Warbonnets at Work


Santa Fe's "Warbonnet" paint scheme is one of the all-time classics in American railroading.  Passing through several variations since its introduction in 1937, the design is instantly recognizable. A Warbonnet-clad locomotive says "Santa Fe" louder than anything else.

Home Run.  That's the only way to describe the revived red-and-silver Warbonnet paint scheme, seen here close up on the cab of C40-8W No. 922.  The original designers hit this one right out of the park, and it really works on the modern GE locomotives.

Warbonnets Across New Mexico

On several occasions between May 1994 and October 1997, I had occasion to be in Mountainair, New Mexico, and nearby locales. Mountainair is the hamlet adjacent to the summit of Santa Fe's main line between Amarillo and Belen. The rails follow Abo canyon up from the Rio Grande valley, which is a pretty steep climb to Abo Summit. To the east the ground is high and the grades more moderate.

It was fortuitous that I took these images, since they offer a glimpse of the last days of the Santa Fe before the BNSF merger.
 Highway 47 crosses the tracks east of Becker, and is usually a good place to see a train or two. Here a westbound intermodal approaches the crossing...
... and rushes off towards Belen and the west. (5/06/1994)
 Endless intermodal trains are the rule on the AT&SF main. Here a westbound train approaches the end of double-track above the narrows of the canyon. (5/06/1994)
Walking in the west end of the cut at the summit, I was nearly caught by surprise by this westbound intermodal train.  I don't recommend standing this close to a moving train... especially one going so fast.  I wouldn't do this now-- old age has made me smarter...
 I finally managed to capture this signature shot at the summit. Coming around the curve, this train completely surprised me.  SD40u No. 5000 is leading.  (5/07/1994)  If you ever visit here, be more careful than I was...
Here an eastbound intermodal with five 6-axle units has crested the summit and is headed towards the highway overpass in "downtown" Mountainair. (5/07/1994)
 Later, a hundred miles to the west off Highway 6, I caught a set of three F45u's westbound. This is between Belen and Laguna, close to Suwanee. (5/07/1994)
Two Dash-8's and a Dash-9 have a westbound manifest freight at the same location as above. (5/07/1994)
On May 13, 1995, a westbound autorack is a couple miles past the summit. Notice the interesting mix of power: Dash 9-44CW and F45.  The Dash-9 (alternately, a C44-9W) shows off the red-and-silver warbonnet scheme, a revival of one of the railroad's most popular schemes from years past. 
 Here's the same train, further west near Abo-- a classic pacing shot.  (5/13/1995)

 The J.B. Hunt company had a close relationship with the Santa Fe, and shipped hundreds of trailers and containers daily. TOP: Here an eastbound JB Hunt train grinds up the tangent just west of the summit. U36Cu (SF30C) No. 9549 is on the point. (5/12/1995)

BOTTOM: Same train, going away, showing the styles of containers in use (soft-sided 48-footers on top, rigid 45's on the bottom). Also note that the well cars are BN-- a foreshadowing of the imminent merger.

Thru-the-windshield grab shot of GP60 No. 143 and SD45-2B No. 5517, as they cross the overpass in Fort Sumner eastbound, late June 1997.  This was an interesting match-up of locomotives.  No. 5517 is particularly interesting, having been originally standard SD45 No. 5700, painted into the Bicentennial scheme in 1975, then rebuilt as a B unit in 1988.  This shot, though post-merger, shows Santa Fe in a Santa Fe setting, so I placed it here rather than down below...

Sandy clay, scrub grass and tumbleweeds, hot sun and chilly winds carrying dust are constant companions in New Mexico. It's a harsh environment, yet the Santa Fe ran an absolutely first-class operation there. Now BNSF continues the tradition.

