Santa Fe Diesels


Santa Fe's first set of diesel-electric passenger locomotives was placed in service on the Super Chief in 1936, and consisted of a pair of blunt-nosed units (EMC 1800 hp B-B) designated as Nos. 1 and 1A. The upper portion of the sides and ends of the units were painted gold, while the lower section was a dark olive green color; an olive stripe also ran along the sides and widened as it crossed the front of the locomotive.

Riveted to the sides of the units were metal plaques bearing a large "Indian Head" logo, which owed its origin to the 1926 Chief "drumhead" logo. "Super Chief" was emblazoned on a plaque located on the front. The rooftop was light slate gray, rimmed by a red pinstripe. This unique combination of colors was called the Golden Olive paint scheme. Before entering service, Sterling McDonald's General Motors Styling Department augmented the look with the addition of red and blue striping along both the sides and ends of the units in order to enhance their appearance.

49105wlIn a little over a year, the EMC E1 (a new and improved streamlined locomotive) would be pulling the Super Chief and other passenger consists, resplendent in the now-famous Warbonnet paint scheme devised by Leland Knickerbocker of the GM Art and Color Section. Its design is protected under U.S. Patent D106,920, granted on November 9, 1937. It is reminiscent of a Native American ceremonial headdress. The scheme consisted of a red "bonnet" which wrapped around the front of the unit and was bordered by a yellow stripe and black pinstripe. The extent of the bonnet varied according to the locomotive model, and was largely determined by the shape and length of the carbody. The remainder of the unit was either painted silver or was composed of stainless-steel panels.

All units wore a nose emblem consisting of an elongated yellow "Circle and Cross" emblem with integral "tabs" on the nose and the sides, outlined and accented with black pinstripes, with variances according to the locomotive model. "SANTA FE" was displayed on the horizontal limb of the cross in black, Art Deco-style lettering. This emblem has come to be known as the "cigar band" due to its uncanny resemblance to the same. On all but the "Erie-built" units (which were essentially run as a demonstrator set), GE U28CG, GE U30CG, and FP45 units, a three-part yellow and black stripe ran up the nose behind the band.

A "Circle and Cross" motif (consisting of a yellow field, with red quadrants, outlined in black) was painted around the side windows on "as-delivered" E1 units. Similar designs were added to EMD E3s, EMD E6s, the DL109/110 locomotive set, and ATSF 1A after it was rebuilt and repainted. The sides of the units typically bore the words "SANTA FE" in black, 5"– or 9"–high extra extended Railroad Roman letters, as well as the "Indian Head" logo, with a few notable exceptions.


Diesels used as switchers between 1935 and 1960 were painted black, with just a thin white or silver horizontal accent stripe (the sills were painted similarly). The letters "A.T.& S.F." were applied in a small font centered on the sides of the unit, as was the standard blue and white "Santa Fe" box logo. After World War II, diagonal white or silver stripes were added to the ends and cab sides to increase the visibility at grade crossings (typically referred to as the Zebra Stripe scheme). "A.T.& S.F." was now placed along the sides of the unit just above the accent stripe, with the blue and white "Santa Fe" box logo below.

Due to the lack of abundant water sources in the American desert, the Santa Fe Railway was among the first railroads to receive large numbers of streamlined diesel locomotives for use in freight service, in the form of the EMD FT. For the first group of FTs, delivered between December, 1940 and March, 1943 (#100–#119), the railroad selected a color scheme consisting of dark blue accented by a pale yellow stripe up the nose, and pale yellow highlights around the cab and along the mesh and framing of openings in the sides of the engine compartment; a thin, red stripe separated the blue areas from the yellow.

Because of a labor dispute with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, who insisted that every cab in a diesel-electric locomotive consist must be manned, FT sets #101-#105 were delivered in A-B-B-B sets, instead of A-B-B-A sets used by the rest of Santa Fe's FT's. Santa Fe quickly prevailed in this labor dispute, and FT sets from #106-onward were delivered as A-B-B-A sets.

49026wlThe words SANTA FE were applied in yellow in a 5"–high extended font, and centered on the nose was the "Santa Fe" box logo (initially consisting of a blue cross, circle, and square painted on a solid bronze sheet, but subsequently changed to baked steel sheets painted bronze with the blue identifying elements applied on top). Three thin, pale yellow stripes (known as Cat Whiskers) extended from the nose logo around the cab sides. 


In January, 1951, Santa Fe revised the scheme to consist of three yellow stripes running up the nose, with the addition of a blue and yellow Cigar Band (similar in size and shape to that applied to passenger units); the blue background and elongated yellow "SANTA FE" lettering were retained.

49320wlThe years 1960 to 1972 saw non-streamlined freight locomotives sporting the "Billboard" color scheme (sometimes referred to as the "Bookends" or "Pinstripe" scheme), wherein the units were predominantly dark blue with yellow ends and trim, with a single yellow accent pinstripe. The words "Santa Fe" were applied in yellow in a large serif Cooper Black font (logotype) to the sides of the locomotive below the accent stripe (save for yardswitchers which displayed the "SANTA FE" in small yellow letters above the accent stripe, somewhat akin to the Zebra Stripe arrangement).

