Western Trips

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Donner Pass Train / Southern Pacific's Baldwin Locomotive 4294

The last steam type locomotive ordered by the Southern Pacific Railroad was a very unique designed train. This was a cab forward design 4-8-8-2 configuration. The locomotive was designed to pull very heavy loads primarily over the very high Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Cab Forward Locomotives
All of the cab forward engines used by Southern Pacific were oil burning locomotives as opposed to coal. The oil fuel was used to produce steam in the boiler. Interestingly enough, the Sierra Nevada challenged the steam locomotives with some thirty-nine tunnels and almost forty miles of snow sheds.

The cab forward design kept most of the engine's exhaust away from the crew through tunnels. The Southern Pacific Railroad had some 150 miles of track with grades of at least 2.5 percent. On a geographical basis, the Southern Pacific Railroad was thought to have the most difficult routes. This Baldwin locomotive of the AC 12 class was powerful enough to do the job.

Crossing the Sierra Nevada

southern pacific 4294 locomotive
Southern Pacific 4294
The Sierra Nevada's Donner Summit typically has very heavy snowfalls and consequently the railroad has several long snow sheds constructed along very steep mountainsides.

The snow sheds were originally planned back in 1860 by Theodore Judah, a very talented engineer and promoter of the transcontinental railroad. His dream came to reality with the establishing of the Central Pacific Railroad and it's subsequent link as the western segment of America's first transcontinental railroad.

The Sierra Nevada snow sheds can still be seen today to travelers on Interstate 80 driving through the mountains between California and Nevada. Today's route through the Sierra Nevada's is utilized by Amtrak's California Zephyr which operates passenger service between Chicago and Emeryville California, across the Bay from San Francisco.

If  you ever happen to ride the California Zephyr between Reno Nevada and Sacramento, you'll be able to see just how extensive the snow sheds are around the Donner Summit area.

The forward cabin design of these engines kept the train crew away from the smoke and especially so when the locomotive had to run through the tunnels and long snow sheds of the Sierra Nevada's and other western mountains. The 4294 locomotive also was able to bend or turn in the middle. The length of the engine necessitated this so to be able to negotiate curving tracks. The 4294 and all engines of it's class were quite unique. Very different from the standard rear cabin locomotives and much more streamlined.

The only concerns about the new design was from a few of the train crew. The concern was that if they hit a flammable truck at a crossing they would be right on top of the wreck and explosion. Fortunately for everyone involved, in the over forty years these locomotives were in service, an accident like that never occurred. By the same token, having the cab so far forward gave the train crews a great unobstructed view of the track ahead.

The Baldwin 4294

4294 locomotive gauges
4294 locomotive gauges
World War Two brought along challenges for the American railroad industry. The Southern Pacific Railroad may have been affected the most.

Their routes running to the west coast were vital for supplying the west coast ports with critical war supplies. This meant long and heavy loads and in the case of the Southern Pacific it meant pulling these heavy loads over western mountains.

 As train loads became heavier, the railroads needed more powerful locomotives. One answer to that problem was the development of the AC-12 Class of locomotive of which the 4294 featured here was a part.

This particular locomotive, 4294, was the last of twenty ordered and was built in March of 1944. Baldwin Locomotive was the manufacturer. The engines weight is 657,900 lbs and boiler pressure of 250 psi and it's cylinder size a large 24 x 32 in. The Southern Pacific 4294 stayed in service until 1956.

On Display at the California State Railroad Museum

The Southern Pacific Railroad Baldwin 4294 on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento California is the only one of it's class that survived. After all of the AC-12's were removed from service, the railroad made the decision to preserve at least one of the models from the class.

The Southern Pacific donated this locomotive to the city of Sacramento who placed it on outdoor display at the Southern Pacific depot in 1958. When Interstate 5 was being built, the locomotive had to be moved and was in storage until 1981. Beginning that year it was moved to the railroad museum. It's fortunate for everyone that this very unique locomotive was kept for historical purposes. It was designed for the tough job of climbing the steep grades of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and it's fitting that it found a home in Sacramento.

california state railroad museum signThe Southern Pacific Baldwin manufactured 4294 is on display at the fabulous California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento California.

This museum is really a must stop if your vacation or western road trip takes you anywhere near Sacramento. The California State Railroad Museum will amaze you. The number of vintage trains under one roof makes it a one of a kind venue.

Another Western Trips link with photos you'll find interesting is a trip on Amtrak's Coast Starlight.

The California State Railroad Museum is now over forty years old. This museum features 21 lavishly restored locomotives and cars, some dating back to 1862.

There is a full-scale diorama of an 1860s construction site high in the Sierra Nevada as well as a bridge elevated 24 feet above the museum floor. The locomotive collection of the California State Railroad Museum contains 19 steam locomotives dating from 1862 to 1944. As an added railroad adventure for the family, the museum operates an excursion train on weekends, April through September.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)