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Southern Pacific GP35 6653 Gets Around

October 2, 2010

It’s been a while since I posted anything from the early days of my career as a railfan. So I scanned a few prints from the Instamatic days, among others this shot of SP GP35 6653.

SP GP35 6653 leads a short northbound on the Dallas Belt in July of 1972

The 6653 is traveling on a section of the SP known as the Dallas Belt Line. It’s a bypass, running through the east side of Dallas, that was built to reduce rail traffic on the streets of downtown Dallas.

Due to the growth of downtown Dallas by the early 1900’s,  the amount of trains on the Houston & Texas Central (acquired by the SP in 1883) tracks through downtown had become a safety and traffic congestion problem.

In 1926, the Dallas Belt Line was completed to permit the Southern Pacific to bypass downtown. The 8.9 mile long bypass started at Tower 118 and rejoined the original line at Gifford, north of downtown.

By November 1927, the Dallas Belt Line was averaging 68 through train movements and 35 switch engine movements daily. I suspect removing over 100 trains from the streets of downtown Dallas made a difference!

The original north/south main line was downgraded to secondary status and was eventually abandoned.  After World War II, the H&TC right-of-way was sold to the City of Dallas to be used for the construction of Central Expressway.

I have another view, and information about the current status of the Dallas Belt.

It was very interesting to research, and learn more about this line that I railfanned as a kid.

But the best part was when I scanned the print. Due to the small size of the original print, I had never been able to make out the number of the lead unit. Now I was finally able, after nearly 40 years, to ID the lead unit as SP 6653.

Now I wanted to know if I had ever seen the unit since that summer day in Dallas in 1972?  Quick, run to the SP slide boxes.

SP 6653 at Victoria, TX on March 29, 1989. Note the EMD GP60 demonstrator at far right.

Bingo! In 1989, unbeknownst to me, I had encountered the same SP GP35 that had thrilled this 12 year-old kid on a bike with his parents Instamatic camera.

So many things had changed for me between 1972 and 1989, but as for SP 6653, it was unchanged other than having the class lights removed from the short hood. The 6653 never even received the “SP” initials on the nose.

But change was coming for the 6653. It was retired by the SP in 1990, sold to Morrison-Knudsen, which proceeded to re-manufacture the 6653 into Burlington Northern GP39M 2870 in 1991. It later became BNSF 2870.

BNSF GP39M 2870 at Interbay,WA on Sept. 5, 2007

I was unaware that my old friend, SP 6653, was even still out there until I was wrapping up this post. I wanted to learn the disposition of the unit, so I did a quick Google.

Needless to say, I’m quite tickled to see that one of my first rail photo subjects is still out there nearly 40 years after I was able to get a snapshot of it. I found a shot of BNSF 2870 switching stacks here

In hindsight, I should have realized that this unit might still be running. It was only 3 weeks ago that I did a post about the  “reincarnation” of Cotton Belt GP35 6502, in which I mentioned that 24 ex-SP/SSW GP35’s found their way into a “next life” as GP39M’s for the BN.

Sidenote:  I thought I’d never end this post! I kept coming across more and more information that shed light on the history of the tracks or the GP35 in question. I went through 5 revisions before the post was ready to publish…

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