Identical locomotives find their home at island railroad museum
They’re identical twins, sporting the same red and yellow paint job, the shiny aluminum bonnet over their noses and the red horns mounted between the windows. They’re the Santa Fe Super Chief Warbonnet locomotives, numbers 315 and 316 at the Galveston Railroad Museum.
The two locomotives, built in 1953, were purchased by the museum in 2010 and underwent full refurbishment for more than a year. The twin engines are designed to lead a train, as well as trail behind it.
“This way they can move in either direction — forward or reverse,” said Morris Gould, who has been with the museum in some capacity since its inception in 1983 and who retired as executive director in September. “They run back-to-back with the passenger car in between.”
This pair of locomotives was renamed for George and Cynthia Mitchell, who helped finance the launch of the Galveston Railroad Museum 35 years ago. The Mitchells, known for development, philanthropy and historic preservation in Galveston, also were big railroad fans. Mary Moody Northen, whose family helped found Galveston, was the museum’s original financial backer.
The museum, badly damaged by 12 feet of water during Hurricane Ike in 2008, was able to buy the two locomotives to replenish its inventory of railroad artifacts, which had been ruined. These twins were “pretty tired but good looking,” when he found them at a New Haven, Connecticut, museum, Gould said. The locomotives were shipped to Greenville, South Carolina, where the restoration began. They then went to New Orleans and were chartered as a special passenger train back to Galveston, to celebrate the grand re-opening of the museum in November 2012.
Though they were 55 years old, the engines were in pretty good shape, but needed some work, Gould said. Besides the paint jobs, which highlighted the engines’ noses with the signature red and yellow paint, black lettering and ribbon of silver around the lower part of the car, the 2000-horse-power engines were upgraded and electrical power systems installed. Modern controls and communication mechanisms were mounted, along with more comfortable seats for the engineer and fire chief, who sit in the front of the 240,000-pound rig.
“It is not easy getting these old locomotives recertified with all the rules and regulations now,” Gould said. “But we did it.”
The Warbonnet color scheme was chosen to reflect the heritage of the 19th-century Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad, which was headquartered in Galveston.
The museum each spring sponsors a daylong trip using these locomotives for the public. The museum is making plans for a March or April outing, Gould said. Check the museum’s website for more details. www.galvestonrrmuseum.org