Western Pacific 1503 was built in La Grange, Illinois at the Electro Motive Division of General Motors in May of 1973 at a cost of $207,134. As part of an order of 3 locomotives numbered 1501-1503, the SW1500's were delivered with Flexicoil trucks and full length, frame mounted hand rails. These three locomotives were the last switching locomotives built for the Western Pacific. The 1503 could usually be found throughout the 1970's and 80's working the industrial areas of San Francisco, which was indirectly served by WP's carferry "Las Plumas" that moved WP rail shipments across San Francisco bay between Oakland and "The City". 1503 Could often be found loading and unloading the Las Plumas in San Francisco.
Due to the merger between the Western Pacific and Union Pacific in December of 1982, the UP retired older Western Pacific locomotives, selling several to shortlines, scrapping a few and graciously donated several to the brand new Feather River Rail Society. The SW1500's however, were a very modern engine and were retained for use by the UP for obvious reasons. Soon, the small fleet was repainted in Union Pacific's Armour yellow and Harbor Mist gray scheme and sent back to work in the San Francisco bay area and Stockton, where they spent all of their careers working for the WP. Eventually, the SW1500's found their way to other parts of the vast UP system, and upon merger with Southern Pacific in 1996, UP's SW1500 fleet grew by leaps and bounds. By this point, 1503 was "another in a large roster of SW1500's" and found herself switching the yard in Yuma Arizona, a former SP terminal. Eventually, UP decided to sell off it's SW1500 fleet, opting for small road switchers instead to fill in for the local and switching duties often handled by the 1500's and auctioned them off to various shortlines and leasing companies. WP 1503 joined her three sisters on the auction block in East St. Louis Illinois in 2011. At a time when most large road locomotives got for around $150,000 at auction, SW1500's because of their dependability, rugged power, small stature and the fact that nobody has mass produced a switch engine since the EMD 1500 series, most SW1500's now go for upwards of $200-$250,000 at auction. Former WP Subsidiary Central California Traction Company utilizes a fleet of 4 former Southern Pacific SW1500's purchased at auction from UP to serve its busy and thriving Port of Stockton trackage.
Realizing the historical significance of the 1503 being the last switcher built for the WP, FRRS President Rod McClure appealed to the Union Pacific to donate the engine for preservation at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. In October 2011, the UP graciously donated the 1503 to the FRRS and delivered it just before Thanksgiving. The FRRS is excited about their new donation, but none more than Rod; as the 1503 is the first engine he worked on for the WP, and the last engine his father had worked on, often working together on the same crew. Cosmetically, 1503 has a decent UP paint job, however, we are working to raise money to repaint her back in her WP "Perlman Green" and orange appearance. The locomotive has a modern event recorder, alerter system (to keep the crew awake and alert), alignment control couplers, air conditioning, most mechanical parts are new, and she is in fantastic shape. A fuel and oil sample was sent to a laboratory in the Reno area and came back clean, and once the weather in Portola warms up, we'll put water in the system and fire it up and take our new treasure for a spin. WP 1503 is not only the most modern locomotive in our collection, due to the historical nature of this new acquisition, WP 1503 will be taken to off site events and operated for special occasions at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, her new home.
WP 1503 shortly after delivery, photo taken by Thomas Acheson in Oakland, July 4th, 1973.
WP 1503 at rest in Oakland on October 11th, 1980. Photo by Harlen Wilson.
WP 1503 in Oakland in November 1982
Photo from Kerry Cochran Collection
WP 1503 at rest in its new home at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, following donation from Union Pacific. Despite a little graffiti and its age, 1503 is in fantastic shape. Photo by Ed Wagner, FRRS, January, 2012.
charged in this January 2012 photo by Ed Wagner. Immediate
work is being performed on the batteries, electrical system (minor)
and new number boards, while the fluids were all sent out to an
independent laboratory. The lab gave 1503 a clean bill of
health, and fundraising is currently underway to get her painted.
WP 1503 at WPRM June 5th, 2016
Photo by Paul Finnegan
WP 1503's control stand, photo by Ed Wagner, January 2012.
side of 1503; the cab. Soon, UP's standard beige cab paint
will be repainted with WP's infamous "Sea-foam green", and control
stand and 26L air brake stand, will be repainted and restored along
with the rest of the engine. WP 1503 is the newest, most
modern locomotive in the FRRS collection, and, as the last switcher
purchased by WP, will make a fine stable mate for WP's first diesel
switcher, SW-1 #501, preserved at the museum. Please consider
helping FRRS reach their goal of repainting 1503 with a generous
donation of time, materials and/or money. Despite it's
fantastic mechanical condition, a paint job will cost upwards of
$15,000.00 to put 1503, one of our most treasured assets, into the
same cosmetic condition as our WP 707, 2001 & 805-A. With
1503's alignment control couplers, ditch lights, roller bearing
wheels, and FRA Blue card, once restoration is completed, 1503 will
make a fine ambassador for the museum at off site events with the
museums "Display train". Oh, by the way... we also have 1503's
Nathan M5 air horn, being tuned right now by our resident horn
WP 1503 at WPRM September 28th, 2019
Photo by Kenneth Finnegan