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Amtrak’s Super Chief/El Capitan, 1971-1981

Amtrak’s Super Chief/El Capitan, 1971-1981

Fred Klein, 2013

Amtrak took over most of America’s passenger trains in 1971, and at first ran and gradually repainted the “heritage” cars inherited from individual railroads in variations of the phase I paint scheme (all schemes have red, white and blue stripes on stainless steel or aluminum). Santa Fe’s Super Chief (first class, all sleeper) and El Capitan (all coach) generally ran as one train in the later years before the Amtrak takeover in 1971. This was a popular train and Amtrak took it over and continued to run it as the Super Chief. Sometimes, as in Santa Fe days, it ran in separate coach and first class sections. In May of 1974 the train was renamed the Southwest Limited, and in October 1984 it was rechristened the Southwest Chief. The new train names kept the same train number and routing. The high-level coaches ran on the Super Chief until the whole train was replaced with superliners about 1981.

 

The high-level coach cars of the El Capitan were kept together as a unit because they could only be used with standard single-level cars by coupling one of the transition cars (step-down coaches) between the sections. The high level cars were successful, held more passengers than single level cars, and were the pattern for the fleet of superliner cars that were the standard for western railroads after their delivery in 1979-80. The rest of Amtrak’s sleeper cars in 1971 were chosen from the best and newest among various railroads, were shared all over the county as they were repainted, and thus only a few sleepers were carried over from Santa Fe’s Super Chief.

 

The Amtrak paint scheme initially used on the Super Chief came to be known as phase I. Some of the high level cars got experimental schemes with only narrow red and blue bands in the window sections. The wider bands with the Amtrak “arrow” within the band on each side of the car were also used. Later the arrow disappeared from some cars (making a phase II scheme), and the phase III scheme with equal-width red, white and blue bands was used for re-paintings and new deliveries in the early 1980s.

 

Power for the Amtrak Super Chief was initially either the same F7’s or the newer FP45’s (in red warbonnet paint) that had powered the Santa Fe owned train. To distinguish these leased passenger F7s from the Santa Fe freight F7s, many of the Super Chief F7s were given a yellow bonnet paint scheme. In 1973-74 Amtrak took delivery of SDP40F diesels from EMD painted in Amtrak phase I paint, and the SDP40Fs displaced the yellow-bonnets. In 1976-77, F40PH locomotives arrived to become Amtrak’s standard power on most trains. The lifetime of the yellow-bonnets was only a couple of years, but I bet Amtrak was eager to forgo the expense of leased power and have its own colors and logos from head to tail.

 

The model train is assembled from a consist for train #4 at Raton Colorado on March 6, 1974. In 2013, Kato released the “yellow-bonnet” F7 locomotives and their El Capitan passenger set in Amtrak phase I paint. Instantly, half of the 1971 Super Chief had an off-the-shelf model. The paint variation used by Kato had wide color stripes on the high level cars, but high level cars with narrow stripes on just the windows was also common. The remaining sleepers, diner and dome car can be assembled from other sets and manufacturers to closely approximate the prototype train. The original Santa Fe unpainted cars were not replaced all at once, and some could be used in the early years of the Amtrak Super Chief. There was variation in locomotives, phase I paint schemes, and choice of sleeper car types (though I have never seen photos of painted sleepers such as UP yellow). I think that model Super Chief trains can use anything found in a photo or printed consist and still be prototypical.

 

A Super chief/El Capitan with a matched set of four yellow-bonnet F7s. The cigar band “Santa Fe” on the nose of the lead F7 had both solid blue and blue-outlined variations.

 

The Super Chief/El Capitan in June 1973 is led by an FP45 in Santa Fe warbonnet paint. The diesel in Amtrak phase I paint is an SDP40F. The high-level coach cars have been repainted in Amtrak colors although most have the stripes only in the window band. The single-level sleepers and the “pleasure dome” car are barely visible at the rear.

 

The rear, first class end of the Super Chief /Southwest Chief in Chicago in July 1973.

 

prototype car

prototype #

maker

model car

model #

Proto-

typl?

