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Painting the Pine Valley

Painting the Pine Valley

Painting the Pine Valley


Empire Builder

 by Ryan Harris 



 The Pine Valley is a protolanced railroad with new construction that began February 1983 over existing but abandoned railroad grade for a portion of the line and totally new grade for the remainder of the line. Although approval for new railroad construction would likely take several years, I rationalized that approval would be hastened because of the value of the railroad’s primary cargo to the defense minded Reagan adinistration. So while my railroad duplicates the D&RGW line from Farmington, NM to Ignacio, CO, it is not related to the D&RGW in any way.


 Rationale for the Paint Scheme

Since my railroad came to being in the mid 1980s, the opportunity existed to design a paint scheme to reflect the character of the region in brilliant color. The precedent for bright paint schemes had been set by several railroads following the demise of the steam locomotive, but these were usually reserved for passenger equipment. Many railroads had bright freight schemes such as Santa Fe’s blue and yellow warbonnet, CPRail’s “Multimark” (pac man) scheme, Burlington Northern’s cascade green, and of course Chessie System’s cat scheme. Others, such as Union Pacific’s yellow and gray and Southern Pacific’s red and gray, were visible but not as bright and could look clean even when dirty. The colors used in these two schemes also reflected the character of the Southwestern US and helped link the name on the locomotive’s side with the colors of the region it served.


Function of the Paint Scheme

The colors needed to reflect the region my railroad serves. The Northeastern extent of the railroad traverses the San Juan Mountains in Colorado and climbs to within an arm’s reach of the Continental Divide, while the Southwestern end of the railroad crosses the brilliant desert of Western New Mexico. The deep blue-green was chosen to recall the ubiquitous blue-spruce tree covering the Pine Valley in Colorado and the red was chosen to reflect the desert mountains and sunset.




Safety, particularly highway grade crossing safety, has become a high priority for railroads in the past twenty years. For this reason, many railroads started applying reflective striping to their equipment. The Pine Valley paint scheme design took this safety consciousness into consideration and is evidenced by the reflective white barricade stripes at each end, the reflective locomotive number on the cab sides, the reflective red sill stripe, and the white dividing stripe on the long hood. These features help an otherwise dark locomotive stand out at night and hopefully prevent accidents.


The form of the paint scheme, that is, the shapes of each color field, drew inspiration from several sources. The end barricade stripes are reminiscent of Santa Fe’s zebra scheme and Southern Pacific’s tiger stripe scheme, but probably bear the greatest resemblance to Burlington Northern’s cascade green scheme. The relationship of the red and green regions on the long hood suggests a reversed warbonnet (I make no secret of the inspiration provided by the Santa Fe railroad!). This shape might also be seen as representing the relationship of the forested mountains to the desert, how the forest seems to “cradle” the desert and the mountains surround it.


Overall, the paint scheme was designed to reflect the railroad’s place economically, historically, and geographically in the world. The safety features of the scheme give it a modern tone, the colors help place it regionally, the dominant dark tones give it the illusion that it is clean even when dirty (thus saving the maintenance department money that might be spent washing the locomotive) and the simple name “Pine Valley” suggests that it is a local shortline.


At the time in my railroad’s history when it was time to purchase some used locomotives, NS was selling off some of its former Southern and Norfolk & Western locomotives to be replaced with more efficient models. Since I’m a big time Southern and Norfolk Southern modeler, I chose what I was familiar with. Not only that, the high hood and high mounted bell are interesting details that are fun to add.


The image was created from an AutoCAD drawing I did of an SD40-2 profile. All “painting” was performed in Photoshop 4.