SP Stands for Simplified Paint

During the 1950s, Southern Pacific passenger trains featured at least six paint schemes, more than any other western railroad, and possibly more than any in the country. These included the orange-and-yellow Daylights; yellow-and-grey City of San Francisco; orange-and-silver Golden State; two-toned grey Lark, Cascade, and San Francisco Overland; stainless steel with red-striped Sunset Limited; and of course Pullman green for various heavyweight trains.

In this case, SP stands for Souvenir Portfolio. Click image to download a 20-MB PDF of this 24-page booklet.

This booklet is undated, but the “bloody nose” paint scheme on the locomotives in the lower left corner of the cover indicates that it was published in or after 1958, when that scheme first replaced both the Black Widow and Daylight colors on SP locomotives. This was the first hint of radical simplification that the railroad was about to undertake.

This December 19, 1970 photo by Gordon Glattenberg shows the San Joaquin Daylight in its grey-with-red-stripe colors. Click image for a larger view.

To cut costs, the railroad decided to adopt the simplest paint scheme it had–the silver-with-red-stripe Sunset scheme–for all of its trains except for those it shared with Union Pacific, which insisted on keeping the yellow-and-grey city colors. To make things even simpler (and uglier), the railroad removed the stainless steel fluting from most cars, leaving them a dull grey rather than silver.

By the early 1960s, SP had repainted all but a handful of its non-City of San Francisco cars into these colors. This was quite a come-down, especially for the Daylights, which Southern Pacific had once advertised as “the most beautiful trains in the world.”


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