Saturday, September 3, 2022

The new SPH&TS book on 4-8-0 locomotives

 The Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society (SPH&TS) has just published an excellent book for those of us interested in motive power. Entitled Southern Pacific 4-8-0 Locomotives, it’s authored by the late Tom Dill and by Joe Strapac. As always, Strapac’s masterful hand in selecting photos, providing technical specifics, and laying out a handsome volume, are at the fore. But Tom Dill’s superb photo collection and operating experience were an essential part of the project too.

Here’s the cover. You can buy the book at the SPH&TS website (visit it at: ) if your local hobby shop — where of course you should shop first — doesn’t carry it. I recommend that you order it from SPH&TS.

It’s an 8 x 11.5-inch hardbound book, with 208 pages, richly illustrated with photos from the long careers of many of the SP 4-8-0’s. People may not realize that SP owned 80 engines of this wheel arrangement, and some lasted to the end of steam, mostly on account of low axle loadings required on many Oregon branch lines.

The book contains twelve chapters. Seven of them are devoted to the individual classes of these locomotives, TW-1 to TW-8 (there was no Class TW-5), “TW” of course for “Twelve-Wheeler.” There is another of Arnold Menke’s outstanding chapters on tenders, and there is a complete locomotive roster including dates for such things as the conversion of the original cross-compound steam distribution to simple.

One very small quibble. On page 162 appears the photo shown below, an Allan Styffe image at San Luis Obispo from March 1952. I might raise two points about the photo caption: first, it says that “This is the only black-and-white image yet found showing a twelve-wheeler at this location . . .” It also states that the locomotive was soon thereafter moved to Oregon and was retired thirteen months later, which would be April of 1953.

Now as to the statement about this being a singular B&W image, obviously the authors weren’t aware of Malcolm “Mac” Gaddis’s photographs, of which I once borrowed all the negatives and made prints for my own use (with Mac’s generous permission). Below I show one of them, also of SP 2918 at San Luis Obispo. Mac worked at San Luis for several years in the early 1950s.

Now of course no author can find every photo out there, and I don’t really have any criticism of Dill and Strapac for not having checked into the Gaddis photos. But there is a second point: Mac’s date for his photo is August 1954. I know Mac kept track of his dates, because when I interviewed him, he pulled out a stack of little booklets in which he had written down photo dates. The  engine obviously was not in Oregon in August 1954, nor was it retired. Nevertheless, author Strapac’s citation of SP locomotive records is better information.

But as I said, these are really tiny quibbles. It’s an excellent book, and I’m still enjoying reading in it and studying photographs. And yes, this is definitely one of those books that repeatedly brings the nose down to the page to examine details. 

I was especially pleased that they included one of my favorite photos from Wilbur C. Whittaker, a 1937 photo by the young Wilbur along the shore between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, with a single-car Train 187 behind SP 2923. Marvelous eye for composition!

As you can tell, I really like this book and heartily recommend it. And I’m delighted the SPH&TS is serving its audience with such an excellent publication. Congratulations all around!

Tony Thompson

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