California's Railroad to the U.S. 1861 - 1996

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Model Train Help EBook

Southern Pacific Diesel Locomotive Paint Schemes
1958 - 1991
Blood(y) Nose

1958 - 1991

This was the scheme decided upon after the Halloween scheme was deemed too sombre. As this paint scheme lasted over 30 years, it is so well known that a detailed description is not really required; or maybe there is a need after all. Following on will be some of the variations, both company sanctioned, environmental effects and some that should never have made it out of the paint shop...

From its inception in 1958 until delivery of GP40-2s, B30-7s and GP40X's in 1978 the color of the paint used on the roadname and number was Lettering Gray. Microscale decal sheet 87-11 for HO Scale has the correct color of lettering for all diesels pre 1978.

With the above mentioned deliverys in 1978, the lettering color was changed to what is generally described as white; however, in reality this was probably self adhesive ScotchliteTM lettering which is rendered in white in decals as scale ScotchliteTM cannot be made.

The appearance of red lettering is always controversial. Southern Pacific did not have a standard for red lettering, there was one unit released with red lettering SD40R #7342 but this was not repeated.

Here are a few posts from mailing lists that I have been on, this is what others have said:

Some units are rust some are actually red paint/primer. What typically happened is that the ScotchLiteTM lettering got too hot or was put on wrong and peeled off showing the base coat underneath. (The ScotchliteTM I have seen is designed such that you put it on, paint the final coat, and peel the covering mask off the lettering. The paint is supposed to help seal the edges of the lettering and prevent it from coming off) My experiences are that the switchers and rebuilt units seem to be red, while many of the un rebuilt SD45T-2's seem to show the rust colored letters. There are several units in the 9370 series which clearly show a rust colored lettering. Microscale makes a decal set for the red lettered units which also includes the stencil type lettering on SD40R 7310 and one of the GP35's.

Then there are the famous Blister-Beasts the 6700 and 6800 series SD45T-2R's which used that crappy environmentally friendly paint which then came off in sheets exposing the light tan primer underneath. Some of the higher 7500 series SD45R's and anything repainted in Sacramento when the 6700/6800 series units were being done will also exhibit this feature.

There are also a few speed lettered units out there where the lettering has fallen off. I have seen an 8500 series tunnel motor, an SD40R and one of the MK rebuilds with all or part of the lettering on one side gone. The SD40R was neat, in that it was dirty enough that you knew the owner because the Southern Pacific was still readable due to the cleaner paint were the lettering was.

Another thing to consider about the 'red letters' we have seen on the SP... It was in fact the primer and not some new style they were trying. Part of the reason the ScotchliteTM 'stickers' wore off so easily was that it was during this time that paints went through a major reworking. Additives such as lead and other substances were recently banned and the chemical mixture of paints changed. It was the lead and other elements that actually made the paint stick. Railroads observed many the same problems we modelers have had to endure with the changes in paint composition. What would happen was the locomotive was primed (usually red) then painted gray then the stickers were applied. The heat mixed with the chemical reactions of the adhesive and the new paint made "peeling" very common. With the added reaction of adhesive, the lettering would seemingly peel off simultaneously and very cleanly.

I remember when Microscale decals came out with a sheet of 'red lettering' for model railroaders and those who didn't know were all wondering what SP was doing with a new paint scheme and why we hadn't seen anything other than lettering grey. It was rather comical.

Paint color did vary over the years with various shades of gray, probably when the formulation had to change for environmental reasons.

Beginning sometime around 1971 SP started to put the Sans Serif SP initials on the nose.

While the basic paint and lettering scheme remained some what static over the 3 decades, there were some differences in lettering and placement. As well Cotton Belt lettering also had some variations not only from the SP scheme but also within themselves. Cotton Belt locos obviously had SSW on the nose, they also sometimes put the roadnumber on the pilot face or painted the roadnumber above the numberboards. Early bloody nose Cotton Belt units also had yellow handrails, not just at the end but completely, both the handrails and the stanchions were yellow.

The Texas & New Orleans when still a separate company also used the same basic Bloody Nose paint scheme after 1958, they likely exhibited their own variations but I have not the resources to document that.

Some Known Variations:

  • Switchers invariably did not have red wings
  • Some (switchers and road units) had stacked lettering to avoid painting over grilles,
  • Not all units of one type may have had stacked, some may have had inline lettering from earlier paint jobs
  • Passenger GP9's that had dual-controls had red wings at both ends
  • At least two units SD40R #7310 and a GP35 had smaller block lettering
  • A number of different units have appeared with no 'feathers' in the red wings examples include:
    • RSD12 #2950 these were delivered new without feathers
  • The infamous 'Sufferrn Pacific'


  • Southern Pacific Scarlet
  • Southern Pacific (Dark) Lark Gray
  • White for handrails


  • Microscale
    • HO Scale
        87-11 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - Red & Gray Scheme
      • 87-177 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - Hoods & Cabs - incl Red Wings
      • 87-447 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - includes Red Wings
      • 87-612 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - Hoods- Red Lettering
      • 87-617 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - Nose Wings - Red
      • 87-1069 Southern Pacific (SP) Number Jumble - for use with 447, 620, 646, 857, 973
    • N Scale
      • 60-857 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - SD70M, Dash 9-44CW, Switchers - Speed Lettering
      • 60-646 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - Hoods - Speed Lettering Scheme
      • 60-620 Southern Pacific (SP) Diesel - GP40 - Speed Lettering Scheme

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