Greyhounds of the Overland Trail

by Ross B. Grenard

(excerpts from Railfan & Railroad, January 1988, Volume 7, Number 1, pages 48-53)

The genesis of this livery came about in 1946 as a part of the image which the railroad sought to project for the accelerated passenger schedules which were to become effective on June 2 of that year. Since daily "Streamliner" service to the West Coast was a year away (and post-war equipment deliveries at least three), the railroad concentrated on using existing equipment to upgrade the Los Angeles Limited and Overland Limited; to commence operation of a City of St. Louis to link its namesake, Kansas City and Denver to Los Angeles, the Bay Area and the Northwest on an expedited schedule; and to operate a new train, the Transcon, to handle the UP's share of the new through Pullmans from New York to Los Angeles. Schedule time on the two West Coast limiteds went from 60 to 48 hours overall, and the other trains had their schedules restored to those which existed before World War II--and in some cases bettered.

An interesting aspect of the new City of St. Louis operation was the use of steam on a regular basis from Denver to Cheyenne, where it officially terminated after handing off its cars to the West Coast trains. This arrangement, which lasted until 1951, allowed more time for its diesels (E3s, E6s and E7s) to be serviced at Denver.

What was unique about these new services was that their paint scheme was neither the Pullman Green of prewar nor the Armour Yellow of the "Streamliners," but rather a handsome and distinguished two-tone gray formally introduced to the Overland Route by the "American" and "Imperial" series Pullmans in 1942. Having already proven near indispensable in coping with the monumental passenger loads of the war years, they would now serve as the nucleus of a new equipment pool involving three railroads (UP, SP and C&NW) and encompassing both the lightweight coaches, diners and head-end cars constructed in 1937 and 1941 for the Challengers and an armada of rebuilt, upgraded and roller-bearing-equipped heavyweights then rolling out of the car shops in two-tone gray. Eventually nearly all UP passenger equipment, from the humblest combine on a Nebraska branch line to the business cars, would be redone in the new scheme.

To effectively protect these schedules, the UP would rely, as it had in years past and would again in the decade to come, on its steam locomotives--but this time with a difference. For in order to harmonize with their new consists, locomotives would be painted to match. The result was dignified, elegant and highly attractive. Not unlike the corporate image of the Union Pacific itself.

The first locomotive to be repainted (reportedly in May 1946, though this cannot be documented) was FEF-1 4-8-4 809, which went into service on the City of St. Louis. Since the 800s would bear the brunt of protecting the new schedules, they were the first engines to be repainted. Almost concurrently, it was decided to convert all 45 of them to oil. The reasons for this were: (1) To ensure that the new passenger service would not be held hostage to the whim of John L. Lewis during the sporadic series of postwar coal strikes which had already caused problems for the UP (2) To increase the 9perational range of the engines to Portland and Los Angeles, where hitherto a lack of coaling facilities had precluded their operation. And (3) to enable them to better cope with the faster schedules through elimination of intermediate fuel stops and the cleaning of fires every 100 miles or so. It was also an unsubtle signal to the UP's own miners to mind their manners in the future.

In most cases, the 800s were repainted during the time they were in the shop for the oil conversion, but not always. Dick Kindig and Ron Hill's pictorial opus, Union Pacific 8444, shows a September 1946 scene of the 844 after conversion to oil but before repainting functioning as a helper on Sherman Hill with the gray 842, and in Smoke Along the Columbia, 805 is shown at Baker, Oregon, already converted to oil but still in basic black. However, no photographs have surfaced to show any of the 4-8-4s in gray while still coal burners. In any event, both of the programs were substantially complete by the end of 1946.

As the last of the 800s were being finished up, work commenced on both larger and smaller power. By December 1946, Albina (Portland, Oregon) had completed work on its first gray 4-6-6-4 and was preparing to commence work on the other nine (Challengers 3875-84 were given the gray and converted to oil; they were later renumbered 3708-3717) for use on passenger trains out of Portland to Seattle and Huntington, where their 69" drivers and 97,000+ pound tractive effort made it possible to eliminate doubleheading. At the same time, gray-painted 4-8-2s and Pacifics were beginning to show up on locals from Kansas City to Yakima, and from Denver to Butte.

Insofar as is known, all 60 of the 7000s and 7800s (4-8-2s) were repainted in late 1946 and early 1947, as were a number of 4-6-2s, most notably those in service on the Idaho and Oregon Divisions, where the UP was possessed of an extensive local passenger business serving such points as Wallace and Victor, Idaho; Walla Walla and Spokane, Washington; and two trains daily to Butte, Montana. Besides this, a reasonably heavy seasonal business was operated to Sun Valley, and to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.

For some reason, only one of the 4-6-2s regularly assigned to the Eastern District, 2906 of ‘49er and roller bearing fame, was given the new livery. It was held for operation on the Denver-Omaha trains and occasionally got in its licks pinch-hitting for ailing diesel units on the City of Denver.

