Locomotive Number Boards

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Locomotive Number Boards
Posted by Kelpie on Saturday, June 22, 2019 7:50 PM

Hey All,

When did the railroads start using fiberglass number boards?  I have a board numbered 7949 that is made of fiberglass.  My Dad got it from a guy who said it is from a steam locomotive, but I am not so sure. It is meant to be illuminated for behind.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Monday, June 24, 2019 7:12 AM

Fiberglass seems like an odd material for a numberboard.  I would think that glass or any of the plastics similar to Lexan would be the preferred material.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Kelpie on Monday, June 24, 2019 8:10 AM
Sounds like it may not be a number board for a locomotive.
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Posted by Semper Vaporo on Monday, June 24, 2019 12:53 PM

I have seen (but never touched) a few number boards and some do appear to be made of some sort of resinous and coarse fiberous material.  But most old ones I think are sheet glass.

Semper Vaporo


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Posted by samfp1943 on Monday, June 24, 2019 10:04 PM

Semper Vaporo

I have seen (but never touched) a few number boards and some do appear to be made of some sort of resinous and coarse fiberous material.  But most old ones I think are sheet glass.

I would tend to agree, for the same reasons of Semper Vaporo. The ICRR steam engines I saw had what appeared to be two glass plates, with a paper(maybe vinyl(?) sheet containing the unit numbers. Similarly, diesel unit numbers(SLSF and BN) were somewhat made in the same fashion. Not so sure about the fiberglass ones.





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Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, June 27, 2019 3:27 AM


I have a Fiberglas® number board, probably — but not certain — from a GE U-Boat. It came out of a Conrail shop so it could have been from any number of predecessor roads.

I recall Fiberglas being popular with some roads in the early 1970s. Fiberglas signs were showing up in industry around then, too. I worked in a chemical plant where many of the signs were fiberglas and the images were "molded-in" as part of the laminating process. They were durable and chemical resistant but they faded quickly especially if exposed to the elements.

Steam and early diesel era was frosted glass with zinc sheet cut out for the numbers then thick, double-weight glass on the outside. The paint shop made stencils and it was no stretch for that craft to make up the number "stencils" to be sandwiched between the glass.

I recall seeing red background numberboards on the Kodak Santa-Fe units and didn't the Clinchfield have bright yellow backgrounds on some?

A couple roads used glued-on numbers over white acrylic. Many variations over the years. Fiberglas in the steam era, no, didn't happen unless on a tourist line after about the 1970s or so.

When I find mine I'll post a picture of it.

Cheers, Ed

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Posted by NDG on Friday, June 28, 2019 1:25 PM


Number Boards.
Generalization. Not cast in stone.
Back in the day we used to collect number boards from steam going for scrap.
They then were two 2 sheets of glass cut to fit, in between which was a sheet tin stencil with the numerals cut out.
The INNER glass was white, the outer, clear.  The ' White ' was IN the glass, not paint.
As Here.
Same practice on CP 4000 roof when it went for scrap. Two sheets glass metal stencil betwixt.
These crude roof numberboards were added by CPR as side nose numbers hard to view when passing at speed.
We later visited CN CLC A Units going for scrap, and they had cardboard cut out stencil between a white inner and clear outer sheets of glass held in nose openings by channeled rubber for gasket around both glass sheets with stencil between, strips of steel, and screws, many.
Later,  some MLW Power had cut out cardboard stencil between two glass sheets thru end of Fifties. Some having black tape around edges to hold together in frame.
In Fifties some CN 244 RSs had black numbers painted on clear glass with white paint behind in lieu of stencil. Paint would peel and expose lights behind
Early GMD GP power had individual numerals in holders behind clear glass.
By 1973 on a SD40-2 the number ' Glass ' was now ONE 1  translucent ' plastic ' sheet with Black Paint applied over numeral stencils on inner surface, and the numeral stencils removed to allow light thru numbers thus formed in black paint.
Held in metal  with rubber gasket with two slots, one inner slot to hold number ' glass ' and outer slot to hold in frame opening in locomotive.
Suggest they went to single sheet plastic with beginning of Second Gen Power?? c. 1960??
Thank You.


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Posted by The Railwolf on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 4:34 AM


Fiberglass seems like an odd material for a numberboard.  I would think that glass or any of the plastics similar to Lexan would be the preferred material.



Fiberglass number boards do in fact exist, though I'm not sure how common they are or what time periods they were made/used in. I have the front number boards from former FCEN CF7 number 63 (now a KLW SE10B), which were installed at the time ATSF rebuilt her from an F7A. Originally numbered 2637, you can see where FCEN painted over the 2 and 7 on the ends. These boards are most definitely what I would call fiberglass material.

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Posted by MARC MONTRAY on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 8:21 AM

Yes, fiberglass was used for diesel number boards in the 1970's. I have  fiberglass from at least 3 different RR's and earlier glass number boards. Steam number boards would have been glass.

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 11:45 AM

These are not 'Fiberglas' in the usual understood use, resin applied over plies of material as in fabricating a Corvette body.  This as far as I know is the same sort of  material you can buy for corrugated translucent roofing, and it was used in the PC years for more than numberboards.

One of my prized possessions is one of the PC placards off the end of the last "PC" Princeton Dinky.  The 'last' full PC passenger run was the dinky outbound to Princeton Junction; just before midnight; the first full Conrail run was the corresponding inbound trip starting in the very early morning of Conrail day.  (We went through almost three cases of Korbel Brut in that time, but that's another story...)

When we got back to Princeton Junction, I noticed the PC logo on the south end of the car was hanging loose.  As Stan Crane happened to be next to me, about to take some publicity shots, I asked if I could have it as a souvenir.  He said words to the effect of 'get that &%#$@ thing off my train".  So I did.  I believe there are photos; Henry Posner recently sent me a couple.

That sign was thin laminated plastic over what was either a fabric or glass core, and this would almost certainly be the material used in the numberboards in question.

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