Union Pacific Caboose Painting

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Pre-Harriman Paint Scheme

During the early period, from 1862 to bankruptcy in 1893, Union Pacific painted their cabooses a variety of colors. In about 1869-1870 they began painting all cabooses a canary yellow. The cabooses of the Oregon Railway & Navigation were always painted in some form of freight car red.

Freight Car Red Paint Scheme

All Union Pacific Harriman-era Common Standard cabooses were painted in the road's own version of freight car red, using a color called CS-22, No. 11. The color's official name was "Metallic", and was a dark brownish red, similar to Tuscan red. The color was later known as Synthetic Freight Car Red. Included with cabooses painted freight car red were the first two classes of steel cabooses, the CA-3s delivered in 1942 and CA-4s delivered in 1944.

Following is a table showing the Common Standard paint scheme of cabooses during the freight car red era, with its corresponding CS-22 paint number:

Description Paint
Exterior body and roof of wood cabooses Paint, No. 11, Metallic
Exterior underframe, trucks, and ironwork exposed to view on cabooses Paint, No. 13, Carbon Black
Interior walls, ceilings, and cupola of cabooses Paint, No. 15, Green Enamel
Interior of cabooses (alternate), walls to height of four feet above floor, including, fixtures and accessories Paint, No. 30, Dark Green
Interior of cabooses (alternate), above four feet above floor, ceilings, cupola Paint, No. 31, Light Green
Interior of cabooses: back of door knobs and spaces around locker door catches Paint, No. 17, Lamp Black
Floors of cabooses, including platforms of cupola, exterior platforms, and steps of, cabooses Paint, No. 4, Maroon

Yellow Caboose Paint Scheme

With WWII restrictions removed and a peacetime economy brewing, 1947 was a year of major change for the Union Pacific. More diesels and passenger cars were delivered to enable the "City" Streamliners to run on a daily schedule and UP wanted to promote these trains by using Armour Yellow wherever it could. Almost all freight car lettering was changed from white to Armour Yellow. The new Livestock Dispatch stock trains had their roller bearing equipped stock cars painted Armour Yellow and the road's mundane black diesel yard switchers also received the new yellow color. The change to yellow included cabooses too.

In June 1947, instructions were issued to change UP's cabooses from freight car red bodies with white letters, to yellow bodies with red letters. The roofs remained freight car red, and the underframe and trucks became black. The repainting of the remaining wooden cabooses (including the transfer cabooses) and the CA-3 and CA-4 classes of steel cabooses began soon thereafter. The two classes of new steel cabooses were just five years old, for the CA-3s, and, three years old, for the CA-4s.

The Painting, Lettering & Numbering drawing for CA-3 and CA-4 cabooses (303-C-8037) was changed to the new color scheme on June 13, 1947. For unknown reasons, the drawing for the CA and CA-1 classes (303-C-7412) was not changed until January 29, 1948. It took at least three years to repaint the caboose fleet. A newspaper article in the Greeley (Colorado) Tribune of November 28, 1947 mentioned the new yellow color, and that several cabooses in the new color scheme had been seen in the Denver yards alongside several new high-speed stockcars, also in the new scheme.

A steel CA-3, UP 3763, was the first caboose repainted from red to yellow at East Los Angeles, California. It was completed in early July 1947. An aerial photo of the Repair-In-Place (RIP) track at Ogden, Utah, in February 1950 shows nine cabooses just recently painted yellow, and two others partially completed.

The interior colors of Light Green above Dark Green did not change with the conversion to a yellow exterior. In October 1959 the surface finish changed from flat to semi-gloss, and in March 1963 the semi-gloss was changed to full gloss.

