Freight Car Friday – Santa Fe Freight

21 12 2012

Christmas is right around the corner, so who better to deliver the goods this week than the Santa Fe! This railroad has been part of American pop culture for more than a century, and with good reason. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe was a well-run railroad with a long tradition and distinctive style. And of course, we’d like to think that all of those famous Lionel F3’s haven’t hurt the line’s connection to Christmas traditions.

Santa Fe Caboose

The wide-vision caboose offered both an elevated and extended view for the crew. The bright red paint made them highly visible from trackside as well.

The Santa Fe had a very varied fleet of freight cars. Perhaps the most appropriate to this time of year were the bright “Indian Red” and white boxcars and cabooses which first came to the railroad in 1958. Like the Warbonnet locomotives, you couldn’t miss these colorful cars in any consist.

But the railroad’s freight equipment wasn’t always bright red. A more traditional “Mineral Brown” adorned most of the freight car fleet through much of the 20th Century. Not only boxcars, but flatcars, stock cars, covered hoppers, gondolas, hoppers and cabooses wore this color. Browns and various shades of “boxcar red” were the norm for railroads across the country at this time – the paint was inexpensive and weathered well.

Santa Fe map

The Santa Fe’s “Map” cars were rolling billboards for service.

Among the most distinctive of the many schemes applied to the Santa Fe’s cars were the “Map” reefers and boxcars. These cars featured a stylized map of the railroad on one side, and the names of some of their many famous passenger trains on the other. The cars were a rolling billboard for their service nationwide.

The Santa Fe always had a reputation as a fast-freight, service-driven railroad. Unlike other lines who prospered on the relatively simple movement of coal from mine to pier, the Santa Fe’s markets were often seasonal and very demanding.


Reefers represented the best of Santa Fe service for decades.

For its first 100 years, no  facet of the railroad’s freight service represented this more than the solid trains of produce it assembled and rushed eastward from the verdant fields of California. Even into the 1970s, the “Salad Bowl Express” continued the tradition of long-distance produce shipments by rail.

As trucks replaced reefers in the growing fields, the adaptive Santa Fe became a leader in hauling the next best thing – the trucks! Hot trains like the “Super-C” offered a premium service that could compete with over-the-road long haul trucking.


The Santa Fe became a leader in intermodal transportation.

Then in the 1980s, the railroad targeted international shipments as well. The railroad made good use of new double-stack cars and developed better facilities at its California ports and eastern connections with other railroads to speed the trains along to east coast markets and ports. Thanks to good service and cost-conscious railroading, the Santa Fe was a vital part of a coast-to-coast rail bridge that was able to compete with the Panama Canal for Asian – European shipments.

In many cases, these new hot freight and intermodal trains took over the reputation of the railroad’s once great fleet of passenger trains, and often ran on the same schedules. Although the Santa Fe disappeared in 1995, this tradition and service continues on today’s BNSF. So if you have a lot of goods to deliver over night, if you don’t have access to Santa’s sleigh, your next best bet is the Santa Fe!



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