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Color Paint on Steam Locomotives

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Color Paint on Steam Locomotives
Posted by cedarwoodron on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 1:26 PM

I noticed that some railroads added color paint to portions of the boiler or under boiler areas of steam locomotives. In particular, the Great Northern painted the front of some steam locomotives in a silver color as well as the rear sides under the cab. Given the relatively dirty operating aspects of steam engines, was there some practical reason for this or was it merely a decorative choice by the railroads? 


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Posted by JWhite on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 3:41 PM

What you are seeing is a graphite paint that was applied on high heat areas such as the smoke box and fire box.  The rest of the boiler was insulated and covered with a metal jacket.

Some railroads used a silverish colored graphite coating and some used a black or very dark grey colored coating.

I was to protect those areas from corrosion.

Jeff White 



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Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 4:34 PM

Early engines, up to the late 1800's, were very brightly painted, it was not uncommon to have a dozen colors on an engine, including the color, cab, domes, striping and lettering.  Plus some engines had color paintings on the tender sides.

In the late 1800's and beyond, the fashon moved to steam engines being black, with areas subjected to high heat either a graphite paint or an aluminum based heat resistant paint.  That lasted until the streamliner era in the 1930's and then color came in fashion.

Certain crack passenger engines were painted colors, notably either green, grey or dark blue.  The PRR painted all their engines dark green.

On the other extreme, on the Mopac, the president decreed that the proper color for an engine was black and until the E units, everything was black.  The MoP owned a trolley line in Houston and they even painted the trolley cars black.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website :

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Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 6:03 PM

Green boiler jacketing with black cabs/tenders/running gear was a pretty common practice on several railroads. I know the Nevada Northern did it on a few of their engines, and while some people dispute it; evidence seems to point that the DRGW did have several green jacketed locomotives to. 

Speaking of the DRGW... there is the infamous Bumblebee scheme from the 1950's. To my knowledge it was painted on a narrow gauge steam engine for use in a movie and possibly for promotion of the railroad at a Worlds Fair. Its been heavily criticized by many fans of the railroad, but in my opinion is just as historic as pure black paint since it represents a time in American history were we where 'idealizing' our prior western history much in the same vein as Davey Crockett and Disneyland's Fronteirland. Its true that many railroads in the Civil War/Western expansion era did wear bright colors although those eventually fell out of favor for the more common black. 

As previously mentioned, many railroads had special schemes for their steam engines in passenger service; a yellow and brown mix on streamliners and later the Greyhound scheme were both used by the Union Pacific. SP had their famous Daylight scheme. The Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha, or the New York Central's streamliners also come to mind as famous examples. 

Speaking of which, many tourist railroads continued that effort to 'idealize' history by painting their engines in brighter colored schemes than they ever wore in its original service. Like the Southern Railway applying its green passenger scheme to a freight hauling Mikado for use on excursion trains, or the dark red on the California Western Railroad's steam engine in 'Skunk Train' service. No greater example of this can be seen than the bright paint schemes used on engines during events such as the American Freedom train were the SP 4449 for example wore with red white and blue paint. 

Now outside of America, lots of foreign nations had multicolored locomotives as a standard, not an exception. British rail preservation is highly colorful, with each steam road running a bright livery that represented their brand. It seems only the nationalized British Railways preffered black or really dark green paints, instead of the brighter greens, blues, and reds that were so common on the pre-WWII roads. 

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Posted by Little Timmy on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 7:30 PM

I seem to recall ( and I could be wrong ) That the first Central Pacific locomotive's had "Russian Iron" boiler's , which were a blue color.

Rust...... It's a good thing !

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Posted by mbinsewi on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 8:13 PM

Little Timmy
"Russian Iron" boiler's , which were a blue color.

The topic of another thread in prototype information.  I've never heard of it before,  and now twice in the same day.


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Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 10:12 PM

Little Timmy
That the first Central Pacific locomotive's had "Russian Iron" boiler's , which were a blue color.

Sorta kinda.  "Russian iron" was thin iron plates stacked with carbon/charcoal between them and hammered to drive the carbon into the surface.  That made it more rust resistant.  True Russian iron could be several colors, ranging from grey's to greenish to bluish, depending on the chemistry of the iron and the carbon source.  There have been many long debates about what "the" color of Russion iron was.

Many of the American locomotives were actually "planished iron" a similar hammered process.  Planished iron was more a mechanized process that could produce larger pieces of iron, which were better for larger boilers.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website :

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 7:39 AM

John Allen had one locomotive with a red boiler, so the STRATTON AND GILLETTE will as well.


I have a hudson that is being painted in SGRR freight car red. It will have a graphite smokebox and firebox. I can't do silver and red.


It will pull a special passenger train, maybe. Not too keen on buying more passenger cars. Not sure what it will be used for.




Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 10:39 AM

Locomotives pre 1900 were all sorts of colors.  An old Model Railroader article said that the closest they could come to the old Russia Iron was Volkswagon "polar silver" paint -- grayish/silvery with a metallic bluish tinge.  Google Images has some good examples (on VWs that is).

But post 1900, there were some red steam locomotives - I think some of the Lehigh Valley passenger locos were red.  Milwaukee Road had some non streamlined steam locomotives painted in the orange, maroon, black scheme of the Hiawatha streamlined steam to pull the Chippewa.  B&O had some steamers in blue.  The Central of New Jersey's "Blue Comet" was pulled by a (surprise surprise) blue steam locomotive.  Of course Pennsylvania RR steamers were all very dark green, including freight steam and switchers.  Great Northern steam was green, at least some of it.  

Streamlined steam per se came in all sorts of colors as well as stainless steel shrouding.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by dti406 on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 12:33 PM

The Pennsy also painted a number of K4's in Tuscan Red, Stauffer Book states that 10 were painted that way, and per discussions there may have only been 3 in Tuscan Red, the problem being they did not last long in that paint and there were no color pictures ever taken of a Tuscan Red engine.

Rick Jesionowski

Rule 1: This is my railroad.

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Rule 3: Illuminating discussion of prototype history, equipment and operating practices is always welcome, but in the event of visitor-perceived anacronisms, detail descrepancies or operating errors, consult RULE 1!

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