49021 05awFrom 1972 to 1996, and even on into the BNSF era, the company adopted a paint scheme often known among railfans as the "Yellowbonnet", which placed more yellow on the locomotives (reminiscent of the company's retired Warbonnet scheme); the goal again was to ensure higher visibility at grade crossings. The truck assemblies, previously colored black, now received silver paint.


In 1989, Santa Fe resurrected the "Warbonnet" scheme and applied the scheme in a modified fashion to two FP45 units, #5992 and #5998 (displaying "Santa Fe" in billboard-style red letters across the side). The units were re-designated as #101 and #102 and reentered service on July 4, 1989 as part of the new "Super Fleet" campaign (the first Santa Fe units to be so decorated for freight service). The six remaining FP45 units were thereafter similarly repainted and renumbered. From that point forward, most new locomotives wore red and silver, and many retained this scheme after the Burlington Northern Santa Fe merger, some with "BNSF" displayed across their sides.

For the initial deliveries of factory-new "Super Fleet" equipment, Santa Fe took delivery of the EMD GP60M, GP60B and General Electric B40-8W, which made Santa Fe the only US Class I railroad to operate new 4-axle (B-B) freight locomotives equipped with the North American Safety Cab. These units were intended for high-speed intermodal service, but toward the final days of the railroad, could be found working local trains and branchline assignments.

Several experimental and commemorative paint schemes emerged during Santa Fe's diesel era. One combination was developed and partially implemented in anticipation of a merger between the parent companies of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific (SP) railroads in 1984. The red, yellow, and black paint scheme (with large yellow block letters "SF" on the sides and ends of the units; space was left preceding the SF to complete the planned combined SPSF) of the proposed Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad (SPSF) has come to be somewhat derisively known among railfans as the Kodachrome livery, due to the similarity in colors to the boxes containing slide film sold by the Eastman Kodak Company under the same name. A joke among railfans is that "SPSF" really stands for "Shouldn't Paint So Fast."

Santa Fe Reefers

For Santa Fe reefer operations info, please visit the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society's web site. Their feature article "Reefer Operations on Model Railroads" provides excellent coverage.

Reefer classes RR-A through RR-18 were wood sided reefers; RR-19 through RR-55 were steel reefers.

Painting & Lettering

Greg Mahlkov writes "ATSF went from curved to straight line maps in 1940, and dropped maps in favor of 'Ship and Travel' in 1947, so by 1954, most would be 'Ship and Travel' cars." The cars were also lettered to advertise various passenger trains.

HO Scale Models

RR21 Steel Reefer

This class was built in 1937 and modified in 1955.

InterMountain #46111 - Ship & Travel/Large Herald [starting in 1947]


InterMountain #46117 - No Slogan

46117a side 1 no slogan wl

RR23 Steel Reefer

This class was built in 1937, rebuilt in 1938, and modified in 1955.

InterMountain #46105 - The Chief, Ship & Travel [starting in 1947]

46105aw side 1

InterMountain #46107 - El Capitan, Ship & Travel [starting in 1947]

46107a side 1 El Capitan wl

InterMountain #46108 - Grand Canyon, Ship & Travel [starting in 1947]

46108a side 1 Grand Canyon Line wl

46108a side 2 slogan side wl

RR27 Steel Reefer

This class was rebuilt in 1939-40, and modified in 1954-55.

InterMountain #46103 - Grand Canyon, Curved Line Map

46103aw side 1

InterMountain #46104 - The Scout, Curved Line Map

46104aw side 1

InterMountain #46106 - The Chief West, Curved Line Map

46106aw side 1

InterMountain #46112 - El Capitan, Curved Line Map



RR28 Steel Reefer

This class was rebuilt in 1940, and modified in 1955.

InterMountain #46113 - Super Chief, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]

46113a side 1 Super Chief awl

InterMountain #46116 - The Chief West, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]



InterMountain #46115 - Texas Chief, Ship & Travel [starting in 1947]

46115a side 1 Texas Chief wl

46115a side 2 slogan side wl

RR32 Steel Reefer

This class was rebuilt in 1941, and modified in 1956.

InterMountain #46109 - Super Chief, Ship & Travel [starting in 1947]

46109a side 1 Super Chief awl

46109a side 2 slogan side awl

InterMountain #46101 - Super Chief, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]

46101aw side 1

46101w side 2

InterMountain #46102 - El Capitan, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]

46102aw side 1

InterMountain #46110 - The Chief West, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]

46110 side 1 The Chief wl

InterMountain #46114 - Grand Canyon Line, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]


InterMountain #46118 - The Scout, Straight Line Map [starting in 1940]

46118a side 1 The Scout awl

46118a side 2 map side awl