groups also pay to use the engine and provide no public schedule information.
The Friends of 4449 Inc. also uses Daylight to raise the funds needed to maintain it during special “Holiday Express” trips. These 40-minute trips occur only on weekends after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. The route usually follows along the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on tracks operated by Oregon Pacific Railroad. The SARS-CoV-19 pandemic disrupted all excursion trips and eventually resulted in the cancellation of Holiday Express 2020. A current plan exists for it to pull passenger cars again for Holiday Express 2021.
According to the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation website’s October 15, 2021, update, ORHF is hosting Holiday Express 2021 with SP 4449 pulling vintage rail cars. The foundation has posted a link to a ticket ordering page that features calendar details. The trips are supposed to run slightly longer, 45 minutes this year, along the normal route between November 26 and December 19 each weekend. Everyone six years of age and older must wear a mask. ORHF also encourages passengers to seek vaccinations before arrival.
When not in use for events and trips, The Daylight returns to public display status. Anyone can visit it at the engine house at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, which is located at 2250 SE Water Avenue in Portland, Oregon.