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SP 5623 History

Without access to Southern Pacific records for the last 40 years, it is impossible to trace every movement of the 5623. The best we can do is rely on photographic evidence and stories told by railroaders and railfans.

Until recently, it was conjecture that the 5623 was not delivered new into California. And, why not? Because, California levies a tax on equipment delivered new into the state. So, in order to get around this burden on the bottom line, the railroads put new locomotives into service in other states, worked them there for at least 30 days and then brought them into the Golden State as used equipment. It is well known that most new S.P. locomotives, including the Trainmasters, were set up in Texas and then operated in freight service to California. I have seen a photo of a brand new 5622 in Oregon and so speculated that the 5623 may have been treated the same. Sometimes, facts present themselves accidentally and, such is the case with the 5623's delivery.

On page 99 of "Southern Pacific's Colorful Shasta Route" by Tom Dill is a beautiful color photograph of the 5623 taken in 1955 by Dudley Westler. The 5623's number boards carry 329, symbolizing her use on the "Rogue River", which ran between Portland and Ashland, Oregon. Leaving Portland in the late afternoon, the "Night Crawler" made every possible stop and was carded to arrive in Ashland at 9:10 the next morning. The train then left Ashland at 6:00 as number 330 and completed the round trip at 7:25 the next morning. Another bit of historical evidence is the 5623 as Miss. September in Steamscenes 1999 calendar. Here, she is again shown on train 329 in August, 1955, just a few days before the train was terminated forever. These are(so far) the only photos of her in Oregon but they do prove her initial delivery outside California. These photos may be seen on the "5623 1955-1965" page.

A black and white photo taken by Al Phelps on 2/27/56 has the 5623 on the point of train 202, the Gerber Local. This one or two chair-car train ran between Sacramento and Gerber. Interestingly, we have a photo of the 2467 taken in the same time frame, on the same train. Strange that they should wind up 43 years later, running together to Railfair 1999 and occupying the same track in Oakland. Also in February of 1956 is a photo by Al Phelps of the 5623 on the point of the Sacramento bound train 226, the "Senator". This just goes to show that a locomotive can go wherever and whenever it is needed. To further prove the point is a great shot by John E. Shaw in the 1973 edition of "Southern Pacific Motive Power Annual". This photo was taken of her in August, 1956 on train 250, the Coast Daylight connection between Oakland and San Jose.

Come 1958, the 5623 started to settle into the routine she would have for the next 27 years. She has been photographed on various commute runs, on specials (likely the Stanford Football Special) and most importantly, the Del Monte. She seems most proud when wearing number 77 or 78 in her boards and pulling the typical 3 car train to Monterey. I talked to a gentlemen at Railfair '99 who was a trainman on the Del Monte. He confirmed that they never took fuel during the run which confirms the reason for the purchase of the "Torpedo Boats" in the first place, and that they did not want to turn the locomotive at Pacific Grove which certainly justified the dual controls. Eventually, the Del Monte lost her individual number and became just an extension of a commute train but even so, the 5623 and her sisters had the honor of operating on the longest operating named train in the U.S.

By 1960, the Black Widow paint on the commute fleet was looking pretty ratty and, as of 1959, locomotives were arriving in the newly decreed "Bloody Nose" scheme. I was told by an ex-Bayshore foreman that the S.P. built a paint shop out of a roundhouse stall in late 1960 and began immediately freshening up the fleet. And so, the 5623 carried on her duties in the new paint scheme. Early photos of Bloody Nose diesels do not show the large "SP" on the nose. This lettering came about when an executive (Mr. Biaginni, I was told) looked out the open end door of a passenger car one day and realized that the traveler could not tell what railroad he was on. The oversight was quickly corrected.

In 1965, Number One Market decided that there should be a general renumbering of the Diesel fleet as there were so many holes in the ledger due to the demise of steam in the late fifties. Accordingly, the 5623 became the 3005. And she would still be found on the Del Monte and the commutes.

Along comes AMTRAK (remember "RailPax"?) in 1971 and the Del Monte was no more. Just one less run for the 3005 but she and her sisters had plenty to do with the operation of the San Francsco / San Jose commute fleet.

At 20 years old, any locomotive is prettly well worn out and probably written off the books. Such was the case with the GP9 fleet so the S.P. decided to rebuild rather than replace this proven arsenal of power. First came the GP9E program in the mid 70's and the came GRIP. GRIP is with doubt one of the most compresenhive rebuild programs initiated by any railroad and the Sacramento shops were chosen to do the job. Another gentleman I met at railfair told me that he had been in charge of the electrical part of GRIP and that the S.P. had been able to rebuild the GP9's for $80,00.00 each. What emerged from the shop was a brand new locomotive ready for another 20 years of service. The 5623 took her turn in 1977 and was renumbered 3189 in the process.

In 1985, thirty years after her construction, the 3189 was out of the job she was designed for. Caltrains had taken over the commute operations and there was no need to fire those boilers any more. The S.P. did set aside two locomotves to be maintained for passenger service but they were the 4450 and 4451 (SD9's Huff and Puff). The 3189 and all her boiler equipped sisters entered freight service, full time. I say full time because it was common practice to use any of the commute locomotives in freight service on weekends and off peak periods. I vividly remember seeing FM 3030 on a freight one Sunday and then seeing her in her rightful place the following day during the commute rush.

For some reason, the 3189 was run through the Sacramento paint shop in 1986 and received a beautiful coat of Polyurethane paint in a gray and scarlet that did not quite match the rest of the fleet. This color mismatch would eventually lead to her resurrection in 1994 as a Black Widow.

And so comes 1991 and the death of the 3189. S.P. computer records show her arriving at Roseville on 03/30 with a "bad order main generator". At this time, S.P. was in the throws of a "get rid of the old power" program and so the 3189 was attended to for one shift at Roseville. When the problem appeared to be catastrophic, she was assigned to the dead line.

LMC Recyclers of Richmond, California won the bid for some 200 S.P. locomotives in early 1992 and wound up with the 3189. A friend of mine, who was the engineer on the Richmond Drag at the time, called my attention to the 3189 and her history. And, to make a long story short, Errol Ohman and I exercised questionable judgement and bought her. Since I work for a railroad in Oakland and my Superintendent was agreeable, she had a home.

And that, my friends, is about as much as we know of her day to day life. I have been very fortunate in meeting folks who ran, or cared for the 5623 and have learned much of her history from them. Their words make her just that much more alive for us.

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