In its heyday, the Southern Pacific was the most powerful company in California. Founded in 1865, the Southern Pacific (SP) was originally created as a rail line from San Francisco to San Diego. By 1868, it extended to New Orleans. In 1885, the Southern Pacific leased the Central Pacific Railroad, which was the western half of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The SP went on to become one of the giants of US railroading, stretching from the Pacific Northwest into Texas and New Orleans. SP’s vast system even included narrow gauge railroad operations in California and Nevada.
Southern Pacific was also a major player in the electric railways of Los Angeles. Fearing competition from Henry Huntington and his rapidly expanding Pacific Electric Railway, SP engaged in a fierce battle for control of the region’s interurban railways in the first decade of the 20th Century. The Great Merger of 1911 finally transferred control of Pacific Electric to the SP, leaving Huntington in control of the city’s local streetcar system, Los Angeles Railway. Financed by SP, the PE grew to become the world’s largest interurban electric railway network.
SP was also famous for its California passenger trains, most notably the “Daylights” between Los Angeles and the San Francisco. The beautiful orange and gold Daylight colors remain among the most recognizable in railroading, thanks in part to preserved steam locomotive SP 4449. After years of declining fortunes and tough times, the Southern Pacific was finally merged into the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996.
In addition to its significant collection of Pacific Electric equipment, the Museum preserves over 25 cars and locomotives from the Southern Pacific including “U-Boat” freight locomotive 3100 and San Diego & Arizona Eastern (an SP subsidiary) passenger combine 175. Several SP narrow gauge cars are also included in the collection.