Besides looking good the steamers offered more than enough power and were some of the most technologically advanced of their kind. For instance, they boasted tractive efforts nearing 70,000 pounds and provided the highest axle loadings (more than 77,000 pounds) of any Northern put into service. Additionally, they operated with the latest in steam technology such as roller bearings from the Timken Roller Bearing Company (which reduced maintenance and wear of the running gear) and a feedwater heater (this device heated water from the tender before transferring it into the boiler, an added efficiency). During their years in service the Northerns (except #701, which normally pulled freights and only filled in on passenger consists when needed) powered notable trains such as the SP&S's own North Bank Limited along with the Builder, NCL, and other notable runs like the Columbia River Express and Oriental Limited (GN).
The SP&S's Small Fleet Of 4-8-4s
The three locomotives became affectionately known as "The Ladies" thanks in part to their graceful lines; #700 in particular was given special recognition as "The First Lady Of The Northwest"
which was a nod to her status as the first of the trio to enter service
and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle's moniker as "The Northwest's
Own Railway." After the Northern Pacific and Great Northern began streamlining their passenger trains during the mid-1940s, which included sleek diesels, it was inevitable that the still relatively new Northerns of the SP&S would also be seeing retirement in the near future. While they were bumped from service on most flagship runs beginning with the arrival of E7A #750 in 1948 they continued pulling secondary trains like the GN's Western Star and NP's Mainstreeter.
This continued for a few years until diesels had completely replaced them from even these trains by 1953. Over the next few years the trio continued in freight service, for which they were also quite adept, until finally the SP&S retired all three in 1955. As a final farewell, #700 was given one last assignment in 1956 to pull a special "Farewell To Steam" fantrip over the railroad that garnered so much interest that it required added cars from GN and NP to meet demand. On May 26th the Northern pulled a 21-car train between Portland and Wishram, Washington carrying more than 1,300 passengers. In all likelihood this would have meant the end for #700 as the SP&S designated it to the scrap line.
However, when the railroad realized that the Union Pacific was donating
Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company 4-6-2 #197 (then UP #3203) to
Portland it too wanted to bestow such a gift and chose #700, which was
transferred to the city in 1958. This would be followed by Southern Pacific's donation of
4-8-4 #4449 and all three sat in Oaks Park on display until 1975 when
#4449 was slated for restoration as part of the American Freedom Train.
Thanks in part to volunteers like Jack Holst and Chris McLarney #700
remained in relatively good condition as the two did what they could
cleaning, lubricating, and oiling the locomotive where it sat over the years. In 1977
McLarney, then only a teenager, formed the Pacific Railroad
Preservation Association to help preserve and maintain #700.
As interest grew and worked continued on the restoration of the 4-8-4 it was moved to Southern Pacific's nearby Brooklyn Roundhouse in 1987 where the locomotive continued its overhaul. Finally, in 1990 it was returned to steam for the first time on May 15th where it began test runs that summer. Since that time the locomotive has been used to haul various excursions but because it is maintained using an all-volunteer team she normally sees only limited runs. On June 26, 2012 the locomotive was moved to its new, permanent home at Portland's Oregon Rail Heritage Center, which not only allows a place for the locomotive to be maintained (and out of the elements) but also a chance for the general public to see #700 up close (along with the other tenants including #4449, OR&N #197, and Nickel Plate Road PA #190). For more information about Spokane, Portland & Seattle #700 please visit her official website here.
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Spokane, Portland & Seattle #700