Repainting was for the most part performed at the locomotive shops in Omaha, Cheyenne, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Pocatello and Portland. The work was generally performed in conjunction with classified repairs or annual inspections. The new paint jobs were quite labor-intensive and required almost three times as much time as it did for a freight locomotive. The intricate nature of the masking, the 1/4-inch black edging and the other nuances accounted for much of this, as did the nearly 400 feet of striping required on the 800s. It is left to the imagination of the reader as to what was involved in redoing a 4-6-6-4 to these standards. The new image also included chrome cylinder and valve head covers, but photographs indicate that these were not universally applied. Yet in the case of the 800s, some survived the changeover to black in the 1950s, and it was not at all unusual in the last days of UP steam to see one in freight service on the Nebraska Division still sporting the chrome cylinder heads.

There were a number of variants in actual practice, largely determined by which shop did the work, how rushed they were overall, and how soon the engine was needed for service. In some cases, graphite was substituted for Locomotive Black in the stack areas, and in other cases the band of dark gray on the tender was repositioned to avoid conflict with tool boxes on the flanks. There is a difference of opinion among experts on UP locomotive practice as whether the original lettering was Silver Gray or Armour Yellow. Research through UP archives and the UP Historical Society by Steve Lee and the Cheyenne crew concluded that the original 1946 standard (documented on UP Painting Diagram 992 CA 33179, dated 12/26/46 and revised 6/2/49) called for the striping and lettering to be Armour Yellow. (The 844 received this scheme, as sandblasting in 1987 uncovered the yellow striping as the engine was being prepared for repaint.) The two-tone gray Overland cars, however, were striped and lettered in Silver Gray. In June 1949, UP's new President A.E. Stoddard ordered a change to Silver Gray lettering on the locomotives. A former train dispatcher, Stoddard believed that the Silver Gray would be easier to read in adverse weather conditions.

The time-consuming nature of the paint scheme, the inflation which accompanied the Korean Conflict, the difficulty of maintaining matched consists, the inability of reduced roundhouse forces to keep the engines in anything resembling pristine condition, and the fact that 800s were, even then, beginning to show up on Nebraska Division freights, all combined to bring the era to an end in the spring of 1952. For at that time an order went out to begin painting the passenger locomotives black, and to standardize on Armour Yellow for all passenger equipment, streamlined or not.

It was perhaps just as well, for the Overland Route partners had never really committed themselves to the schemes, and the North Western pleaded poverty whenever the subject was mentioned. As a consequence, one might see transcontinental trains rolling across Wyoming with "400" diners or coaches dressed in a variety of hues. Perhaps the most discordant consist was that of the summer season National Parks Special to Denver. It was often seen rolling into the Mile High City behind a gray 800 with UP cars in both gray and yellow and Pullmans of every shade from Pennsy Tuscan to ACL purple.

The first of the gray locomotives to revert to black were the Challengers, ironically in 1950 when they were sent east during the coal strike-racked part of late 1949 and early ‘50. The railroad's Condition Report for January shows them operating in freight service out of Denver to Laramie and Cheyenne. They would later return to Portland to power both regular schedules and, during the Korean Conflict, troop trains to Fort Lewis, Washington. But they would never again be repainted in their Greyhound finery.

The same hectic situation was responsible for the transfer of at least one oil-burning 4-6-2, 3221, to the Kansas Division early that year, and for the arrival in Cheyenne for the first time of several 7800s, all still in gray, for use as passenger helpers and for power on the North Platte Valley mixed trains. By this time the 4-8-2s had been largely downgraded from main line passenger service to helper, passenger local and general utility use. Yet it was one of these, 7035, which was fated to be the last of all to serve in gray. For long after all the 800s had been repainted, in February 1954 it remained in service on the Denver-Cheyenne local. Its polished appearance belied the continuing arrival of ever more GP9s to displace steam in all services.

[Photo captions]

The 1987 repaint of 8444 has renewed interest in the Union Pacific's gray livery The 8444 posed for a night photo at Cheyenne on October 4. (Jim Ehernberger)

Gray paint came before smoke deflectors on the 806 (top, page 49, R. H. Kindig), shown at Boise, Idaho, on September 2, 1946. (R. H. Kindig)

831 is shown assaulting Sherman Hill that same month and year with 838 on the westbound Los Angeles Limited. (R. H. Kindig)

The 840 was departing L.A. in April 1947 with the eastbound heavyweight Los Angeles Limited. (H. L. Kelso)

Passenger Challenger 3983 was impressive in gray at Albina (Portland), Oregon, on August 4, 1947. (Don Roberts, Stan Kistler Collection)

The only Eastern District 4-6-2 to get the gray was ex- ‘49er 2906, shown leaving Denver on the National Parks Special in 1948. (Ross B. Grenard)

Mountain 7002 (below right) was doubleheaded with gray 4-8-4 809 on the 17-car L.A. section of the Utahn at Buford on Sherman Hill on October 20, 1949. (Ross B. Grenard)

The last UP engine to wear the gray was 4-8-2 7035 (above right), at La Salle on the Denver-Cheyenne local on February 19, 1954. (Ross B. Grenard)

The gray livery is a little dusty as the 840 rolls eastward through Nebraska in 1950. (two photos, R. L. Borcherding, Jim Seacrest Collection)

Today the 8444 renews the UP "Greyhound" legend. (Jim Ehernberger)