Re: The curious case of NP box car colors in the 50's

Garth Groff <sarahsan@...>


Something nobody has mentioned is that in the early years of the 20th century, some railroads were still buying dry pigment (probably in barrels) and mixing their own paint with linseed oil. Every mix would likely have been slightly different. This was done on the Northern Electric Railway for the poppy-orange color used on both their interurban cars and freight motors. When the road was reorganized as the Sacramento Northern Railroad circa 1920, passenger cars were repainted Pullman green and the freight motors solid black. SN expert Bob Campbell thought that stocks of the yellow pigment were still around after WWII and were used to paint the yellow scare stripes on the electric locomotives. The SNRR and SNRY built or completely rebuilt some of their wooden freight cars up into the 1920s, and likely those cars where painted with rollers and brushes, whether the paint was dry pigment or pre-mix.

When pre-mixed paint came along, many railroads still applied it with brushes and rollers.
Remember, even Henry had his Model-Ts brush painted for many years. Then spray equipment became common, and likely required a different formula to work in the machines. This change could have marked a difference in how the paint looked on some roads.

Those of you who know more about the history of railroad paint might be able to suggest when pre-mix paint and then spray equipment became common.

Yours Aye,

Garth Groff 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

On 12/19/18 11:38 PM, Dennis Storzek wrote:
Another consideration concerning paint, color matching, and cost. 

Anyone who has purchased paint commercially, even model paint, knows that, unlike the paint department at the big box store, different colors have different prices. And, unlike the fixed chromatic values of the RGB phosphors on a computer monitor, paint is made with pigments that, whether natural or synthetic, are not a "pure" color. The end result is there is more than one way to formulate an acceptable match to a desired color, and the way to win that big contract is to figure out how to do it with the least expensive pigments. This may explain why many railroads went to darker freightcar colors when synthetic pigments became available. In the days of natural pigment, the various natural clays colored orange with the oxides of iron were likely cheapest; this may not have been the easiest color to match with the new synthetics, and one by one, the railroad's desire to have everything neat and tidy was overruled by the potential for cost savings if the color could be changed.

Likewise, new streamlined passenger trains should be matched sets... but fifteen years later, when the only color the accounting dept. was seeing was red, maybe matched sets were no longer that important.

Then there were times when color was important simply because the executive suite said it was. As related in The Little Jewel Wallace Abby, who was involved in the affair, states that the Soo Line's red, white, and black color scheme, developed for locomotives just after the end of the time period of this list and soon migrating to freightcars, was a direct result of the mechanical department's  cost cutting measures that eliminated the imitation gold trim on the locomotives, turning them into solid maroon blobs, on the eve of the merger that top management wanted to portray, for PR purposes, as dynamic. Once the executive suite was involved, they were several color changes on successive locomotive orders until they were satisfied with the contrast between the base color and lettering.

Moral of the story is there are many unseen forces at work, and the desire that all things match is normally not the most important of them.

Dennis Storzek

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