SP History Center Switches Gears to Focus on Documentation, Oral Histories

The non-profit that previously wanted to build a physical museum is now looking to sell equipment, including SP’s only Budd RDC. Photo by Roger Puta.

SP History Center Switches Gears to Focus on Documentation, Oral Histories

By Justin Franz 

A non-profit group that once had aspirations to build a physical museum dedicated to the history of the Southern Pacific recently decided to switch gears and will now focus entirely on preserving documentation and oral histories related to the iconic western railroad. 

Bill Fowler, president of the Southern Pacific Railroad History Center, tells Railfan & Railroad that a number of factors led to the decision earlier this year, but that group is confident that it is the right one. For one, purchasing land for a large museum in Northern California was deemed cost prohibitive. Secondly, there are already a number of museums in the region that are preserving SP equipment. And finally, the board of directors felt that the organization could do more to preserve the SP story by focusing on documentation. The group currently has a website, splives.org, that it plans on expanding in the coming months in order to share documents, photos, maps and more. 

“We gave some quality material that hasn’t seen the light of day and I think it will fill some gaps in the knowledge of SP history,” he said. 

With the SP having been merged into the Union Pacific more than a quarter century ago, Fowler said it was important to get knowledge of the railroad recorded before its workers passed away. To do that, the group plans on interviewing former employees and releasing those interviews online, either as part of a Zoom presentation or podcast. 

“We want to get this information out there before people pass on,” he said. 

The group currently has a small archive space in California and Fowler said they’re hoping to take on some important document collections in the coming years. Those items will be scanned and then made available online, first to members and eventually to the wider public. Fowler said they wanted to make it easy for people around the country and the world to access the information. 

Prior to abandoning its plans for a physical museum, the group did acquire a few pieces of equipment, most notably SP-10, the railroad’s only Budd RDC, and a Central Pacific passenger car. Fowler said the group is working on finding both those pieces a good home. 

This article was posted on: August 23, 2023