Following is a table showing the paint scheme of cabooses during the yellow era:

Description Paint
Exterior sides, ends, doors, step risers Armour Yellow Freight Car Paint
Exterior platforms and step treads Maroon Paint
Exterior platform railings, hand brakes, ladders and handholds, except cupola, handholds Bright Red Enamel
Exterior roofs of body and cupola, including cupola handholds
(For wooden cabooses, this excluded the actual roofing material, known as "mulehide," which was not to be painted.)
Synthetic Red Freight Car Paint
Exterior roof top running boards, metal and wood Synthetic Red Freight Car Paint
Exterior underframe with all underneath attachments Black Freight Car Paint
Trucks, all parts except wheels and axles which are to be left unpainted Black Freight Car Paint
Interior car ceiling and interior of cupola except cupola platform Light Green Flat Paint
Interior side walls (all surfaces) Light Green Flat Paint
Interior wainscoting on side walls, to a distance of four feet up from the floor, including partitions, cupboards, and seat lockers Dark Green Flat Paint
Interior floor and cupola platform Maroon Paint
All stenciling on outside of car above underframe Bright Red Stencil Paint
All stenciling on underframe and trucks Armour Yellow Stencil Paste

Wooden Cabooses

On the wooden cabooses, the roofing material was left unpainted. Although the CS-22 paint standard, updated to July 16, 1929, does not mention the color of mulehide roofing, it does say that all caboose roofs are to be painted Metallic No. 11. It is not known if this is the same as Synthetic Red, or if No. 11 was later changed to No. 33, Freight Car Red.

Mulehide is canvas that is laid over the wooden roof, with hot asphalt brushed on to seal it. Usually, two or three coats of canvas and asphalt was used. This treatment was very waterproof, and very durable, thus the "mulehide" name. But, it also weathered rapidly and needed regular maintenance, which explains why metal roofs were used on freight cars. The color of mulehide would vary from new asphalt black, to highly weathered, old asphalt gray. It was never to be painted. At times, and depending on when it was last treated, the fabric pattern of the canvas is visible.

Aluminum-colored Caboose Scheme

Cupola Only

Sometime in late 1958 or early 1959, the cupola of UP 25407 was painted with aluminum paint and a large black letter M was added to indicate that the caboose was equipped with a multi-channel radio for use on UP lines and on CB&Q lines. Using aluminum-colored paint only on the cupolas did not provide the clear indication needed for the dedicated pool of cabooses. So to make the specially equipped cabooses more apparent on the caboose track, the entire caboose was painted aluminum color.

Entire Caboose

Instructions were issued in a letter from D. S. Neuhart, dated November 22, 1960, to paint two UP cabooses with aluminum paint. UP 25402 and 25441 were to be "used in through service with the Burlington between Chicago and Green River." "The sides, ends, and cupola were to painted aluminum. The underframe and all underneath attachments were to be "painted with approved black freight car paint. The words Union Pacific, and initials UP, car numbers, and balance of exterior stenciling to be approved red stencil paint."

Union Pacific painted at least 10 steel cabooses for service on trains operating in a common pool between UP and CB&Q. The bodies of these cabooses were painted aluminum, along with the grab irons, ladders, and other safety appliances, while the car roof and the cupola roof were painted freight car red, with the platforms and underbody being black. The lettering was red. While most of the aluminum-colored UP cabooses had black handrails and grab irons, like their CB&Q counterparts, at least one had red handrails, and grab irons.

Other sources show that these aluminum-colored cabooses were used in a UP/CB&Q pool train, known as the, CDGI, which operated over the Burlington between Chicago and Grand Island, Nebraska, where the train was interchanged with Union Pacific for further movement to Green River. This train also shared a pool of each road's new GP20 locomotives, with UP GP20s showing up in Chicago, and CB&Q GP20s making it as far west as Green River, Wyoming.

All of the aluminum-painted cabooses were the newest cabooses on UP, the CA-7s delivered in 1959, along with several CA-5s. The known road numbers of the cars include: UP 25218, 25221, 25228, 25402, 25407, 25412, 25418, and 25441 (8 cabooses). UP 25402 remained in the aluminum paint scheme until at least 1968. UP 25402 and 25441 were both equipped with the four-foot by six-foot safety slogan panel.