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  • Rio Grande Diesel Color Schemes

    Figure 1. Denver and Rio Grande Western FT No. 551A, March, 1947. - D&RGW photo from the collection of the Colorado Historical Society.

    Figure 2. Denver and Rio Grande Western FT No. 549, July, 1947. - D&RGW photo from the collection of the Colorado Historical Society.
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    by Gordon C. Bassett

       The Denver & Rio Grande Western has operated cab type diesels for thirty five years and in that time has used a wide variety of color schemes. This article is an attempt to set down a brief chronological outline of these designs along with some variations.

       The first D&RGW road diesels were EMD FT's numbered 540 through 551, delivered between 1942 and 1944. They were painted gloss black with golden yellow striping (Figure 1). This photo was taken in 1947, probably at Salida, Colorado. There are a few changes from the original appearance, including the number board on the cab roof, and the addition of "A" to the unit number. The 'Rio Grande' on the nose, breaking the narrow yellow stripe beside the headlight is another change. The unit number on the nose is yellow. A good color picture of this design is found in the series of EMD Diesel posters published by Kalmbach in 1949 which shows the original colors of various EMD units on many railroads. This poster shows a tiny yellow 'D&RGW' at the rear of the unit, just below the top narrow stripe. The entire body, including the roof, was black, and the handrails were stainless steel.

       In 1946, the Rio Grande received F3's numbered 552 through 554, equipped for passenger service. These were still painted black and golden yellow, but the design featured much more yellow, including the pilot, nose, and cab roof. Figure 2 shows FT number 549 repainted in this manner. Another good photo of this design appears in Rio Grande to the Pacific, page 159. In this design, the yellow extends from the nose onto the cab roof, and back to a straight line across the roof, even with the front of the cab doors. The roof is black, but there is now a narrow yellow stripe both above and below the grills. The yellow 'D&RGW' still appears at the rear, below the grill. There are some interesting modifications on the FT pictured. Large homemade number boards replace the originals, and note the unusual classification lights salvaged from the number boards mounted higher on the nose. The cable running down the windshield center post is apparently an antenna lead to the cab radio.

       The Alco PA's, numbered 600 and 601, arrived in 1947, were painted in this design. Lyman Cox 'Vanishing Vista' card JT 330 is an excellent view of No. 601 as it was delivered.

       In May, 1947, the Rio Grande repainted their Alcos solid silver, with orange noses, to match the new California Zephyr (see Figure 3). The orange covered the top of the nose back to the windshield. This scheme lasted only a few months, and the photos are rare, although Lyman Cox card JT 626 is a good colored picture.

    Figure 3. D&RGW Alco PA on the point of the "California Zephyr, May, 1949. - D&RGW photo from the collection of the Colorado Historical Society.

    Figure 4. The D&RGW with EMD and Alco power on the "Prospector," July, 1952. - D&RGW photo from the collection of the Colorado Historical Society.
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       About 1950, a new design was adopted, which has lasted, with some modification, to the present day (see Figure 4). The Model Railroader Bluebook chart I-10, published in September, 1958, issue, is an excellent reference. The pilot and upper body are "Rio Grande Gold" (orange in actuality). The four stripes and the anticlimber ring are black. The roof, lower body below the stripes, and fuel tanks, are silver. Note that the silver does not extend across the nose, but ends in an arc on each side. The trucks here seem to be black, but other photos show they were silver on some units. The silver roof started in a semi-circular shape on the cab roof just ahead of the air horns. The black border of this arc can be seen meeting the sides just back of the cab doors. Other good photos can be found in Rio Grande to the Pacific, page 167, and Lucius Beebe's Rio Grande, pages 352-364. Lyman Cox card JT 338 is a fine picture of PA 6003 in these colors. This attractive scheme was adopted when the Prospector, the overnight Denver Salt Lake City train was streamlined. Prospector cars received the same colors, giving the train a most striking appearance. Rio Grande Gold is not the golden yellow used earlier. The Model Railroader Blue book sheet recommends a mix of 50-50 Floquil Reefer Yellow and Reefer Orange. This was supposed to be based on information from EMD and DuPont, so it should be quite close. There is wide variation in photos seen today, but I think this is more due to variations in time of day and photo processing. Based on the color of the lonely F9, 5771, today, I think I'd add a bit more than half orange. The older Golden Yellow seems to be close to Armour Yellow, with perhaps a touch of orange added.

