It was 1976 and the United States was celebrating its 200th anniversary by turning everything red, white and blue. Bicentenary commemorative memorabilia abounded, and many companies tied their products or brand to the observance.
The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (Santa Fe), a predecessor of the BNSF, entered the patriotic wave, painting five locomotives numbered 5700-5704 in a unique Bicentennial scheme.
Electro-Motive Division (EMD) SD45-2s were originally placed at the front of the railroad’s premium freight trains operating between Chicago and Los Angeles. They also helped operate the American Freedom Train and were used at special events.
But soon after the celebration stopped, the locomotives would be repainted in the standard Santa Fe blue and yellow paint scheme and become workhorses in freight service. Over the years, three will be rebuilt and eventually retired. One is still in service and another – 5704 (renumbered BNSF 6484) – was retired in 2008 and destined for scrap in 2020 after four decades and millions of miles in service.
It was then that Eric Goodman, Director of Economic Development for BNSF, first heard of the fate of 5704.
“The locomotive was in Memphis, with plans to scrap it,” Goodman recalled. “A number of us who are involved in the Santa Fe Railroad History and Modeling Society (SFRH&MS) learned of it and agreed that he must be saved. We just had to figure out how.
They formed a team, with Goodman working with BNSF to donate the unit. They looked for a railway museum to donate and chose the Southern California Railroad Museum (SCRM) in Perris, California.
The team approached Mid-America Car Inc. – Locomotive to donate the know-how of its craftsmen to transform 5704 to go back in time down to the smallest detail.
“The Mid-America team worked diligently to ensure that the bicentennial version of 5704 was reproduced perfectly,” said Stephen Priest, author and railroad historian, whom the museum appointed as engineer and project manager. on site in Kansas City, where 5704 was eventually moved to be cosmetically restored.
“Sherwin-Williams reproduced the paint color formulas for the Santa Fe Bicentennial locomotives. Not only did they reproduce them for this restoration project, but they donated the paint,” Priest added. “It was meticulously applied, with three coats of each color, plus a clear coat to preserve color integrity and protect the paintwork from the elements.”
Both Priest and Goodman credit the paint company and Eagle Enterprises of Wichita, Kansas, for ensuring 5704’s appearance in 2022 is true to its appearance in 1976.
“The museum wanted the locomotive to be era-specific,” Goodman said. This was difficult, given that over the years parts of the locomotive had been modernized. BNSF’s store in Topeka, Kansas helped fix some of the modifications such as a period-specific air conditioning unit. Goodman donated a horn from his personal collection that exactly matched the original.
“It’s been a labor of love for everyone,” Goodman said. “This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with in my 21 years on the railroad. When we first rolled it out after receiving its paint, some of our employees were seeing it for the first time and were so excited and proud of BNSF’s contribution.
In addition to donating the locomotive itself to the museum, BNSF is also donating an electrical cabinet to assist with mechanical restoration as well as transportation of the unit when the time comes.
“It’s a piece of history that we’re proud to have donated for its next stage of life,” said Lena Kent, BNSF’s executive director of public affairs. “Our donation is just a small part of the collaboration and enthusiasm that has gone into this project. It will be exciting to see what happens in 2026, when our nation celebrates its 250and anniversary.”
Currently, the locomotive is stored at the BNSF yard in Kansas City. In June, it will be on public display at Union Station in Kansas City as part of the annual SFRH&MS convention June 15-19. Eventually, it will be moved to Perris, where the museum will continue its restoration to make it operational again.
“After receiving 5704 into our museum in Perris, we will assess what is needed to mechanically restore the locomotive to working order,” said Hank Winn, vice president and chief operating officer of SCRM. “Our team at Perris is capable of achieving this if the hardware resources can be acquired, and that’s our goal. It’s still a long way off, so for now, we’re looking forward to enjoying cosmetic restoration when 5704 travels from Kansas City to Perris.
Restoration donations for Santa Fe 5704 and other parts to SCRM can be made here.