Merger Madness

Posted by George Hamlin
on Sunday, November 15, 2020

In February, 1987, I made a business trip from my home in Georgia to Monterey, California.  Since there was no nonstop air service between Atlanta and Monterey, I elected to fly in and out of San Jose, California, and rented a car there to get to and from my coastal destination.

On the way back, there was time to consider some railfanning before flying back east.  The closest point to Monterey with any significant rail potential was Salinas, located a modest distance to the northeast of Monterey, and on the Southern Pacific’s coastal route between San Francisco and Southern California.

My timing was fortuitous, since soon after my arrival trackside, a manifest, led by one of the Espee’s numerous ‘flare’ SD45s, number 7566, proceeded south out of Salinas (timetable east on the SP, i.e. away from San Francisco), dressed in the ill-fated red/yellow/black livery designed to be used by the  railroad that would have resulted from merging the Santa Fe (yellow) with the Southern Pacific (red).  This was my first opportunity to see, and photograph, what was known as the “Kodachrome” paint scheme, due to its resemblance to the colors on the box of Kodak slide film of the same name (which, incidentally, was favored by many railfan photographers).

Heading north from Salinas, I opted to head for Watsonville Junction, instead of taking the more direct alternative of U.S. 101 back north to San Jose.  While not likely to classified, even then, as a railroad “hotspot”, this facility hosted quite a bit of SP motive power, all of the visible portion being attired in the SP’s then-standard gray with red noses, often referred to as the “bloody nose” paint scheme.

Road freight EUPXM (a Eugene, Oregon to Phoenix, Arizona manifest), headed by SD40T-2 “Tunnel Motor” 8236 was working the yard during my visit, but no other road trains made an appearance.  All of this was easy to take in, and shoot, from public property.  Also present were a group of the railroad’s “beet racks”, taking their leisure until required for the next campaign, as the SP referred to its participation in moving sugar beets from harvest to processing plants.

After a while, GP9E 3778 emerged from the motive power area of the yard in the Kodachrome colors, and put together a short train consisting of two company covered hoppers (actually, one Southern Pacific, with the other labeled “Cotton Belt”).  As shown above, with an employee about to “bend the iron”, this scheme definitely had the “nice bright colors” referred to by singer Paul Simon in his song about the Kodak film.

For those that don’t know the back story on the Kodachrome colors, in 1983, the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific had applied to merge.  Objections were raised, particularly on the grounds that this would reduce competition, which resulted in the ICC (interstate Commerce Commission) rejecting the plan in July 1986.  The railroads appealed, but eleven months later, in June 1987, the appeal also was rejected.

However, visible evidence of the non-event remained in the form of many locomotives that had been painted in the Kodachrome livery in preparation for the corporate marriage.  The merged road, to be known as the Southern Pacific Santa Fe, would have displayed the road’s initials, SPSF, on the side of its locomotives, so that prior to its implementation each railroad’s units in the new paint scheme only displayed either  “SP”, or “SF”, as appropriate, with proper spacing allowing for the additional two letters later.  Post-merger, the other set of initials could have been added fairly quickly, without the need for extensive repainting.

As noted above, however, there was never a need for the full SPSF set on the side of a locomotive, so industry pundits quickly concluded (in hindsight, of course) that what this really stood for was “Shouldn’t Paint So Fast”.

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