Monday, February 24, 2014

All Hail The Warbonnet!

Zooming northbound on an empty grain train, BNSF 8241 still wears its Santa Fe name and warbonnet paint scheme at Ponder, Texas, on February 21, 2014.

It's almost UN-AMERICAN to not love the silver and red Warbonnet paint scheme created for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway back in the late  1930s for its first streamlined passenger diesel locomotives.

It became an icon of American industrial design, and symbolized the railroad and its ties to the desert Southwest.

It wasn't only worn on streamlined passenger locomotives--it appeared in the late-1960s on diesels designed for freight service but equipped with boilers to handle the passenger trains. And a variation of the paint--nicknamed "blue bonnet" or "yellow bonnet," depending upon the predominant color used--became the standard freight colors of the railway too beginning in the early 1970s.

In the final years of Santa Fe, before merger with Burlington Northern in 1995 to become BNSF, Santa Fe president Mike Haverty resurrected the silver and red, much to the collective orgasms of railfans everywhere. Hundreds of new locomotives were delivered in the scheme as part of a marketed "Super Fleet" of locomotives supposedly dedicated to Santa Fe's reliable, premium-priced intermodal service. The final locomotives to wear the Warbonnet in its original guise, ten FP45's delivered in 1968, were returned to their original colors. Soon to follow: GP60M's and GP60B,s B40-9W's, several models of big new General Electrics, and--the last new locomotives delivered to Santa Fe--SD75M's.

BNSF's first few years--the railroad was actually named Burlington Northern Santa Fe before renamed into something less meaningful but just as much a mouthful to say--was rife with struggle between the "Red Team" and "Green Team." The railroad initially didn't show a unified corporate image with its new locomotives, as new locomotives appeared in the "Grinstein green and cream" of its SD70MAC coal locomotives and "Heritage One" C-44-9W's wearing a Great Northern-inspired green and orange. But the Warbonnet wasn't dead yet, even with the demise of the beloved AT&SF: more SD75's, and GE C-44-9W's arrived in the silver and red, albiet wearing BNSF initials.

By 1997, though, BNSF had settled on a single unifed scheme, merging the green and orange of the Heritage One paint with the "Warbonnet" nose piece. It was deemed "Heritage Two."

Today, a decade and a half past the merger, that silver and red Warbonnet is still represented on the BNSF roster, although becoming more worn and tattered with each passing year. Many of the locomotives delivered in the Super Fleet Haverty years have been repainted, several have left the roster, but it's still not uncommon to see one of the ragged survivors.

The other day, while aimlessly wandering on a beautiful late winter day using "photography" as an excuse to get out of the house, I stumbled upon one of the last of the Santa Fe SD75M's delivered. Originally  ATSF 241, it wears its BNSF-applied road number 8241. In a twist of irony given its longevity, the locomotive will soon be renumbered back to its original Santa Fe number as hordes of new General Electric locomotives entering service encroach upon the 8200-number series.

Rusty and faded, but apparently fully amortized, the 8241 has returned from storage, the SD75M's among the "worst performers" on the roster as a locomotive class when measured by MTBF--Mean Time Between Failure.  They've been counted out as gone for good before, but a locomotive shortage brought on by a harsh winter, insufficient train service employees, and a traffic upswing exacerbated by new crude oil traffic has brought them back out on the road.

How long will they last this time? Take a good look, because nothing is for certain anymore in Today's railroading. The Atcheson, Topeka & Santa Fe didn't last forever--neither will the locomotives that nearly 20 years after its demise still wear its honored name.

A year after Santa Fe ceased to exist as a railroad, newly-created BNSF continued to deliver locomotives in its iconic red and silver "Warbonnet" paint, seen on brand-new SD75M's 8270/8268 at Buenos, Texas in March 1996. Trailing are two Santa Fe locomotves in the derivative "Yellow Bonnet" scheme.

1 comment:

Nick Fotis said...

Seriously, I feel that no railfan worldwide does not love the warbonnet paint scheme.

The arrival of the Super Fleet sent waves of euphoria worldwide.

Let's hope that Uncle Warren will order a repaint of a whole fleet of locomotives in this paint scheme.