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Green Boilers on D&RGW Steam Locomotives

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This page was last updated on December 22, 2019.

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(This is a work in progress; research continues.)


D&RGW's use of green boilers (circa 1928-1940) was a bit of a throwback to an earlier corrosion control treatment for steam locomotive boiler jackets known as "planished steel", more popularly known as either "Russia Iron" or "Russian Iron". This was a chemical/heat treatment for unpainted sheet iron used on steam locomotive boiler jackets in the 1880s to early 1900s. As paint technology improved in the period during and after WWI, making paint less sensitive to high heat, the added expense of special sheet iron became unnecessary.

(Read more about Russian Iron)

When D&RGW received new passenger locomotives in the late 1920s, they chose green-painted boilers to simulate Russia Iron, and used the special paint scheme, along with the Royal Gorge/Moffat Tunnel herald on the tenders, until the flying Rio Grande lettering came into use starting in October 1939 on 4-8-4 No. 1700. Repainted locomotives apparently made their debut with the 1934 opening of the Dotsero Cutoff.

Jerry Day has shared a letter dated January 23, 1926 to all roundhouse foreman under the jurisdiction of the Alamosa Division, which includes a line entry for "Russian Black Jacket Enamel for jackets." Much discussion has taken place as to exactly what color "Russia Black Jacket Enamel" really is. Some say it literally is black. Others think that it is similar to Pennsylvania Railroad's "Locomotive Black" which is actually a very dark green better known as "Dark Green Locomotive Enamel," also known at times by Pennsylvania fans as "Brunswick Green."

(Read the letter dated January 23, 1926)

Many messages to various email discussion groups mention a D&RGW Standard Practice 57-L-179, dated November 1, 1937 "Painting Locomotives and Tenders", which includes a specific line entry for "Jackets...........Jacket Enamel (Dark Olive Green)".

The problem with citing this "official" specification is that it is difficult to determine exactly how many locomotives were actually painted using it, except the few specially repainted for railfan excursions in 1949 and 1950, of which numerous color photos were taken. Keep in mind that these are special paint jobs for special excursions. Research into "official" instructions for painting and lettering issued by other western railroads such as UP, SP, and AT&SF has proven many times that official instructions did not filter down in their entirety to local paint shop and roundhouse foreman.

The best source is dated color photographs. Next best source would be specific D&RGW records stating which locomotives were repainted, and where and when. Everything else is merely speculation based on interpretation of black and white photographs. The best we can do is compile a list based on that speculation.

-- Fact 1: It is impossible to determine the color of a boiler using a black & white photo.

-- Fact 2: The dyes used on color slides and color negatives vary considerably due to differences in processing and age, and method of storage, therefore it is *almost* impossible to determine the color of a boiler using an old color slide or print from a color negative.

-- Fact 3: The inks used to publish color photos in books and magazines vary considerably due to differences in how the colors are set in the printing press, therefore it is *almost* impossible to determine the color of a boiler using a color photo published in a book or magazine.

This means that historical records are the best source, and Rio Grande apparently never compiled a list of how many and which locomotives received green boilers, or why.

A similar valuable source would be a comment recorded at the time by an employee, in a journal, a diary, or log book. Newspaper accounts would also be very useful sources.

Using Black and White Photos To Determine a Green Boiler

With the understanding that a black and white photograph cannot prove a green boiler, the following notations are presented:

John Craft wrote in June 2006:

The film, lens, filter, developer and paper [for black an white photography] are all going to combine in a unique way, even before you consider sun angle, the possibility that the cab was painted in a different year than the jacket, etc.

I've been involved in several loco repaints in the past few years, some of which left the boiler jacket untouched while the cab and tender were painted. The jacket would look "lighter" on a B&W print in this situation, but still be black.

I have no idea what colors were used on D&RGW locos, but b&w photos will neither prove nor disprove anyone's position.

Andrew Brandon wrote in February 2009:

Baldwin's standard color was green up until the 1920s. It is important to note that this standard color would be applied if the railroad placing the order did not specify a color. By the late 1880s some roads were specifying black on locomotives including D&RG. While the locomotives base color was black they would have still carried the same striping of multiple colors a green base locomotive would have.

Baldwin's standard color for boiler jackets and cylinder covers was a dark green (Russian Black?) until the early or mid-twenties.

