High Hood Road Switchers


General Motors' Electro-Motive Division (EMD) introduced the General-Purpose (GP) locomotive in 1949 the first of which was the GP7. As the name indicates, the "Geep" was extremely versatile and performed just as well hauling freight as it did leading passenger trains. EMD would produce over 2,700 GP7s by the time production ended in 1954. Because they were produced in such a large quantity, the angular boxy styling was so that the beauty of the beast grew into the 'normal' for road switchers. Some of the options available included dynamic braking, fuel tank size, steam generator, winterization hatch, and drop steps. EMD's ruggedly reliable 567 series diesel engine insured that the GP7s would stay in service for many, many years.

Link to image of WP GP7 711
GP7 711 in near pristine paint at San Jose in May 1966.
East-West Rail Scenes Photo.

Based on the popular F7 locomotive it was conceived by Electro-Motive designer Dick Dilworth as the ultimate in functional versatility. The GP7 would prove more than equal to its designation as a General Purpose locomotive. For the railroads, strained by traffic demands, the "geep" offered a truly bi-directional locomotive, equally at home in freight, passenger, or switching service. Although based on the F7 this new model with its unique body permitted greatly improved visibility over cab units. Because most of the major components originated from the F7 for EMD, this squarish looking 1500hp road switcher offered lower construction cost and easier servicing.

Deciding that each new locomotive should have a cab and control stand Western Pacific went looking for additional power. EMD offered WP the newly designed GP7, which sporting a high short hood, were virtually identical both mechanically and electrically to late model F7’s with a 567B 16-cylinder motor producing 1500 horsepower. Authorized for purchase by the Board of Directors in February 1952 units 701-709 began the practice of equipping hood units with dual cab controls and Pyle National “Barrel style” headlights that so characterized later classes of WP power. Costing $171,000.00 each delivery of these nine GP7’s numbered 701-709 was in October 1952.

Sporting Pyle-National “barrel” style headlights, colors were the now standard Zephyr paint with the road name spelled out on a single line. Handrail stanchions were cast and a winterization hatch covered the forward rear radiator fan. Five chime Nathon M5R24 horns were mounted above the generator on the long hood. A spotting feature was the 3 sets of under cab louvers on the equipment doors. The 710-713 were delivered in March and April of 1953 and effectively sealed the fate of steam ever running on the WP again. Of the thirteen units on the roster two, 711 and 712 would be transferred to the Sacramento Northern in 1971. The original headlights gave way to both EMD standard twin sealed beam units and inserts for the original barrel headlights in the late 1970’s. The Feather River Rail Society at its Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California preserves four units, the 705, 707 complete with “barrel” headlights, 708 and Sacramento Northern (ex WP) 712.


The GP9 was manufactured from 1954 until 1959. Over 70 railroads purchased more than 4,000 before production of this model ceased. Consequently, GP9's can still be found in active service to this date. Phase II GP9's are differentiated by 36" cap top fans, fuel tank inspection slots in the locomotive skirts, a rear mounted fuel fill, a single set of louvers on the battery box, and formed handrail stanchions.

Link to image of WP GP9 726
GP9 726 rests between assisgnments at Salt Lake City on May 29, 1968.
East-West Rail Scenes Photo.

With the building of the Ford plant in Milpitas and the resulting need for more power Western Pacific again returned to EMD in 1955. Having replaced the GP7 in the builders’ line WP owned but eight GP9 locomotives numbered 725 through 732. Occupying the RS-62 class the units developed 1,750 horsepower. Equipped similarly to their GP7 predecessors they had dual cab controls, winterization hatches over the forward rear radiator fan and the large Pyle-National barrel style headlamps. Differing visually from the similar GP7, rearranged hood louvers necessitated the road name being spelled out using two lines verses the single line on the GP7’s. Handrail stanchions were now formed into a U-section and not cast. With the purchase of these eight locomotives costing $184,764.00 each, EMD order number 5407, would be the next to last high short hood units on the roster.