SDP40F diesels

AMTK 523, 525, 515

Kato

F7 A&B yellow bonnet 71-73

ATSF 304, no #

yes

Intermountain

F7 A (yellow bonnet)

ATSF 346

yes

Athern

FP45 warbonnet

ATSF 100, 105

yes

Kato

F40PH diesels (77 & later)

AMTK 346

yes

Baggage

AMTK 1154

Kato

Baggage phase 1

AMTK 1027

yes

Baggage-dorm (El Cap)

AMTK 9991

Kato

Baggage-dorm (El Cap)

AMTK 9991

yes

Hi-level coach (step down)

AMTK 9930

Kato

Hi-level coach (step down)

AMTK 9909

yes

Hi-level diner

AMTK 9980

Kato

Hi-level diner

AMTK 9985

yes

Hi-level lounge (El Cap)

AMTK 9971

Kato

Hi-level lounge (El Cap)

AMTK 9972

yes

Hi-level coach

AMTK 9957

Kato

Hi-level coach

AMTK 9928

yes

 

 

Kato

Hi-level coach

AMTK 9931

yes

Hi-level coach (step down)

AMTK 9926

Kato

Hi-level coach (step down)

AMTK 9907

yes

11 double bedroom

AM 2214 Indian Lake

Walthers

10 roomette-6 dbr ph I

AMTK

substitute

10 roomette-6 dbr

AM 2721 Pine Grove

Kato

10 roomette-6 dbr ph I

AMTK Silver Crag

similar

4 comp-4 dbr-2 draw

AM 2351 Regal Inn

Kato

6-6-4 sleeper ex-UP ph I

AMTK no #

substitute

Dome-lounge (ex ATSF)

ATMK 9355

Con cor

Dome-lounge (ex ATSF)

AMTK 500

yes

Diner (ex ATSF, PS)

AMTK 8073

Intermountain

Diner (eastern)

AMTK 8096

similar

10 roomette-6 dbr

AMTK Pine Mesa

Kato

10 roomette-6 dbr ph I

AMTK Palm Arch

similar

10 roomette-6 dbr (ex UP)

AMTK Pacific Union

Con cor

10 roomette-6 dbr ph II

AMTK Pacific Hills

yes

Baggage-mail (ex El Cap)

AMTK 1062

Kato

Baggage-mail (ex El Cap)

AMTK 1057

yes

Hi-level chair (deadhead)

AMTK 9912

Kato

Hi-level coach

AMTK 9931

yes

Baggage-dorm (deadhead)

AMTK 9995

 

The consist table that I use is for Amtrak train #4 at Raton, Colorado on March 6, 1974, at which time the train was called the Southwest Limited, and was on page 7 of an on-line publication of Amtrak consists. By this date, Amtrak SDP40F locomotives were common. As stated above, Santa Fe yellow-bonnet F7s or warbonnet FP45s would be the power in the early years, and Amtrak F40PHs appeared in the late 1970s. In the 1970s, there were variations in locomotive power, variations of passenger car painting from those of the original railroad through various experimental phase I schemes, until the Superliners arrived in 1980-81.

 

FP45 diesels

 

The first diesel power used by Amtrak for the Super Chief starting in 1971 was the same FP45 power used on that train by the Santa Fe after the locomotives were purchased in 1967. Apparently, as seen in the prototype photo above, some FP45s remained in the Amtrak power pool for several years. These two FP45s are Athern models.

 

FP45 alternative

 

A novel locomotive to use on a Super Chief of the mid-late 1970s is an FP45 in Amtrak paint to simulate a prototypical SDP40F from 1974. Amtrak owned lots of the latter but none of the former, but they look similar at casual glance. This is an unpowered del Prado “display” locomotive with functioning rear coupler with added weight that can be “pushed” by one of the Athern FP45s. I replaced the metal wheels and axles with plastic Microtrains wheels from a freight car because the original wheels short the track. The model is crude by modern standards, and it has “phase II ½” stripes. It is definitely a “stand in” locomotive until a custom painted SDP40F comes along.

 

Yellow-bonnet locomotives

 

The yellow-bonnet F7 locomotives leased from Santa Fe are appropriate and beautiful power for the 1971-73 Amtrak Super Chief. The short time they were in service explains the paucity of photos of yellow-bonnets in Super Chief service. The first F7A and F7Bs are Kato models made in 2013 to accompany the Kato El Capitan Amtrak passenger set. The last F7A is an older Intermountain model. The Kato and Itermountain models do not have comparable speeds and I only use the Kato’s to run trains. The three variations of cigar-band insignias on the nose in the prototype and model photos were all used. I do know which shade of yellow is more accurate, though the lighter yellow could be a “faded” version of the darker yellow. Yellow bonnets were also used in freight service.