Many have stated and written that D&RGW 361 had a green boiler, based on a Richard Jackson color slide taken in 1937. A person with Photoshop skills can adjust grayscale versions of the color slide, creating two different versions; one showing an apparently green boiler, and another that makes the boiler appear to be the same color as the rest of the locomotive. Similar conversions were possible in earlier days in a photographic dark room, using various filters, showing that using a black and white photo to prove the color of a locomotive boiler is often not a good idea.

Over 30 years ago at a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club, there was a long discussion about green boilers and tri-color heralds. The discussion was between Jerry Day, John Maxwell, Dick Kindig, and Jack Thode. At the end, Jack Thode made a comment to Jerry Day saying, "Jerry, some folks do not want to be convinced by the facts."

Standard Gauge Locomotives

How many D&RGW standard gauge locomotives received green boilers when originally delivered? As many as 64 locomotives may have been delivered with green boilers, with the following number series:

Qty. Date
D&RGW 1400-1409 2-10-2 F-81 10 1916
D&RGW 1600-1609 4-8-2 M-75 10 1926
D&RGW 1700-1713 4-8-4 M-64 14 1929
D&RGW 3600-3909 2-8-8-2 L-131 10 1927
D&RGW 3610-3619 2-8-8-2 L-132 10 1930
D&RGW 3700-3709 4-6-6-4 L-105 10 1938

Baldwin records show that the M-75 (1600 series) 4-8-2s, the M-64 (1700 series ) 4-8-4s and the K-36 narrow gauge 2-8-2s (480 series), were delivered in all black paint, with no stripes. As a side note of earlier locomotives, Vauclain compound 4-6-0s and 2-8-0s delivered in 1902, had black boilers with gold striping. The 4-6-0s also had red main and side rods. (Everett Lueck, email dated December 20, 2019)

The ten M-75 (1600 series) 4-8-2s, delivered in 1926, and the fourteen M-64 (1700 series ) 4-8-4s, delivered in 1929, may have received green boilers later.

The five D&RGW 4-8-4s 1800-1804, Class M-68, were delivered in 1937 with black boilers, but may have received green boilers later.

The five D&RGW 4-6-6-4s 3710-3714, Class L-105, were delivered in 1938 with black boilers, but may have received green boilers later.

The following comes from the April 1938 issue of Baldwin Locomotives magazine, courtesy of Parker Wilson:

"The locomotives of both classes [M-68 and L-105] are painted black, without striping, and with lettering and numbering in aluminum leaf. The railroad company's monogram, placed on the sides of the tank, is red and blue."

Parker Wilson wrote: "The article in question was about Baldwin building the recently completed order of M-68 and L-105 class engines. I've seen a bit of debate as to whether these two classes of engines ever had green boilers. While they may have been painted green at some point after delivery, it appears that they were delivered in black." (Parker Wilson, Facebook message dated June 14, 2019)

The standard gauge locomotives that received green-painted locomotives were generally those in passenger service, and those that operated between Salt Lake City and Grand Junction. These included the Class M-75, 1600 series 3-cylinder Baldwin 4-8-2s and the Class F-81, 1400 series 2-10-2s.

Dennis O'Berry wrote in April 2001:

I knew an individual that rode trains keeping a journal of engine numbers and paint schemes - never took any photos.

He recorded a 1400 in Salt Lake City (1922) with a green boiler and red Roof and a C-48 (1148 - I think) green and red at Leadville in 1927. Never saw that combination on the narrow gauge himself. Latest I've seen was a 1949 movie Perry Jenkins shot at Alamosa (I think) of a 3600 with a green boiler.

On the occasion of the June 16, 1934 opening of the Dotsero Cutoff, D&RGW applied fresh green paint to the boilers of four standard gauge steam locomotives: 4-8-4 1705, and 4-6-2s 801, 802, and 805. This was also the apparent first use of "silvered" (aluminum paint color) cylinder head covers, running board edges, and wheel tire rims.

For D&RGW's standard gauge steam locomotives, the green boilers were applied during the time that the tri-color "Royal Gorge/Moffat Tunnel" herald was also applied to the tenders, so any locomotive with the "flying Rio Grande" lettering on the tender (adopted in 1939) would not have had a green boiler unless just the tender changed to reflect the new lettering scheme.

