Written by: Gary Dolzall
The California Zephyr is coming soon – and leading the way through Feather River Canyon will be Western Pacific’s stylish EMD FP7
On its 2,532-mile odyssey between Chicago, Illinois and California’s Bay Area, the famed California Zephyr was entrusted to the motive power of its three operating railroads – the Burlington Route, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific – and each of the railroads assigned their own power to the train as it made it ways across the great American West. On the Western Pacific – and through the Feather River Canyon – the “Silver Lady” was led by Electro-Motive’s stylish “F-units,” including flashy and stylish orange and silver EMD FP7 diesels.
When the California Zephyr debuted in March 1949, the diesel locomotives selected by the CB&Q, D&RGW, and WP to power the train on each of the railroads were, to say the least, diverse. Burlington Route originally opted for sets of Electro-Motive F3 diesels operating in three-unit “A-B-A” configurations; Rio Grande, rather surprisingly, selected the long-prowed Alco PA to draw the streamliner through the Rockies; and Western Pacific, like CB&Q, chose EMD’s F3 type, but WP preferred a cab and two booster (“A-B-B”) lash-up to lead the train across the deserts of the Great Basin and through the majestic Feather River Canyon.
Both CB&Q and D&RGW would, rather quickly, make changes to the California Zephyr’s original motive power, with Burlington assigning EMD E-units for the train’s fast dash across the Midwestern plains states, while Rio Grande would find the Alco PA’s (which used A1A-1A wheel arrangements) unsuited to the mountain grades of the Rockies’ Front Range and replaced the PA’s with EMD F-units. On the Western Pacific, though, the California Zephyr would, for all intents and purposes, roll behind EMD’s iconic F-units (of several models) for its entire career.
At the end of World War II, and in anticipation of the coming of the “Silver Lady,” Western Pacific had ordered a trio of EMD F3 A-B-B locomotive sets (WP Nos. 801-803) in August 1945. Arriving in July 1947, well in advance of the inaugural run of the new California Zephyr, the Western Pacific F3 sets filled their time working the heavyweight Exposition Flyer and even occasionally working in freight service prior to the Zephyr’s first run on March 29,1949. As the “CZ” began its regular, daily service, Western Pacific ordered more power for its flagship train. Delivered in 1950, the new power consisted of two “A-B-A” sets of EMD F-units in which the cab units were FP7s and the boosters were standard F7Bs. Electro-Motive’s FP7 cab unit was a slightly elongated F7A, with the extra frame length providing more space for water or fuel tank capacity. The FP7 measured four feet longer than a standard F7A, at 54’ 8” vs. 50’ 8” over coupler faces (there were no FP7 booster units constructed).
As delivered, Western Pacific’s new FP7/F7B locomotive sets carried WP road numbers 804 and 805, with the FP7 cab units carrying road number suffixes “A” and “C” and the F7Bs using suffix “B.” Although the sets were ordered in A-B-A configurations, Western Pacific soon reverted to operating its passenger F-units in A-B-B lash-ups and the road number suffixes of the FP7s were changed to “A” and “D” in order to be more consistent with the rest of WP’s F-unit roster. The FP7s utilized 57:20 gearing, providing the units with the capacity to run at more than 90 miles per hour when crossing the open desert west of Salt Lake City.
Western Pacific’s quartet of FP7s quickly became the standard “lead” units for the California Zephyr’s diesel power sets. These lash-ups most frequently included one of the FP7s on the point, matched with a pair of F7Bs or F3Bs. After two decades of service on the point of the famed train nicknamed the “Silver Lady,” it appropriately fell to one of the Western Pacific’s FP7s – No. 804A – to lead the final run of the California Zephyr on March 22, 1970. Following the discontinuance of the California Zephyr, the WP’s FP7s were re-geared to 62:15 for freight service and several remained on the WP roster until 1972. One Western Pacific FP7, No. 805A, has been handsomely preserved at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California.
The legendary California Zephyr is coming soon to Train Simulator, and authentically powering the silver Budd-built, dome-equipped streamliner will be Western Pacific’s Electro-Motive FP7 (and accompanying F7B) in the road’s passenger-service version of the “Zephyr” silver and orange livery. The Western Pacific FP7 and California Zephyr DLC will include a selection of career scenarios for the Feather River Canyon route. As an added bonus, the California Zephyr pack will also include EMD F9A and F9B locomotives dressed in Denver & Rio Grande Western’s single-stripe “Aspen Gold” livery, re-creating the locomotives that frequently powered the streamliner and its successor, the Rio Grande Zephyr, through the Colorado Rockies and over Soldier Summit. We’ll be taking a look at that topic in an upcoming article.
Zephyr Power – it’s coming soon to Train Simulator! – Gary Dolzall ■