About that ‘other’ Alco PA, Santa Fe, 59L in Texas

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, November 24, 2014

Doyle McCormack's PA started like the one in Texas, but is as beautiful today as Nickel Plate Road No. 190, displayed in May at the Streamliners at Spencer festival. Photo by Jim Wrinn.
FRISCO, Texas – In the midst of the collection of rolling stock lined up at the new Museum of the American Railroad is a wrecked and worn out celebrity awaiting a makeover and a comeback: Santa Fe Alco PA No. 59L.

Right now, this 1948 diesel passenger locomotive in tattered and fading Delaware & Hudson blue and gray looks as if a giant had crumpled it, tossed it against a canyon wall, and ripped it apart. But the museum’s Robert Willis and Bob LaPrelle assure me that it can be fixed, that the Santa Fe war bonnet can shine once more on this legendary locomotive. “We can get it back to 1/8 of an inch within square,” LaPrelle told a group at the recent Association of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums annual conference in Tyler, Texas. Some folks actually laughed out loud at his statement, but others, myself included, hope he is right. An Alco PA is an amazing early diesel locomotive with its giant snout, metal headlight casing, and big six-axle trucks. It is true elegance in motion.  

Santa Fe PA 59L is a skeleton today at the Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco, Texas. Photo by Jim Wrinn.
The PA locomotive has long had a following. I’m one of them. One of the first articles in Trains to catch my eye as a kid was J. David Ingles’ November 1966 tribute. The last PAs, herded onto the D&H roster in 1967 after Santa Fe was done with them, got rebuilt in 1975 and went to Mexico in 1978, where they met cruel fates in wrecks. Years of work to repatriate two paid off in 2000 when the Smithsonian acquired two. One went to master preservationist Doyle McCormack in Portland, Ore., and the other, No. 59L, began long-term storage, in search of a home. The unit almost went to Kansas City Union Station – an appropriate spot on the Santa Fe main line – but that deal never materialized, and in 2010, the Museum of the American Railroad acquired the unit as a donation.

About the same time, the museum relocated from its long-time home at the Texas State Fairgrounds to the Dallas suburbs in Frisco, Texas. When the PA arrived, it went into storage once more, to await the preparation of its new home. The museum’s rolling stock arrived in seven moves in 2013, and the PA was placed on its trucks and arrived last. Willis has begun slowly raising money for the locomotive’s cosmetic restoration.

Robert Willis checks a cell phone image while resting on the shell of the PA. Photo by Jim Wrinn.
Gutted of its prime mover, generator, and electrical system, the locomotive will be restored as a shell that could be made operable someday. Right now, Willis just wants to see it restored to its one-time glory as the pride of Santa Fe’s passenger fleet.

The museum, which earlier this month launched the second phase of its relocation with the start of display track construction, rosters several superstars. Among them, Frisco 4-8-4 No. 4501, Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 No. 4903, Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4018, UP Centennial diesel No. 6913, and Santa Fe doodlebug No. M160. But the PA will be quite a draw in its own. We all got a good look at McCormack’s unit this year during the Streamliners at Spencer event. Restored as Nickel Plate Road No. 190, McCormack’s unit shows what can be done to give an aging and battered celebrity new shine and new glitter.

We're in the engine room of PA 59L, looking forward to the cab. Missing are the prime mover and main generator. Photo by Jim Wrinn.
Standing in the gutted engine room of No. 59L with Willis on a rainy November day, I get the feeling of a beachcomber standing in the surf, the bones of a once great whale still standing proud. The bones are here, and so is the sense that this was once a glamorous locomotive, one that deserves another chance.  As I was climbing down, a train on the adjacent BNSF Railway main line passed, a fading Santa Fe warbonnet unit in the consist. A good omen, I took it, of things to come for No. 59L, the other PA.
A BNSF Railway train with a Santa Fe warbonnet passes the AT&SF PA at Frisco, Texas. Photo by Jim Wrinn.

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