SP Engine #4449 and the American Freedom Train
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
November 23, 2019
In 1975, the American Freedom Train came through Tehachapi Pass. It was pulled by a steam locomotive known as "Spirit of the West," Southern Pacific engine #4449. This engine went into service in May of 1940, and was the last GS-4 steam locomotive built – and the last one still surviving. It was put into service pulling the Coast Daylight trains, which were SP's prime passenger trains in California. Engine #4449 was one of the steam locomotives that were called "streamlined."
There were about 50 general service locomotives ordered by Southern Pacific in the late 1930s and 1940s to power passenger trains. They were the first engines to earn the term "streamlined." These trains were designed for passenger service, particularly from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the coast. Because they made the trip in the course of a single day, they were called "daylight" trains. Later passenger service that ran at night was referred to as "starlight" trains.
Streamlined trains featured a cowling (metal jacketing) that extended from the cowcatcher back over most of the engine. The whole train was also painted to match the engine, with the emphasis on sleek styling. Everything was designed to provide a streamlined appearance. They wanted to create an image of speed. There were a lot of alterations made to transform trains that were originally intended to haul freight into strictly passenger lines. Their whole appearance was different than the trains, even passenger trains, that came before them. Even the china in the dining car was made smaller so that the same number of place settings could be put in the smaller cars pulled by the streamliners.
Engine #4449 was used throughout Southern Pacific's California passenger service, and it was officially retired in 1957 and stored at SP's roundhouse in Bakersfield. It was donated to the City of Portland, Oregon in 1958, and used for display. It ended up getting vandalized and neglected over the years, but it was still in pretty good shape, so in 1974 it was restored to pull the American Freedom Train, which was a 26-car train that toured the United States to celebrate the Bicentennial. People could tour through ten of the train cars and these held some national treasures including original documents like the Constitution and Bill of Rights and other Americana like Judy Garland's dress from the Wizard of Oz and Dr. Martin Luther King's preacher robe. The Freedom Train was beautiful and it was great to see "Spirit of the West" pass through Tehachapi again. It was painted red and orange during its years of service on the Daylight trains, but it was painted red, white and blue while it pulled the Freedom Train. More than a thousand people were in Tehachapi to see the Freedom Train come through.
– Bill Stokoe
Bill Stokoe was a career signal maintainer for Southern Pacific and a consummate railroad man. He was a huge rail buff and most of the artifacts and train signals at the Tehachapi Depot Museum are from Bill's extensive collection.