Pacific Railroad
Preservation Assoc.

The SP&S 700

SP&S 700 smokebox by David Roy

Photo by David Roy

The SP&S 700 is significant in almost every way. Its history is as important as any other locomotive in the Pacific Northwest, having provided the power for the premier passenger trains connecting one of the largest cities on the west coast with the Midwest and East. The locomotive is noteworthy from an engineering perspective as well, as it represents the state of the art of practical design, manufacture, and operation when steam was king on the nation's rails. It sports then-new features like Timkin roller bearings and boasts the highest axle-loading of any Northern-type locomotive ever produced in North America. Finally, the 700 is remarkable simply for the rare fact that it still operates more than 75 years after it was built, making it the largest steam locomotive currently in operation. And then there's the locomotive's obvious sensory significance: it's big, strong, hot, loud, smelly, and fast! This page explores the SP&S 700's place in history, facets of its engineering and design, the locomotive's restoration and maintenance by the PRPA, and its thunderous impact on the senses.

SP&S Service History

From 1912 onward, the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway provided the best freight and passenger route from Portland and the Columbia River Valley toward the east. Despite the fact that the railroad formed this important link, traffic on the new line was slow to develop, partially due to the intra-family competition between its builders, the Great Northern and Northern Pacific. Having no real need of the newest and most powerful locomotives, at first nearly all of the SP&S's engines were hand-me-downs from its parents. However, by the mid-1930s the railroad was woefully underpowered. Its largest passenger locomotives were Pacifics (4-6-2s), and its largest freight engines were Mikados (2-8-2s), with the newest of these having been built in 1920. The SP&S had a hard time competing against the newer, larger power owned by the Union Pacific and operated on the competing ex-OR&N line just across the Columbia River. Finally, in 1937, NP and GN allowed the SP&S to purchase its first new locomotives: three Northerns (4-8-4s) classed E-1 and six Challengers (4-6-6-4s) classed Z-6. The new SP&S engines were added onto Northern Pacific orders and were identical in design to NP's class A-3 Northerns and class Z-6 Challengers except that they were built to burn oil instead of coal.


The 700's Baldwin Locomotive Works builder's plate

Builder's Plate of the SP&S 700

Photo by Chris Chen

Baldwin Locomotive Works delivered the Northerns to the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway in 1938 as numbers 700, 701, and 702. The 700 was the first to arrive and was shown off to communities along the company's mainline before entering regular service. The new 4-8-4s were specifically purchased to power the SP&S's premier passenger service. This train—No. 1 westbound from Spokane and No. 2 on the return from Portland—included the Portland segments of GN's famous Empire Builder and NP's North Coast Limited. Both originated in Chicago (running over the CB&Q from Chicago to St. Paul) and were broken into two sections in eastern Washington, with one segment bound for Portland via the SP&S and the other bound to Seattle over the Cascades. Two of the locomotives, typically 700 and 702, were employed almost continuously in this service, with the 701 operating freight on the mainline except when filling in for one of her sisters when they required servicing. The engines' good looks and graceful operation soon earned them the nickname "The Ladies." As the 700 was the first on the property, she became known colloquially as "The First Lady of the Northwest" or simply "The Lady."


During its regular service life, The Lady played an important role in developing and maintaining the prominence enjoyed by the City of Portland, and it is an integral part of the city's history and culture as well as that of the Columbia River Valley and eastern Washington. Recognizing this, the SP&S donated the 700 to the City of Portland in the final days of steam, sparing it from the scrapper's torch. The locomotive remains the property of the City, but it is officially under the care of the PRPA. Visit our page on Portland's railroad history or peruse the websites of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway Historical Society to deepen your understanding of the important role that railroads played in the development of the Northwest.


Details of the 700's service history are captured below:

The 700 is delivered to the Spokane, Portand & Seattle Railway

Dignitaries of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway pose with #700 on the occasion of its delivery in 1938

From the collection of Vern Vasey

8mm footage of the SP&S 700 pulling the "Farewell to Steam" train on May 20, 1956.

Video by Dave Wilkie.


PRPA Work History

Through the efforts of the PRPA, the SP&S 700 is today very much as it was when it was first manufactured and accepted by the SP&S in 1938. Years of exposure to the elements in Oaks Park meant that significant restoration efforts were needed to return the 700 to high-speed service as a passenger train engine. Most of the work on the 700 after the initial restoration addressed damage that had accrued through years of the normal wear and tear of operations and deferred maintenance while still in service (there are indications that normal maintenance routines were deferred during the 700's last years of service as the railroad anticipated replacing the locomotive with a diesel-electric).


