Santa Fe Warbonnet Diesels

The advent of the diesel locomotive, with its relatively clean lines and large surfaces able to be painted, allowed railroads to finish their locomotive power in a number of notable paint schemes, before austerity in the 1950s led to more utilitarian finishes. But perhaps the most famous of these was the Warbonnet scheme applied by the AT&SF on its passenger diesels starting in the late 1930s. Developed by EMD for the Santa Fe, the silver and red Warbonnet would find immortality in popular memory, especially since it was heavily marketed and replicated in model form so often.

Warbonnet was first applied to Santa Fe’s prewar E-units, and after the war, to FTs, F3s, F7s, and Alco PAs. The need for large numbers of new passenger locomotives for US railroads had essentially ended by the 1960s – with passenger rail traffic fading by the year and more EMD E-units available than required in many cases, the day of new Warbonnets had seemingly passed. However, by mid-decade the Santa Fe required a limited number of new locomotives, and General Electric’s first entrant for this requirement was the U28CG of 1966. ten of this model were delivered, differing from the freight U28C in having steam generators. The U28CGs would prove less than successful and were not handed over to Amtrak in the 1970s, finishing out their days instead hauling freight in Bluebonnet colors. More distinctive were the later U30CGs, which had nonstructural carbodies with fluted sides. Only six of this model were built for the Santa Fe, although Amtrak would later buy 25 examples of the similar but longer HEP-equipped P30CH.

The coming of Amtrak spelled a temporary end to the Warbonnet, with some F-units relegated to freight work receiving the “Yellowbonnet” paint, while the new standard scheme would be the “Bluebonnet”.

Although the day on Santa Fe’s streamliners was long over by the late 1980s, the Warbonnet would experience a renaissance, as the AT&SF resurrected the scheme for its new Super Fleet locomotives. This period also marked a return to the Warbonnet paint by the surviving FP45s; new SD75Ms, GP60s, Dash-8s, and Dash-9s came from factory finished in an updated Warbonnet, the first such new locomotives to be so painted in a generation.

Warbonnet Bibliography:

Mike Schafer “Little Chiefs of the Santa Fe” Prototype Modeler August 1986 p.21-22. Prototype photos include #388, E8Am #84

Photo: Super Fleet SD75M #205 Railfan & Railroad July 1995 p.4

Photo: EMD E3A/B in Warbonnet colors Railroad Model Craftsman August 1992 p.86

Photo: Alco PA #51 in Warbonnet paint. Model Railroader May 1999 p.134


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