The Southern Pacific's Sunbeam was the railroad's most notable eastern streamliner, aside from its transcontinental Sunset Limited, which served New Orleans.
The train provided regional service in central Texas between the
state's two largest cities, Dallas and Houston with a history that dated
back to the 1920s. While it began life with heavyweight equipment
within about 10 years of operation the Espee had upgraded this to newer,
streamlined lightweight cars adorned in the railroad's legendary Daylight livery. From a scheduling standpoint the train was one of the oddest streamliners ever operated as it featured a local run known as the Hustler
which then operated as an express train in the other direction.
Overall, the train was fairly successful during its early years although
after World War II as rail travel waned regional trains like the Sunbeam were hit especially hard. As a result, Southern Pacific canceled it by the mid-1950s. For much more information about the SP's passenger services, such as timetables, brochures, and historic advertisements please click here.
the Southern Pacific's streamliners best remembered are those which
operated either in California, up the Pacific Coast, or the
aforementioned transcontinental Sunset Limited. The Sunbeam, and its counterpart the Hustler (both of which were technically operated by the Texas & New Orleans
Railroad, an SP subsidiary) proved to be the SP's most notable
passenger trains along the eastern portions of its main line. The
trains' date back to their initial debuting in 1925 as a means of
competing primarily against two services provided by the Chicago,
Burlington & Quincy and Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific; the Texas Rocket and Sam Houston Zephyr, which also served the same cities. The original consist for the train was made up of coaches, parlors, a diner and observation.
The train was listed on the Southern Pacific's timetable as #13 northbound and #14 southbound. Its initial scheduling
called for a 4 hour, 45-minute between Dallas and Houston at a distance
of 264 miles. As a heavyweight train, utilizing a Class P 4-6-2
Pacific steam locomotive, the Sunbeam remained on this schedule for the next 13 years. In 1937 as the streamliner era was entering full tilt
after the Union Pacific and Burlington both demonstrated the successful
nature of the new designs in 1934 and the Southern Pacific was one of
the first railroad's to jump on the bandwagon. A year later, in 1938, also
saw the SP change the scheduling of the train to better compete against the Burlington and Rock Island making the
train an express run that served its corridor in just 4 hours, 25
minutes averaging nearly 60 mph the entire way.
However, the railroad also still wanted to offer local service along the
route. To be able to do both the Espee inaugurated a train just for
this purpose, the Hustler, also in 1938. Whereas the Sunbeam offered just two stops (at College Station and Ennis) the Hustler
offered more than two-dozen, nearly half of which were flagstops.
Despite this the train was still able to complete a run in 5 hours and
50 minutes. Once the Hustler reached either Houston or Dallas the passengers could then take an express trip back to the other city via its counterpart.
Additionally, because SP's Sunset Route ran directly through Houston
passengers also had the opportunity to continue on eastward or westward
via the Sunset Limited.
(The below Hustler timetable is dated effective August of 1950.)
Read Down Time/Leave (Train #15/Hustler)
Time/Arrive (Train #16/Hustler)
8:00 AM (Dp)
Houston, TX (Grand Central Station)
2:05 PM (Ar)
Prairie View, TX
F 1:06 PM
College Station, TX
F 11:13 AM
F 10:42 AM
F 11:22 AM
F 10:31 AM
F 12:10 PM
F 9:41 AM
12:55 PM (Ar)
9:00 AM (Dp)
1:00 PM (Dp)
8:55 AM (Ar)
F 1:11 PM
F 8:44 AM
F 1:21 PM
F 8:35 AM
1:50 PM (Ar)
Dallas, TX (Union Station)
8:10 AM (Dp)
As mentioned above the
Southern Pacific began completely streamlining many of its most well
known trains as early as 1937. This included the Sunbeam which was reequipped on September 19, 1937 sporting the railroad's classic Daylight
livery. While the train was not offered one of the SP's venerable GS
Class, semi-streamlined 4-8-4 steam locomotives for power it did feature
another Class P 4-6-2 Pacific sporting the same in matching paint.
Perhaps, in some ways, the Sunbeam defined the Daylight's
red, orange, and black livery. In any event, the train's new consist
included reclining seat coaches, a parlor car, and a
diner-lounge-observation (which required reservations before boarding).
SP FP7 #6461 and mate #6457 board passengers at Fresno, California with the westbound San Joaquin Daylight during April of 1971 just days until Amtrak takes over all such services.
Around 1948 the train
lost its steam power, replaced by new American Locomotive Company
PA-1s, six of which (twelve including accompanying B units) were
lettered for subsidiary T&NO. Clad in matching Daylight
paint the beautifully designed locomotives made for quite an appearance
on the train, particularly when in operation. By the 1950s regional
trains across the country were having more and more difficulty remaining
competitive against automobiles and improved airline service. As such, the SP dropped its Hustler in 1954 leaving only the Sunbeam. This setup lasted for a mere year before the railroad discontinued the Houston-Dallas corridor altogether. By then the railroad was losing much of its interest in remaining passenger services. During the 1960s only a handful of named trains still remained on its timetable. When Amtrak took over in 1971 the SP's fleet was a mere shell of its immediate postwar operations.