For four decades, Southern Pacific steam locomotive No. 4449 has wowed crowds from coast to coast.
By Justin Franz
Doyle McCormack hates setting deadlines.
A few years ago, whenever McCormack, the primary caretaker of Southern Pacific No. 4449 for the last four decades, was asked when the big 4-8- 4 would be ready to roll following its most recent overhaul, he’d shoot back with the same, simple answer: “It’ll be done when it gets done.”
For more than two years, McCormack and a small but dedicated group of volunteers in Portland, Ore. put in thousands of hours rebuilding one of the most iconic steam locomotives in America. The boiler was stripped, the running gear was inspected and the super-heaters were rebuilt.
Finally, in November 2015, the locomotive was fired up just days before it was scheduled to lead 70 Holiday Express excursions over four weekends on a short stretch of track near Portland’s Oaks Park. “We were practically throwing the coal scoop into the cab as we rolled out of the roundhouse,” says Pat Tracy, long-time fireman and current president of the Friends of the 4449, the locomotive’s non-profit support group.
The holiday excursions were a slow and tedious task for the 1941 Lima
Locomotive Works product that once headed up SP’s fastest passenger trains;
almost like a big league slugger playing a few innings in the minors to get his swing
back. As always, No. 4449 performed flawlessly.
Even lumbering along at a runner’s pace, No. 4449 can still attract a sellout
crowd. The Daylight, with her flashy red and orange paint and sleek streamlined
lines, has a worldwide following among steam enthusiasts and the men who
maintain the locomotive are optimistic that those dedicated fans will get to see a lot
more of her in the coming years. “It’s pretty amazing that so many people come out
to see an old steam locomotive built in 1941,” Tracy says. “She turns heads. She
This story appeared in Big Steam is Back, a special edition of Trains Magazine published in 2017.