Southern Pacific Railroad History Center


The Spirit That Won The West

SP 4449 at Cow Creek, California on December 16, 1988. Photo by Charles Lange.

It was announced for the first time during the May, 1980 shareholders meeting of the Southern Pacific Company, that a proposed merger with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe would be pursued by both companies.  Santa Fe Industries and the Southern Pacific Company were the parent companies of the Santa Fe Railway and Southern Pacific Transportation Company, respectively.  On December 31, 1983, the parent companies merged to form the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation and this company would hold the  Santa Fe Railway and Southern Pacific Transportation Company as separate legal entities until permission to formally merge was determined by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).  After officially filing with the ICC to merge on March 23, 1984, the proposed combined railroad entity would be known as the Southern Pacific & Santa Fe Railway.  Interstate Commerce Commission hearings began on October 1, 1984.  Nearly two years later on July 24, 1986, the ICC denied the merger.  Following an appeal of Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation, the merger was denied again on June 30, 1987.  The ICC gave the parent corporation a mere 90 days to divest itself of one or the other railroads.  After many rumors of railroad companies interested in bidding for either Southern Pacific or Santa Fe, or both, on September 4, 1987, the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation announced that the Southern Pacific Transportation Company would be sold.

Soon after, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad announced its intention to buy Southern Pacific.  In August 1988, the United States Justice Department authorized the sale of Southern Pacific to Rio Grande Industries, parent company of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.  On December 28, 1987, the sale of Southern Pacific Transportation Company to Rio Grande Industries was effected.  On August 9, 1988, the ICC granted permission to Rio Grande Industries to formally purchase and control the Southern Pacific.  The identity of the new company would remain the Southern Pacific, with the Denver & Rio Grande’s 2,248 miles of mainline track operating as a subsidiary of Southern Pacific.  On October 13, 1988, Rio Grande Industries took control of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company.

Following nearly a decade of corporate identity changes, Southern Pacific and its employees were in need of a marketing and promotional strategy that would merge the operational synergies of Southern Pacific and DRGW.  To celebrate the joining of the two companies under one banner, a special train was operated between Portland and Medford, Oregon.  During the third week of December, 1988, former Southern Pacific Daylight GS-4 steam locomotive No. 4449 led a special train of railroad officials, shippers, and other customers to celebrate a revival in the company’s spirit and renewed marketing objectives.  DRGW 5514 and SP 6826 were added as diesel helpers, both immaculate in appearance.  This official train proved very popular with customers, so much so that Philip Anschutz, owner of Rio Grande Industries, unsuccessfully attempted to purchase SP 4449 from the City of Portland.

The results of the Spirit of the West Special spoke for themselves, and a new marketing campaign was launched known as “The Spirit That Won The West.”  All company posters, flyers, and sales materials would include the new slogan, a metaphorical joining of Southern Pacific and DRGW as a renewed transcontinental railroad.

Steam excursions would continue to be chartered by Southern Pacific through the early 1990s, offering a chance for the public to experience the pride of the company and its employees.  Even when Southern Pacific was challenged with devastating derailment situations, it revived its public image with steam excursions and its publicity campaign.

Southern Pacific in many ways embodied the “Spirit That Won The West,” as the Company had a major role in the development of communities and businesses throughout California, Oregon, Texas and the Southwestern United States.

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