Smithsonian Donates Locomotive to Museum of the American Railroad

The Museum of the American Railroad has added a rare diesel locomotive from the Smithsonian Institution to its permanent collection. The model PA-1 locomotive will join the museum’s Historic Santa Fe Railway Collection, which comprises several other prized pieces from the line. Built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) of Schenectady, NY, the locomotive is one of a handful of its type still in existence.

In 1946, when ALCO and Santa Fe debuted the first PA-1 locomotive at New York’s Grand Central Station, it was amid great fanfare – an event that rivaled an opening night on Broadway. Its bold styling and innovative design offered great promise for America’s post-war passenger trains. The Smithsonian unit is a rare survivor of the PA-1 design. It was delivered to the Santa Fe Railway in 1948 as part of a subsequent order placed with ALCO to provide new engines for the line’s premiere passenger trains. This locomotive had a long and varied career spanning nearly 35 years before a derailment forced its retirement in 1981.

The PA-1 represents a zenith in styling during the post-war streamliner era. With its exterior design by General Electric’s Ray Patten – known for his progressive styling of modern household appliances – ALCO’s PA-1 combined the graceful lines of contemporary industrial design with the famous red and silver Santa Fe paint scheme. Santa Fe blended Southwest Native American art & color with modern art deco styling to create its famous “Warbonnet” paint scheme – a trademark emulated on countless model trains and toys.

The Smithsonian locomotive is one of four of its kind that remained in service on the Santa Fe until 1967 when they were sold to the Delaware and Hudson Railway and later the Mexican National Railways. Two of the units were damaged in a derailment and subsequently retired. The other two survive at the National Museum of Mexican Railroads in Puebla. Seeing their historical significance, the two damaged units were repatriated through the efforts of the Smithsonian Institution in 2000. One unit was restored privately by well-known railroad preservationist and President of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, Doyle McCormack, while the other (ex-Santa Fe 59-L) awaited disposition.

When plans to restore and exhibit the locomotive changed at the Smithsonian, the institution sought to place the remaining unit with an organization that would provide for its future stewardship. Through the efforts of William Withuhn, Curator Emeritus, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and Doyle McCormack, ex-Santa Fe 59-L was officially conveyed to the Museum of the American Railroad in late July. This follows several years of discussions about the unit’s fate and the Museum’s interest in taking on the project. This transfer of ownership begins a new chapter in its long and varied career. “This is truly an historic icon of American Railroading, and I am happy to see it go to such a capable organization. The Museum is to be commended for the job it has done over the last 50 years to save American railroad history and especially for its vastly improved educational value to visitors in the last ten years,” said William Withuhn.

Plans call for the historic locomotive to be shipped on railroad flatcars from its current location in Albany, Oregon to Frisco, Texas – the Museum’s new permanent home. The move will take place this fall. Doyle McCormack will assist in the loading of the locomotive in Oregon. He has a keen interest in saving the 59-L, sister engine to his 62-L, which is now restored to Nickel Plate Road’s blue & white paint scheme. “I’ve got a lot of time, energy, money, and emotion in that engine, and I’m glad to see it going somewhere where it will be appreciated,” said Mr. McCormack in an August 14 Trains Magazine online article. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, has graciously agreed to assist in the project by providing transportation of the unit to Texas. The locomotive represents a significant chapter in BNSF’s history and its acquisition by the Museum has generated excitement at the railroad.

The locomotive will need extensive repairs to damage it sustained in the 1981 derailment; however, the basic superstructure remains sound. “This is not unlike raising an ancient vessel from the bottom and embarking on a major reconstruction. Once work is complete, we will have a truly one-of-a-kind piece that will be celebrated nationwide,” said the Museum’s CEO, Bob LaPrelle. The Museum will seek funds for its restoration through a national campaign, citing the locomotive’s appeal to fans and supporters across the country. “This is a project that has broad appeal – something to which everyone can make a contribution and share in its rebirth,” said LaPrelle.

The locomotive will be restored in stages, the first of which is to stabilize the unit and prevent any further deterioration from exposure to the elements. Consistent with the Smithsonian’s original plans, and once funding is in place, the museum will restore the locomotive to its original 1948 Santa Fe Railway appearance – the only one of the four survivors to wear the famous “Warbonnet” paint scheme again. The scope of work will include extensive repairs to the locomotive’s exterior, including truss-work replacement and new stainless steel sides. While mostly cosmetic in nature, the work will not preclude a mechanical restoration at a later date. The Museum completed a similar project on its General Motors F-7A diesel locomotive back in 2007. The F-7A is now fully operational and one of the signature pieces in the Museum’s permanent collection.

The Museum of the American Railroad is very grateful to the Smithsonian Institution for donation of the PA-1 locomotive and their faith in the Museum’s stewardship of the engine. Special thanks go to William Withuhn and Doyle McCormack for their tireless efforts in preserving ex-Santa Fe 59-L and their assistance in securing the Smithsonian’s gift to the Museum.

Top image: Santa Fe ALCO PA-1 locomotive #51-L (sister to Smithsonian engine #59-L). Santa Fe publicity photo circa 1948 Photo Museum of the American Railroad

Lower image: PA-1 locomotive Photo Museum of the American Railroad

The Museum of the American Railroad is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit Texas Corporation chartered in 1962. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the nation’s railroad heritage through entertaining and educational programs. Acquisition of the PA-1 locomotive is consistent with the Museum’s plans for expansion and relocation to Frisco, Texas. For more information about the Museum of the American Railroad and periodic updates regarding the ALCO PA-1 project, visit:

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