With some free time one Thursday last December, 2019 I pack the camera and drive the Scion to no planned destination ending up along Main St., Springfield, Oregon. Traveling through the downtown core looking for photographic opportunities a causal glance into an open yet, fenced-in, area I observe a grand object rare to the West Coast: a Southern Pacific Diesel locomotive. My head is tossed around like a bobble-head as I drive across the pothole ridden driveway; a look left and right no one is around, yeah. The field is spacious with remnants of concrete foundations, ramps, and railroad tracks overgrown with weeds one vanishes under a concrete roadway.; something big occurred here I mumble. The SP engine, connected to a Union Pacific Diesel locomotive, sits idle a showpiece of a long ago era.
Southern Pacific begin life as the Central Pacific Railroad which was involved in the building of the transcontinental railroad eastward from Sacramento, California coincidentally, racing against the Union Pacific railroad laying track westward from Omaha, Nebraska. By early 20th century, now know as the Southern Pacific Railroad, (SPRR) owned 16,000 miles of track servicing 15 states and Mexico.
SPRR expanded and diversified buying trucking firms, oil and gas, telecommunications companies, and a land development company. Sunset Magazine begins publication in 1898 as a promotional gig for the railroad’s Sunset Limited Line to combat negative feedback about California and to fill passenger trains with travelers looking for new life in the West. Authors such as Jack London and John Muir contributed essays, Coca-Cola and Colt Pistols are some of the advertisers stuffed between stories. The magazine has survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Great Depression, and numerous ownership changes and is still around today although on shaky ground.
Airline and trucking cut into SPRR’s freight side of business, passenger jet services, cars and the state highway system gave travelers more convenient alternatives. Finally, in 1995 Southern Pacific sold-out to the Union Pacific Railroad no longer able to keep pace.
Standing before the two locomotives I cannot help to think that Union Pacific was pushing Southern Pacific into the spotlight one last time however, on the other hand, the UP engine could be towing it to a final resting. Momentarily, I am fixated on the once mighty name and recall the ground rumble under foot as long freights pulled by one, two, three, and at times four soot stained SP locomotives through Southern California, Oregon, and Washington State. Through later research I discover that a portion of the sprawling Booth/Kelly lumber mill occupied the spot were the SP and Union Pacific Locos sat visions of smoke belching from factory stacks and wigwam burners, men milling about in their duties, and Southern Pacific locomotives belching as they move lumber; today, the main line here is frequented by Union Pacific trains.
After 135 years of growth and expansion Southern Pacific is gone but its legacy lives on with Sunset Magazine, Stanford University (named after founder Leland Stanford), and the Huntington Library and Art Museum in San Marino, California (named after SP founder Collis P. Huntington) amongst others.