Southern Pacific Speed Lettering

This page last updated on September 11, 2011.

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A brief review of the D&RGW-inspired speed lettering applied to SP units after the October 1988 control of Southern Pacific by D&RGW's Rio Grande Industries parent company.

Back in September 2010, there was a discussion on the Espee group on YahooGroups, in which Kevin Bunker related the rest of the story of how Southern Pacific began using the speed lettering inspired by the similar lettering used by Denver & Rio Grande Western since 1939.

Following the merger of D&RGW and SP in late 1988, Kevin Bunker had painted a model of an EMD SD40T-2 locomotive in his own version of SP's famous Black Widow paint scheme that used a basic black background, with red, orange, and aluminum-colored stripes. He chose to letter his model with his own interpretion of of D&RGW's speed lettering, spelling Southern Pacific on the sides of the model. He had carefully designed the lettering, and cut each letter from plain white decal stock. He then presented the completed model to Phillip Anschutz as an example of a paint scheme that could be applied to both SP and D&RGW locomotives, reflecting the recent merger.

Apparently Mr. Anschutz took the completed model back to his Denver headquarters and suggested that the lettering scheme be adopted, applying the lettering designed by Kevin Bunker to locomotives that were purchased new, rebuilt, or simply repainted, using the existing SP gray background color and scarlet wing pattern. After contacting SP corporate headquarters about the background story for the lettering design, Kevin was told that the design had been completed by Chester Mack, a professional designer hired by Southern Pacific to design a paint scheme for the merged railroads. But Kevin recognized several details of the final design that he had introduced in his own design. The first SP speed-lettered locomotve was released in mid April 1991, and the change to larger "Pacific" lettering in May 1991 may have been in response Kevin's correspondence.

(Timeline of the SP and D&RGW merger)

SP adopted this Rio Grande-inspired speed lettering for its own units in early 1991, with GP40M-2s rebuilt by Morrison Knudsen being the first units, at first using the early, small version in March 1991.

The first SP speed-lettered locomotive was SP 7107, a GP40M-2 rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen. It was released on March 17, 1991. Numbers 7107-7111 had a smaller lettering size that was superseded with a larger version upon release of the SP 7112 a month later, on April 15, 1991. All subsequent GP40M-2 units in this order, SP 7112-7138, carried speed lettering. SP continued to apply speed lettering to units from March 1991 through to October 1996.

SP GP40M-2 7107 was the first SP unit to receive the original, small speed lettering, completed at M-K on March 17, 1991.

SP GP60 9715 was the first SP unit (either new or remanufactured) to receive the large SP speed lettering, delivered new in April 1991.

SP GP40M-2 7112 was the first SP unit to receive the large speed lettering, completed by M-K on April 15, 1991.

Also in April 1991, SP began receiving 55 additional GP60s, joining an already existing fleet of 115 GP60s. These 1991-built GP60s were themselves joined in 1993 and 1994 by 25 more GP60s, all with the new larger version of SP's new image.

SP GP40 3086 (ex-D&RGW 3086) was the first ex-D&RGW unit to receive SP paint, which included the new SP speed lettering, completed in July 1992.

SP MP15AC 2747 was the first in-service SP unit (and the first SP/SSW/D&RGW switcher) to receive SP speed lettering, completed in October 1993.

New and rebuilt SP locomotives in the following series were delivered with speed lettering:

SP Road Numbers Qty. Builder Model Dates (in delivery sequence)
SP 7107-7138 32 EMD GP40M-2 March-August 1991
SP 9715-9769 55 EMD GP60 April-July 1991
SP 9770-9794 25 EMD GP60 November 1993-January 1994
SP 151-170, 4845-4871 27 EMD GP38-2 November 1993-October 1996
SP 8574-8706 133 EMD SD40M-2 April 1994-February 1995
SP 8100-8200 101 GE C44-9 May-December 1994
SP 9800-9824 25 EMD SD70M June-August 1994
SP 500-502 3 MPI MK5000C August 1994
SP 100-378 279 GE AC44CW April-October 1995

In addition to the above list of 680 units (515 new and 165 rebuilt), Joe Strapac compiled a listing of an additional 355 units that received speed lettering after being repainted at Burnham shops in Denver, and at several contractor locations. The list was presented on page 19 of his book, "Southern Pacific Diesel Locomotive Compendium, Volume 2," published in 2007. (As a side note, page 18 of the same book presents a list of units painted in the brief SPSF paint scheme for the unapproved merger of SP and AT&SF, used on SP units from August 1985 to July 1986.)

D&RGW Units Repainted to SP

It took almost four years, from late 1988 until mid 1992, for SP to begin repainting former D&RGW units to its familiar gray and red paint scheme. On July 18, 1992, D&RGW GP40 3086 was completed as the first D&RGW unit to receive SP paint, with new large SP speed lettering. This new speed version of Southern Pacific lettering was inspired by D&RGW's own flying Rio Grande, first adopted by the road in June 1939.

The first D&RGW unit to be repainted into SP colors was completed in July 1992. It wasn't until May 1994, two years later, that the second D&RGW unit, SD40T-2 5380, was completed with SP paint and lettering.

Over the period of the next two years (ending with the UP merger in September 1996), a total of 25 D&RGW units were repainted to SP. (Read more about D&RGW paint schemes)