There have been reports of locomotives with both flying Rio Grande and green boilers, but these few cases would likely be the result of the tender lettering being updated and the entire locomotive not being repainted. As a side note, the UP-design 4-6-6-4 locomotives (D&RGW 3800-3805, Class L-97) would not have had green boilers, since they were delivered after the change to flying Rio Grande.

Gordon Reynolds wrote in October 2001:

There are also 2 pics in the deluxe edition of "Rio Grande to the Pacific" (I think) of green boilered SG locomotives. A 3400 series 2-8-8-2 on the bridge over the Eagle River near Redcliff, and the 602 (C-28) consolidation next to the Montrose enginehouse. They show very oxidized pale green boilers.

Keith Williams wrote in February 2003:

...it is highly unlikely that any D&RGW (inherited or otherwise) with the possible exception of 268 had any green paint applied to its boiler jacket after 1945. While there are post-WWII photos of D&RGW locos with green boiler jackets I question whether it was applied after the war. I *think* that 1803 sports a green jacket in the photo on the bottom of page 41 of Allen Copeland's D&RGW Color Pictorial.

A few general statements:

Type Photo
D&RGW 602 2-8-0    
D&RGW 773 4-6-0 July 1940 Copeland, D&RGW Color Pictorial, Volume 1, page 13 (Alamosa)
D&RGW 1220 2-8-2 July 1950 LeMassena, Denver & Rio Grande Western Superpower, page 75
(D&RGW 1222) 2-8-2 (?) LeMassena, Rio Grande to the Pacific, page 301
D&RGW 1402 2-10-2 3 Aug 1939 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 3, page 9 (Salt Lake City)
D&RGW 1508 4-8-2 5 Oct 1939 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 3, page 23 (Bond, Colorado.)
D&RGW 1522 4-8-2 21 Sep 1939 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 3, page 40 (Ogden, Utah)
D&RGW 1526 4-8-2 20 Jul 1936 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 3, page 47 (Denver)
D&RGW 1528 4-8-2 1951 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 3, page 51 (Colorado Springs)
D&RGW 1705 4-8-4 June 1934 A Century of Passenger Trains, page 58
D&RGW 1803 4-8-4 June 1949 Copeland, D&RGW Color Pictorial, Volume 1, page 41 (near Palmer Lake)
D&RGW 3300 2-6-6-2 4 Jun 1946 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 4, page 7 (Salt Lake City)
D&RGW 3400 series 2-8-8-2 1949 LeMassena, Denver & Rio Grande Western Superpower, page 102
D&RGW 3400 2-8-8-2 1952 LeMassena, Rio Grande to the Pacific, page 176, 182 (flying Rio Grande lettering
D&RGW 3407 2-8-8-2 13 Oct 1940 Rio Grande Steam Pictorial, Volume 1, page 13 (Denver) (flying Rio Grande lettering)

Whether or not any of the above steam locomotives have green boilers is determined by comparing the B&W tones of the boiler jacket with the B&W tones of the cab side. Most photos show very dirty locomotives, but those noted above appear to be clean enough so the the different boiler color is more obvious.

One source says, "I have spent quite a bit of time looking at the pix (b&w of course) of the D&RGW's articulated. I would speculate - with firmly crossed fingers - that all the classes, with the exception perhaps of the 3500s and 3600s were given the green treatment. But I would swear that all of them were."

Narrow Gauge Locomotives

The green boiler on D&RGW narrow gauge 2-8-0 346 at the Colorado Railroad Museum is a simulation of the as-delivered unpainted "Russia Iron" (pickled steel) boiler jackets from Baldwin in the late 1800s, and later locomotives delivered through the 1920s with boiler jackets painted dark olive green.

Locomotives painted in later years with green boilers include at least five narrow gauge locomotives: D&RGW 340, 346, 452, 473 and 489.

The purpose of this page is to document locomotives that may or may not have received green boilers when delivered new, or at least for service in the 1920s and 1930s. This page is not intended to document the various simulations of green boilers on the very few narrow gauge locomotives that appear to have received green boilers during the late 1940s or early 1950s, or after the end of operations outside of Durango after 1968.

There is plenty of color photography showing D&RGW 340 and 489 with green boilers in 1949-1950:

Among available Richard Jackson slides, there were color photos of D&RGW 340, 346 and 452 with green boiler jackets. But as stated above, these are simulated representations of the in-service locomotives of earlier decades. These were special paint jobs meant to commemorate earlier paint schemes, for the purposes of special excursions.