Warbonnets in Arizona

One morning late in March 1988, I photographed this westbound train just west of Holbrook, Arizona.  Half of its six units were still wearing the paint scheme from the recently-thwarted SPSF merger.  Leading is SD45u No. 5375, followed by SD40-2 No. 5044, GP50 No. 3811, SD45u No. 5348, F45u No. 5950, and another SD45u.  This was a bunch of horsepower for a fairly short manifest freight train.
  April 1994, I photographed this local switching movement in Flagstaff, AZ.  GP30u No. 2717 is leading at the moment.
  A westbound autorack train with a typical selection of Santa Fe power moves through Flagstaff, on the same day as the train above.  SD40-2 No. 5170 is on the point, with snoot SD40-2 No. 5122 next, plus  three more units in blue-and-yellow.

Warbonnets in Colorado

I do not have many shots that fall in this category, and most of these are post-merger, but here you go...
A pair of Dash-8's, with No. 846 on the near end, cut in some cars in the Colorado Springs yard on 9/15/94.  That's quite the mural to the right.  The old D&RGW depot is the building at left.  One of my favorite photos...  (See here, here, and here for more photos taken on this day)
On 12/28/1997, an eastbound trackage rights BNSF train is hitting the 2% grade at Fraser, CO with SD75M No. 223 as the trailing unit.
Not long after the merger (February 1996), SD40-2 No. 5044 is leading a short northbound manifest at Fountain, Colorado, on the joint line.

Warbonnets in Transition

The periods just after mergers are usually hard on railfans, especially if they have a strong attachment to the previous roads.  Looking back, however, these times show to be extremely interesting, with a wide variety of equipment mixed together, and running in locales where it was never seen before.  Such was the case in May 1996 when I made yet another trip to the Abo Summit area.  BN equipment was becoming common, but solid sets of AT&SF power were still a regular occurrence.

Pure Santa Fe: Three Dash-8's and a C44-9W fly past with a westbound intermodal train at Abo Summit.
More Pure Santa Fe: an eastbound manifest freight grinds slowly up to the summit.  C44-8W No. 622 leads, with an SD45u and SD40u on the drawbar.  It looked to me like they sorely needed at least one more unit on this train...
Next morning, this eastbound pig train had ATSF SD40-2 No. 5181 on the point, followed by three BN alumni.  No doubt now about it being in the post-merger era.
West of the summit, this autorack train had quite a variety of power, with B40-8 No. 7442, GP30u No. 2784, and BN B30-7A No. 4020.  Too bad the photo was backlit.
Another look at the same train, approaching Scholle.

Warbonnets on the BNSF

After the merger, BNSF experimented with a variety of paint schemes.  One was based on traditional AT&SF colors (essentially the red-silver warbonnet with BNSF letters); another drew heavily on the Great Northern colors of the past (Heritage I, or H1); yet another blended the Santa Fe blue-yellow with the GN scheme (H2).  Mix these with the two Santa Fe schemes still running and the BN green, and you had a rainbow of locomotive paint.  This continues to the present, though the BNSF orange is beginning to dominate.

A couple of days near Mountainair, October 10-11, 1997, revealed just what a variety could be seen on any given day.

Early afternoon on October 10th, this eastbound pig train approaches the grade crossing at Sais.  It has C44-9W No. 620 and on the point, with C40-8W No. 809 and BN SD40-2 No. 7115 assisting.
A few miles east, at Abo, the same train meets a westbound baretable with a pair of BN geeps for power.
Early on October 11, this eastbound rack train passes through the cut at Mountainair at Abo Summit, led by SD75M No. 242 and SD45-2u No. 5810.  Neither has been "patched" yet with BNSF lettering.
The same train, going away.  How these two shadowy photos turned out so well is beyond me! I like the SD45-2s. This one was repainted in BNSF H1 paint the following year.
This eastbound stack train at Sais could serve as a metaphor for the entire merger process, if you read from left to right.
Following right behind was this pig train with a solid set of AT&SF SD45-2s.  All in blue-and-yellow, no less.  This was getting less common, and would be very rare within a couple of years.

For additional pages of mine containing AT&SF (and BNSF) power, see here and here.


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