Passenger Service on the SP&S

The picture below tells a fun story of this Northwest train, our next Build-a-Train consist.

The SP&S Train #2 ran from Portland to Spokane. Train #1 ran the opposite direction. This photo shows its late-day trip west of Wishram, Washington traveling at speed over the fill at Horse Thief Lake, with the mighty Columbia River in the background.  

Spokane Portland & Seattle, #2 at Horse Thief Lake – 1968

What is interesting is this typical consist. The SP&S #1 & #2 carried the connecting cars for the GN’s Empire Builder and the NP’s North Coast Limited.

From the last car seen here and moving forward: NP Sleeper, NP Dome Coach, SP&S Mount Hood Sleeper Lounge, SP&S Diner Willamette (fluted car purchased from MKT), GN Sleeper, GN Dome Coach, SP&S Coach, SP&S RPO 31, SP&S Baggage Dorm 75.

The Northern Pacific cars will be set out at Pasco, Washington where the North Coast Limited coming from Seattle will pick them up and continue on to Chicago. The remaining SP&S train, now with the Mount Hood on the rear, will travel the remaining miles on to Spokane, Washington for a 1am connection with GN’s eastbound Empire Builder, with the GN Sleeper and Dome Coach now becoming part of that train, which travels eastward to Chicago.

Local riders between Portland and Spokane would ride in the SP&S coach or Mount Hood Sleeper Lounge. Those riding beyond Spokane would ride either the NP or GN cars.

SP&S trains #1 &# 2 never carried a formal name, but were usually referred to as The Streamliner. Since they carried the connecting cars for GN & NP, those trains named Empire Builder and North Coast Limited were also common nomenclature.

History of the Cars

In the late 40’s the SP&S updated its passenger fleet with new cars from the Pullman-Standard company. They were: 1 diner (405), 2 sleeper lounges (600 Mt Hood and 601 Mount St. Helens), 1 Baggage Dorm (75), 5 coaches (301-305). All were delivered to the SP&S in 1950. Three coaches (303-305) received the SP&S four stripe scheme and served on trains 3 & 4 or as needed. The other two coaches (301 & 302) along with all these other new cars, arrived in the orange and green Empire Builder scheme.

Prior to 1952, the NP cars were not carried on trains #1 or #2 as seen in this photo, but were on SP&S trains 3 & 4. So between 1950 and 1952, it was common to see a complete orange and green SP&S train #1 or 2. In those days, rightly called the Empire Builder. 

I think I should have my brother paint this photographed moment in time and bring color to this memory!

Check out the SP&S Streamliner product page here.

Lowell

Lowell Smith

A native of Portland, Oregon, Lowell Smith married his church choir sweetheart Barb in 1978. After a lifetime of rail-fanning, Lowell and Barb ventured out in 1992 to launch a new business in Portland, Oregon. Read more

5 Comments

  1. ron nowka on April 30, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Hi Lowell,

    This is a wonderful article and a picturesque scene. The story brings the photo to life. Rather than just random group of cars it brings order to the movements of the SP&S and how it completes the connections of the NP and GN to Portland. The reference to the ownership and paint schemes explains the SP&S markings on GN cars that I never fully understood.

    Stay well.

  2. Nathaniel Goodman on April 30, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Lowell, A great explanation of the S P & S passenger service and the connecting G N and NP roads trains. The photograph is nice too.

  3. Tom Marsh on April 30, 2020 at 11:26 am

    This will make a great model –

    What is the paint scheme on the GN dome coach in the photo? It doesn’t appear to be Empire Builder.

    • Lowell Smith on July 29, 2020 at 8:55 am

      Hi Tom, It’s Big Sky Blue! Thanks for the comment and apologies for the delay. Be well!

  4. Daniel Abshier on March 1, 2021 at 9:59 pm

    This photo brings back memories of my youth! My grandparents had a ranch on the bluff above the Columbia River at Maryhill and from their front porch we could watch this SP&S train, as well as the Union Pacific’s legendary City of Portland on the Oregon side of the river, make their daily trips through the gorge. Grandad also used to take us fishing for trout at Horsethief Lake!

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