Josh McNeal added in April 2000 that "The 473 got a green jacket back in 1950 also when it received the Rio Grande Gold treatment. There is a good color picture of it in Dorman's Durango book."

Jerry Day wrote in March 2007:

This has been discussed before and it seems impossible to provide documentation that everyone will accept. In the early 70s, Dick Kindig checked all of his D&RGW and RGS color slides (he had photographed all the D&RGW and RGS ng engines existing in the late 30s). None of them had a green boiler. I asked three D&RGW retired engineers who worked the narrow gauge and they never saw one in green. The green paint and tri-color heralds seem to have been reserved for standard gauge passenger power. 489 was painted with green at Salida at the request of the Rocky Mountain RR Club for some excursion trips out of Salida. I have learned not to say never, but no one has been able to come up with a color photo of one in green other than the two out of Salida.

(Adam Pinales has found a photo of D&RGW narrow-gauge K-27 no. 452 with a tri-color herald on its tender. This is possibly the only occurrence.)

Gordon Chappell wrote in March 2007:

The roundhouse foreman at Alamosa gave Bob Richardson a can with an inch or so of half dried up paint in the bottom he said was boiler jacket green. He told Bob when he had ordered more green from Burnham, about 1941, he was told it was no longer in stock and no longer to be used. Unfortunately, one of the volunteers at the Colorado Railroad Museum later threw out the can of boiler jacket green without consulting Bob.

Jerry Day wrote in September 2007:

Years ago, I had the opportunity to look at all of Dick Kindig's color slides (and copy some). They dated from 1936. He had slides of every existing D&RGW locomotive and not one narrow gauge engine with a green boiler in the lot until the late 40s when the Salida shops painted some for Rocky Club excursions. I have learned to never say "never," but color slides seem to be more accurate proof than b&w photos of engines with fresh paint on some parts and older paint on the rest.

Of all the narrow gauge locomotives operated by D&RGW, the following list shows the groups that may (or may not) have received green boilers:

Type D&RGW
Qty. Date
D&RGW 340-349 2-8-0 C-19 10   Built in 1881; renumbered from 400 series in 1924, which is likely when they received green boilers (if they received green boilers)
D&RGW 450-464 2-8-2 K-27 15 1903 There may have been at least four K-27 class locomotives that wore green when delivered
D&RGW 470-479 2-8-2 K-28 10 1923 All 10 received green boilers in the early 1930s
D&RGW 480-489 2-8-2 K-36 10 1925 Unknown number received green boilers; most evidence shows that, other than 489, few if any had green boilers
D&RGW 490-495 2-8-2 K-37 6 1928 Unknown number received green boilers
D&RGW 496-499 2-8-2 K-37 4 1930 Unknown number received green boilers; 497 is documented as having a green boiler in 1928

Note that the above list does not include D&RGW 361, which many feel is shown in a Richard Jackson color slide taken in 1937 as having a green boiler.

One person who was able to do research in Baldwin builder records has said that according to the Baldwin specification sheets, the K-36 class were painted black by Baldwin.

Hank Porter wrote in October 2002:

One of the reasons that people believe the jacket was green on number 268 was because of the D&RGW paint diagram that was printed in a folder given out at the Chicago Railroad Fair. (For those who don't have a copy of it, it was reprinted in the book "Grande Gold", by Railhead Publications, in 1989). The diagram shows the boiler jacket as "Dark Olive Green". The cab roof is also shown as "Aluminum". It even gives the actual Dupont Duco lacquer number for the orange paint.

What people forget is that "Dark Olive Green" could show up more like "Brunswick Green" in real life and appear more like black, unless the sunlight hits it just right. Look at any Pennsy engine. Unless you saw one next to something that was actually black, you would think it was really black.

If you look at the Vanishing Vista JT-431 (J6162) color postcard of number 268, you can see that it could be "dark olive green" if you compare the jacket with the black pilot and smokebox deck brace. The D&RGW painting diagram did not mention the color of the pumps, but they appear to be "dark olive green" too.

By the time number 268 was running out of Gunnison in the early to mid-1950's, soot would had covered the jacket and colored pictures would make it look even more black. The Vanishing Vista card was an official D&RGW archives photo and probably was taken when it first got to Gunnison.