       This design lasted into the 1960's. Beginning about 1961 it was simplified by replacing the four black stripes with one wide black one located in place of the two bottom stripes (see Figure 5). Black replaced silver o the roof at this time. The change-over took several years, and photos taken between 1961 and 1966 show mixed lash-ups. Today the sole surviving F9 set, led by 5771, wears this design as it takes the Rio Grande Zephyr from Denver to Salt Lake City and back three times a week. The photo was taken when the eastbound Rio Grande Zephyr paused in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in August of 1973. On the A unit, the black roof starts at a straight dividing line across the cab at the rear of the cab doors; the cab roof is orange (i.e. Rio Grande Gold). The roof has weathered to a greyish hue. As a sidelight, the smoothsided combine which normally leads off the consist is painted gold and silver to match the engines, while the rest of the cars are all Budd fluted stainless steel.

       This is a brief outline of Rio Grande color schemes over the years. The original research was in response to a reader question, so to add detail, I will address some of the specific questions. The first concerns roof colors for the orange and silver schemes. Generally, it appears that the four stripers had silver roofs, while the one stripers had black. In a few pictures, four stripers seem to have black roofs, but I think this is only grime and exhaust. With the later, one stripe pattern, I find no evidence of any silver roofs. In checking the pattern for the dividing line between orange and black or silver on the cab roof, the only design with silver is the semi-circular line, like the Model Railroader Bluebook plan. The dividing line varied on black roofs. Today, 5771 has a straight line across behind the cab doors. However, an F7 in Trains, November, 1965, has the rounded division a la silver roof, while another in Trains, October, 1967, has the black extending forward, almost to the wind shield. An excellent color photo in The Love of Trains, by Hand and Edmonson, shows F7 5551 with another variation. The dividing line is a shallow arc from the front of the grills across forward of the air horns. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Seriously, without a particular photo to go by, I'd use the pattern later in time, as I suspect economy had much to do with it. The data sheet from Micro-Scale's D&RGW diesel set (87-40) shows still another variation which I could not varify but I do not doubt it was actually used.

    Figure 5. Rio Grande Zephyr at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, August, 1973. - Gordon C. Bassett photo.
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       Turning to the original black and yellow PA's, all diagrams show a straight dividing line between yellow cab roof and black to the rear, located just behind the cab doors. But Lyman Cox cards JT 330 and JT 346 show something very odd; the black extends forward to the windshield, in a ragged pattern with traces of yellow at the center and sides of the cab roof. Yet a barely visible PA in the background seems to have yellow on the cab roof. I suspect the ragged pattern is actually grime and exhaust. PA's smoked badly during acceleration, and every overhead shot I've ever seen shows a dirty roof. I have a good shot of D&H units just out of the shop; trucks, MU hoses, even the front coupler are gleaming silver. yet the roof is grimy behind the exhaust stack. So I believe the Rio Grande units got very dirty running as the third unit, and the car washer brushes missed the cab roof when lifted over the air horns. I'd paint mine straight across and weather it accordingly.

       The toughest question to answer was: what color are the carbody ends? I could only find two pictures, both of orange and silver units. There is a good end view in the February, 1976, Railroad Modeler, and a glimpse in the background of Lyman Cox card JT 719. Both show that the ends are basically black, with the side colors, including the stripes, being carried around the corner and in about 9" to 12". Photos of all color schemes show the side colors going a bit around the corner, but I believe they probably all ended about a foot in, and the rest of the ends were black.

       I did run across a minor variation on some fourstripe units. Some PA's and some F's had a black or dark grey anti-panel on the nose, a la Union Pacific practice. Lyman Cox card JY719 shows a PA with a grey panel, and Trains, October, 1966, had an F unit similarly painted.

        This all goes to show that the Rio Grande fan has almost an infinite variety to model. If you look long enough, you will find nearly everything. I have only scratched the surface in an effort to catalog the main designs. For the serious fan, the Lyman Cox series of Rio Grande photo cards are an invaluable reference. The best one stop source of information is in the February, 1976, issue of Railroad Modeler. It contains at least one photo of every style cab unit except the short lived (1949) all silver PA. It also shows nearly every type of hood unit, in various colors.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Gordon C. Bassett
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date April 1978

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