Roaming system wide the GP9’s performed a variety of duties for owner WP. Their flexibility, power, and reliability proved to be of great value to the WP. Although their starting tractive effort of 61,900 lbs. was slightly less than their heavier F7 cousins, the road switcher hood configuration proved to be of great convenience to WP crews and it was common to see them working mainline freights, locals, yard service and even occasional snow plow duty. Of the original eight, the 726 and the 730 left the roster during their service on the WP due to wrecks. At the time of the UP merger two more left the roster without being renumbered, the 727, which was donated to the City of Elko, NV in September of 1984 and the 728 which was sold for scrap to Erman-Howell Division of Turner, Kansas in March of 1985.

The remaining four, the 725, 729, 731 and the 732 were renumbered to UP 300, 304, 306 and 308 respectively and remained in service, mostly on former WP rails, until 1985 when they were retired and sold to Precision National Corporation. PNC in turn sold them to Helm Leasing who leased them to the Iowa Interstate Railroad in August and September of 1986 where they retained their UP numbers with IAIS reporting marks. Two years later, the 304 (ex WP 729) and the 308 (ex WP 732) were wrecked on the IAIS and retired. These retirements left only three former WP GP9s, with one already on permanent static display (the 727) in the City of Elko, NV. Through the efforts of the Feather River Rail Society the remaining two, 725 and 731, were saved and are now part of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum roster in Portola, California.

2001 – 2010

When the railroads asked General Motors' Electro-Motive division for a locomotive with more horsepower, EMD responded with one of the strongest locomotives of its time. 260 were built from 1959 to 1962, with these powerful locomotives making quite a name for themselves. In fact, it took only three GP20s to pull as many cars as four F3s. The GP-20 can be considered both a beginning and an end. It was the last first generation locomotive produced by EMD. The advances heralded the second generation of EMD locomotives. Initially an experimental homebuilt, designed by Union Pacific's Omaha shops, this locomotive type increased per unit horsepower of an already proven system.

Link to image of WP GP20 2001
Brand new GP20 2001 prior to delivey to WP.
EMD Photo.

Western Pacific became the first customer for EMD’s new turbocharged GP20 when in 1959 they ordered six of the new units. Numbers 2001-2006 came to the WP adorned in the then standard aluminum and orange “California Zephyr” inspired paint scheme with Western Pacific adorning the long hood in a single line. Measuring 56 feet 2 inches over the coupler faces the new locomotive was built around the proven 567 prime mover, carried 2,350 gallons of fuel and weighed 257,000 pounds fully loaded. These were the first units available from EMD factory equipped with a turbocharger, which let the 567D2 16-cylinder motor develop 2000 horsepower, within 500 horsepower of the 567’s practical horsepower limit. All of WP’s GP20’s were considered to be phase 1a units. Occupying road class RS64 the GP20’s received many improvements over the years due to WP’s commitment to equipment modernization.

Costing $212,793.00 each, the first six units were built without any trade-in credit. Equipped with dual cab controls the railroad envisioned them working in local and switching service as well as out on the mainline. Built with the then standard WP barrel type headlight at both ends the units also came equipped with a re-railing frog mounted near the rear truck on both sides. These units also had a Nathan M5R24 five-chime horn mounted just off the centerline to the right on the cab roof with the bell mounted atop the left side of the long hood just behind the cab.

Returning in 1960 for four additional units, trade-in FT’s reduced the per unit price by $17,000.00. Virtually identical to the first order these units were heavier by 1,110 pounds. Until the merger with the Union Pacific in 1983 only one unit had left the roster. The 2003 was wrecked at Beowawe, Nevada in September 1963, with damage extensive enough that it was traded back to EMD for credit against GP35 3011. Of those roads that ordered the GP20 only two, Great Northern and Western Pacific, opted for the high short hood.

One unit, the very first production GP20 built, WP 2001 was donated to the Feather River Rail Society by the Union Pacific Railroad in June 1985 and now operates at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California.