In 1937 the Southern Pacific trumpeted a new train in full-page magazine ads:
Let us stand by the tracks of Southern Pacific's Coast Line, as thousands now do every day and listen.Suddenly from far off comes a musical note, rising. Round a curve flashes a streak of color. Here comes the Daylight, the most beautiful train in the West!
The Daylights linked Los Angeles and San Francisco \"in a glorious daylight trip, streaking along the Pacific Ocean for more than a hundred breathless miles.\" Travelers were invited to \"Step inside the Daylight and see the beauty and luxury that have already won the West. Notice the wide, soft seats in the coaches. They are cushioned with sponge rubber and turn to face the extraordinarily large windows.\" Presenting a glorious streak of orange and red from locomotive to observation car, the Daylights were a sharp departure from the SP's normal dark olive passenger cars.
Leading the trains were the Southern Pacific's class GS (for \"Golden State\") Northerns, arguably among the handsomest steam engines ever built. Constructed by Lima Locomotive Works, inventor of the super-power concept, the Daylight 4-8-4s had the combination of power and speed that characterized steam power at its zenith. Class GS-4 engines, delivered in 1941 and 1942, were among the last and best-looking of the breed, with tall 80\" drivers and enclosed all-weather cabs. In addition to handling premier passenger trains, the Golden State 4-8-4s were regularly used on the SP's famed Overnight high-speed freight service. Long before FedEx existed, it provided overnight business deliveries between San Francisco and Los Angeles, carrying everything from groceries to replacement car engines.
A lone GS-4, No. 4449, was saved from the scrapper and donated to the city of Portland, Oregon, where it sat mounted and stuffed in a city park for 16 years. Jack Holst, an elderly Southern Pacific employee, visited the engine regularly, oiling its bearings and rods in the hope that it would someday return to steam. As a result of his efforts, No. 4449 was in good enough shape that it was chosen as the western engine for the American Freedom Train, returning to steam just four months to begin touring the country in 1975 in celebration of our nation's 200th anniversary. Repainted in Daylight colors, the engine still operates today in excursion service.
GS-6 \"War Babies\"
In the middle of World War II, the Southern Pacific attempted to order an additional 14 GS-4s. But the War Production Board, which controlled industrial production during the war, turned down the order, deeming streamlined passenger engines too frivolous for wartime production. The SP then resubmitted the order with a few changes, as a dual-service passenger and freight engine. \"GS\" now stood for \"General Service\" rather than \"Golden State\"; the streamlined side skirts were no longer present; the simplified smokebox front had a single headlight; and the paint scheme was plain black.
Designated class GS-6, the engines were delivered in the late summer of 1943. The War Production Board diverted six of them to the power-starved Western Pacific, which designated them class GS-64. On both roads, they ran in both freight and passenger service, and even in commuter service on the SP between San Francisco and San Jose.