Cleaning the crosshead in preparation for re-Babbitting

John and Roy clean the crosshead in
preparation for re-Babbitting

Brooklyn roundhouse, Fall 2008

Photo by Terry Thompson

The PRPA has made every attempt to repair and maintain the locomotive as it would have been while still in service 70 years ago. Whenever possible, we use repair and replacement parts like those removed (unless higher quality is specified in blueprints) and when feasible we employ the repair technologies in use in the 1930s and 1940s. In some cases, new and better materials have been used, but they are indiscernible to the untrained eye. All mechanical repairs conform to the builder's drawings. None of the work has been an improvement or modification to the locomotive's initial design and construction except for the installation of the MU controls to let the 700's engineer operate a trailing helper diesel, a required capability when operating out on a modern mainline. The following list captures the milestones, repairs, major maintenance, and restoration work performed by the PRPA on the 700 over the last 20+ years:

National Register of Historic Places Plaque


In addition to the work of PRPA volunteers, excellent initial design and manufacturing have certainly played a role in the locomotive's preservation in its as-received state. All of the features that exemplify the 700's character as "state of the art" were incorporated when it was built, and the SP&S found no reason to add to or improve upon those features during the 700's eighteen years of service.


On the other hand, detailing has varied over the years. In the 1940s, lighted number boards were added atop the smokebox. For the 1956 "Farewell to Steam" excursion, the engine was cleaned, and the smokebox was painted silver. In 1990, the smokebox was again painted silver, the valve and drive cylinder covers were chromed, and new logos were put on the tender. Subsequent work by the PRPA has restored the SP&S's original logos to the tender, returned the cylinder covers to their original black, removed the number boards, and returned the smokebox to its as-delivered graphite grey. Thus, the 700 today is virtually identical in function, appearance, and capability to the locomotive that was built in 1938.


Builder: Baldwin Locomotive Works

Delivered: June 20, 1938

Wheel Arrangement: 4-8-4, "Northern"

Driver Diameter: 77"

Boiler Pressure: 260 psi

Piston Bore x Stroke: 28" x 31"

Length: 110' 6 3/4" with tender

Weight: 485,820 lbs. engine only when operating (with water in boiler),  296,000 on the drivers

Fuel: Bunker C fuel oil

Tender Capacity: 20000gal water, 6000gal oil


Not sure how to interpret these figures? See our brief tutorial.

Comparisons with Other Steam Locomotives

Of the thousands of large steam passenger engines that ran in the 1940s, few still exist, and even fewer can be operated to pull passenger trains on main-line railroads. To illustrate, the website reports that of the over 1,100 4-8-4 "Northern" locomotives built for North American railroads, fewer than 50 still exist. Of these, only ten are identified as "operational" and only half of those have actually operated in the last few years. The remaining large locomotives are in parks and museums; a few are in private ownership. Most are stored outdoors. That previous inventory of work done on the 700 shows the difficulty of bringing a display engine back to life. Cost and effort aside, almost none of them can be revived because of fifty years of corrosion, vandalism, and parts "gone missing." The 700 is a member of a small cohort of large steam locomotives that are complete, in good repair, and capable of the kind of work for which they were designed.  Of the currently operating steam locomotives, the SP&S 700 is the third largest, the third heaviest, and the third strongest:

(Road, #)
Wheel Config.
Weight (lbs) Length Driver Diam.
Tractive Effort
Boiler Press.
Builder Year Built Operates?
Total Engine Only On Drivers
UP 4014 4-8-8-4 1189500 762000 540000 132' 9-1/4" 68 135375 300 23.75×32 ALCO 1941 N
UP 3985 4-6-6-4 1073900 627000 404000 121' 10-7/8" 69 97350 280 21×32 ALCO 1943 Y*
N&W 1218 2-6-6-4 951600 573000 433350 121' 9-1/4" 70 114000 300 24×31 N&W 1943 N
AT&SF 2926 4-8-4 961000 510700 294000 120' 10" 80 79968 300 28×32 Baldwin 1944 N
UP 844 4-8-4 907890 486340 266490 113' 9-3/4" 80 63750 300 25×32 ALCO 1944 Y**
SP&S 700 4-8-4 879700 485820 296500 110' 6-3/4" 77 69800 260 28×31 Baldwin 1938 Y
N&W 611 4-8-4 872600 494000 288000 109' 1-3/4" 70 77899 300 27×32 N&W 1950 Y
SP 4449 4-8-4 869800 475000 275700 110' 2-1/4" 80 64760 300 25.5×32 Lima 1941 Y
MILW 261 4-8-4 824100 >460000 259300 109' 7-7/8" 74 62119 250 26×32 ALCO 1944 N
AT&SF 3751 4-8-4 874346 478100 278000 108' 7" 80 71719 230 30×30 Baldwin 1927/1941 Y
C&O 614 4-8-4 865530 479400 282400 112' 8-1/2" 72 68300 255 27.5×30 Lima 1948 N
NKP 765 2-8-4 802500 440800 264300 100' 8-3/4" 69 64135 245 25×34 Lima 1944 Y
PM 1225 2-8-4 727300 442500 277600 101' 8" 69 69350 245 26×34 Lima 1941 Y

*  last ran in 2010

** last ran in 2013