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

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Cotton Belt FTA/B

900A, B, C, D - 920A, B, C, D

delivered 1944-45, traded in 1960-61

20 units delivered

A UnitB UnitB UnitA Unit
905A 905B 905C 905D

renumbered 1949
A UnitB UnitB UnitA Unit
#900, 905, 910, 915 and 920 were not reused

EMD builders photo of SSW FT set

After much negotiation with the War Production Board, Cotton Belt was the first on the SP system to sample the venerable 'covered wagon' in the form of three 4 unit ABBA FT sets delivered in June and July of 1944. The FTs were put to work between Pine Bluff and Texarkana or Shreveport on the busiest part of the Cotton Belt during the war. An additional two 4 unit ABBA FT sets were delivered in July 1945. Cotton Belt for some time kept their own Class system, and these were delivered as Class Z13.5 B-B.

Due to the constraints of the time, EMD could only build FT road units, to a pre-war design, and of one style only; in this case a Santa Fe style that included large lighted number boards below the side portholes, reflective beaded roadnumbers on the lower part of the nose doors and small roadnumbers in the abbreviated numberboards on the side of the nose.

Delivered in drawbar-connected AB pairs, they were numbered 900A, B, C, D - 920A, B, C, D. The A units were suffixed 'A' and 'D' the B units were 'B' and 'C'. In 1949 SP decided the alpha suffixes had to go, and so a general renumbering of all system F units took place. The Cotton Belt renumbered their FT's 901-924, not reusing any original numbers and in a strange order, so as to place the A units in the odd number series, the B units in the even number series.

At some point in time these were 'un-drawbarred' as a favorite photo in the Andy Romano PA book, shows a PA1, FTB and an F7A lashup...

Contrary to oft touted 'urban legends'; they were delivered in Confederate (light) grey and Armour Yellow, separated by red pinstriping. This scheme was based on a Louisville & Nashville example, and is a fairly standard EMD Style.

As with almost all diesel locomotives, they will receive factory upgrades as technology overtakes previous 'inventions'. The F units were no different in this regard, receiving (invisible to modelers), internal engine upgrades.

After the 1947 SP introduction of Black Widow paint, Cotton Belt repainted their FT's in a variation of that scheme. Not all units were painted immediately and mixed consists would be seen for perhaps a decade. SP designed the Black Widow paint for their large nose numberboards, it looked decidedly odd on the FT's with their smaller side nose numberboards. As Cotton Belt did not favor the nose door signal light, a 'Gin Saw' herald in a black outline circle was placed in that position, and roadnumber (where the SP 'Sunset' medallion would be), was placed under that also in a black outline. For many years Cotton Belt stuck with the abbreviated Official name St. L.S-W. above the side numberboxes, not changing to Cotton Belt until after 1955. Evidently no FT's received the scarlet and grey Blood Nose scheme...

In 1955, after the successful introduction of a T&NO F unit rebuilding program, Cotton Belt decided to rebuild their FT's using as much of the latest technology as possible. Due to their age, not everything could be upgraded, so they kept their 1350hp but used the latest parts to do so. Even though rebuilt, they retained their 1949 numbers, and were not known as anything but FT's, unlike the T&NO's which became F9m's. Most but perhaps not all were rebuilt.

Among some of the changes seen were:

  • small numberboards replaced by the larger style,
  • side numberboards disappeared with new sheetmetal work,
  • original hood-side screened openings were replaced by Farr-Air grilles,
  • on the B units the Farr-Air grille was not full length,
  • many extra grabs around the nose and cab roof,
  • a lettering change to 15" COTTON BELT and 10" roadnumber in the rear lower body panel.


  • Kalmbach's Cyc. Vol. 2 page 89 - FTA and FTB plans.
  • Model Railroader, April 1975 page 48 - FTA and FTB plans.
    • plus an old HO Scale kitbash that really isn't needed anymore, but may be useful in other scales,
  • Railroad Model Craftsman, February 1963 page 34 - FTA and FTB plans.
  • Railroad Model Craftsman, June 1972, - article entitled "St. Louis-Southwestern" by Jim Boyd, FT photo's
  • Cotton Belt Locomotives (Book) by Joe Strapac - chapter 14, the freight cab units.

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Sunday, September 01, 2002