Saturday, December 10, 2022

A fine history of the EP&SW

 In 1924, the Southern Pacific absorbed a New Mexico-based railroad, the El Paso & Southwestern, along with its locomotives, rolling stock, depots, shops, and everything else. Practically all the EP&SW trackage continued to be operated by SP. Those of us interested in SP history have long needed a good history of this significant predecessor, and now there is one.

The book, entitled El Paso and Southwestern Railroad System, and written by Vernon J. Glover, was published by the SP Historical & Historical Society in 2021. The first printing sold out, and the SPH&TS has now reprinted the book, so it is again available (if you're interested, you can purchase it at: ). At its peak, the EP&SW was an L-shaped railroad, from Tucson to El Paso, and northward from there to Tucumcari, New Mexico.

In 1901, the Bisbee copper interests (eventually the Phelps Dodge company) tried to interest the Southern Pacific in serving their territory, but when that broke down, they built the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad to connect the Bisbee mines and smelters of Arizona Territory to the SP in El Paso, Texas. From there, crude copper was shipped east for refining. In the meantime, another railroad, the El Paso & Northeastern was building northward from El Paso, up through the Territory of New Mexico, creating new towns as it went along. In 1905, the two railroads were joined and their operations merged into a single system, taking the name EP&SW.

Author Vernon Glover was greatly helped by the extensive records of the SP Rio Grande Division and the EP&SW and its predecessors that are preserved at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP),in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Library, and a number of other sources contributed information and photographs. It resulted in a 216-page book, in landscape format as you can see from the cover above, expertly designed by John and Jonathan Signor and nicely printed and hardbound.

Though nearly all the rolling stock of the EP&SW that came to SP differed extensively in mechanical arrangements, compared to SP’s own Common Standards, it was nevertheless put to use for the most part. Cars and locomotives were renumbered to fit into the Pacific Lines existing rosters. I remember a retired SP engineer complaining about the EP&SW Mountain types, which he said had good power, but not the acceleration of SP’s own Mountains, and, he said, rode really rough. Below is an Alco builder photo. On the SP, the six engines were assigned to Class Mt-2.

In addition to major rolling stock like locomotives, lots of freight and passenger cars came to SP also. Many, like this steel gondola built in 1918, were sturdy and useful, and served quite a few years under SP ownership. The car shown, part of the series EP&SW 7550–7999, became SP 45462–45903, and most served through World War II.

With the SP takeover in 1924, many of the facilities of the EP&SW continued in their previous roles. A noteworthy example is the large, modern locomotive shop at El Paso, which became SP’s El Paso General Shops. Before 1924, the SP Pacific Lines in El Paso had a separate engine house from the Texas & New Orleans, or Atlantic Lines, but both railroads subsequently used this facility. Below is an interior view of the shop when it was new.

I always enjoy a railroad history that covers the gamut of the life of it as a railroad (as opposed to, say, a device for paying off bond issues). This one certainly fills that requirement, and it’s readable and well illustrated. I believe it will take its place among the fine histories of the railroads of the West.

Tony Thompson

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