 

I do not have any Amtrak SDP40F models (the prototype power in the consist above), or any FP40H models in Amtrak phase II paint (which would have been appropriate for the Super Chief after their 1977 purchase), but theywould be correct for the Amtrak Super Chief for the mid-late 1970s and later.

 

High level coach section, first part

 

The first cars in the Amtrak Super Chief consist were the original Budd cars that Santa Fe bought for the El Capitan 1956. The baggage car, baggage-coach, transition (step-down) coach and high-level diner are all in phase I paint with the Amtrak arrow. The models are from the Kato Amtrak-El Capitan set.

 

Lounge and more coaches

 

The next car is the coach lounge with its dome windows. It is followed by three coaches, the last of which is a step-down car for access to the first class cars behind. I added an extra coach to the published consist. The models are from the Kato Amtrak-El Capitan set.

 

Sleepers, first section, alternate car

 

The first sleeper in the published consist is an ex-Santa Fe 11 double bedroom car in the Indian series. This was the 1964 re-build of the original 24 duplex roomette Indian series cars. I do not have a model of this car, but a Rowa half-corrugated 10 roomette-6 double bedroom sleeper can be a stand in for the 11 bedroom car. The side of the Rowa car with widely spaced windows is very similar to the same side of the prototype 11 double bedroom car, but the prototype car had corrugations above the windows.

Sleepers, first section

 

The Super Chief used sleepers from several railroads, and Kato did not issue a matched set of Amtrak Super Chief sleepers like they did for the coach cars. I gathered cars together from various sets and singles, making substitutions where I had to. These are all factory painted models, and modelers could be more prototypical than me by repainting and using brass sides.

 

The first sleeper in the prototype consist is an ex-Santa Fe 11 double bedroom car in the Indian series. A substitute for this car is a 10 roomette-6 bedroom 1949 Pullman plan  4140 car model from Walthers. Though it does not look like an 11 bedroom car, the car type is one owned by Amtrak and could have been used on the Super Chief. The next car should be a 10-6 ex-Santa Fe car in the Pine Series, but I use a Kato model of an ex-California Zephyr 10-6 car called Silver Crag, which was prototypical to Amtrak but not in this days’ consist. The next prototype sleeper is a 4 compartment-4 double bedroom-2 drawing room ex-Santa Fe car in the Regal series. Instead I use a Kato model of a UP 6-6-4 car, which were not bought by Amtrak. This is a stand-in car because I do not have an Amtrak model of a Regal series car. The next car (always in the middle of the sleeper section) was the ex-Santa Fe dome lounge. Con cor made a prototype model of this car and painted it in Amtrak phase II stripes. This is a prototypical model of the signature car of the Super Chief.

 

Sleepers, second section

 

The diner for first class passengers was behind the dome lounge car. The prototype car for this train was a corrugated ex-ATSF diner, but an Intermountain smooth side “eastern diner” is the best substitute I have. Two more 10-6 sleepers followed the diner. The prototype car for this consist is an ex-ATSF 10-6 in the Pine series, modeled by an ex-ATSF 10-6 in the Palm series, a Kato car. The Super Chief ran both types of 10-6 cars, so the model is prototypical. The last prototype sleeper is an ex-UP Pacific series 10-6 made by Budd. The Con-cor model is of an ex-California Zephyr 10-6 which were very similar to the UP cars, and Con-cor lettered the car Pacific Hills.

 

Amtrak bought a hodge-podge of late model (c.1949 and later) sleepers, and on the Super Chief, most were 10-6s. Each train was a variety, and this model train is a grab bag of cars, most of which were of types owned by Amtrak or were similar. Model Amtrak trains for the 1970s thus should reflect the variety of inherited cars that Amtrak had.

 

The published Super Chief consist ended with a dead-head (actually on the tail) high-level coach, and a baggage car. Models of these two cars are also to be found in the Kato El Capitan/Amtrak car set.

 

129.jpg

 

REFERENCES

Solomon, Brian, Amtrak, MBI Publishing, 2004.

Stout, Greg, Santa Fe through passenger service, Morning Sun, 2009.

Warner, David and Elbert Simon, Amtrak by the numbers, A comprehensive passenger car and motive power roster 1971-2011, White River Productions, 2011.

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