The Denver Public Library has an Otto Perry photo of D&RGW 455 at Alamosa on September 1, 1930, showing a lighter boiler color, and which is most likely a green boiler.

According to the book Otto Perry's Railroad Pilgrimage (Sundance Publications, 1981) the ten K-37s were completed in 1928 with green boilers.

Charlie Mutschler wrote in July 1998:

Check Dennis O'Berry's "The Mudhens", page 66 has an Otto Perry photo of No. 455, dated Sept. 1, 1930, "Freshly shopped with a green boiler..." Page 51 has another Perry view, dated August 30, 1930 of No. 454 at Alamosa, also with the green boiler jacket. Several other views of K-27's with green boiler jackets as well.

On page 262 of "Trails Among the Columbine" (Sundance, 1991) there is a black and white photo of the 472 at Salida in 1937 in which to boiler jacket appears to be a different color than the cab and  tender. At that time the 472 was used on the "Shavano" [Trains 315/316], the newly named and refurbished Salida - Gunnison passenger train. (The "Shavano" was in service from April 1937 to November 1940.)

Everett Lueck provided the following photo research in December 2007, about locomotives with boilers that appear to be lighter than the other parts of the locomotive such as the cab and domes:

There are three excellent sources for photos of the K class engines in the 1920-1950 era available. The first is Dennis O'Berry's book on the Mudhens, and the other two are volumes 1 and 11 of the Bob Grandt's Narrow Gauge Pictorial.

In The Mudhens there are pictures of:

  • 453 in 1939, and in 1951 in which the boiler jacket is not black, but lighter color. In addition, the 1951 photo shows the cab panels painted in the same lighter color, plus a very liberal use of aluminum paint on the engine. Both of these pictures were taken in Montrose.
  • 454 also shows up with a lighter boiler jacket in 1930 in Alamosa. A Montrose picture taken in 1937 shows the locomotive in what appears to be the weathered version of the same paint.
  • 455 is photographed in Alamosa, also in 1930 with the lighter color boiler jacket and fresh out of the paint shop.
  • 456 is photographed by Gerry Best in Gunnison in 1936, with what might be a lighter boiler jacket.
  • 459 is in Alamosa in 1939 with a light color boiler jacket, and fresh out of the shop.
  • 461 is at Salida in 1936, with what is identified as a "fresh Alamosa green boiler paint job" in a Gerry Best photo.
  • 461 at Salida, taken by Richard Jackson from a different sun angle on the same day and the color distinction is lost
  • 462 is found on in Alamosa in 1940, carrying a "green" paint job on the boiler. Photo from DeGolyer.

In Narrow Gauge Pictorial Volume 1:

  • 473 in Salida in 1931, with a lighter color jacket, darker domes and cab
  • 482 in Durango, 1933 with an obviously lighter jacket, compared to the rest of the locomotive.

In Narrow Gauge Pictorial, Volume 11:

  • 456 in Gunnison in 1940 with what appears to be a lighter color jacket
  • 459 in Alamosa in 1939
  • 461 in Salida in 1938
  • 461 in Montrose in 1939
  • 490 in Alamosa in 1938
  • 493 in Gunnison in 1937
  • 498 in Gunnison in 1941
  • 499 in Salida in 1937

Other "green" photos exist of D&RGW 489 and 497

All of these engines were last painted before the flying Rio Grande, with the exception of 453 at Montrose in 1951 and we all know that the 340 and the 605 both at Montrose were painted green at that same time.

It looks to me as if most of the K-27s, and K-37s got "green" paint at least in the last repainting before the flying Rio Grande and the big cab numbers, and at least one K-28 and possibly more than 1 K-36.

Posted to the Narrow Gauge Discussion Forum, September 17, 2014, by "Russo Loco":

Mike Spera - master mechanic at the CRRM - discovered in the vaults of the theater (still in working order) a telegram from the D&RGW to their paint supplier in Denver asking for several gallons of dark olive green (Moffat Green) boiler jacket enamel for the K-37's. (See the "Narrow Gauge Super Power" article in last fall's CRRM Iron Horse News.)

It's really hard to imagine that the top brass at Burnham Shops would have been anything but EXTREMELY proud of the fantastic job that had been done in reverse-engineering the running gear of the K-36's, having appropriate castings poured and machined in Denver, and assembling the K-37's as a 100% home-grown solution to D&RGW's motive power needs. It's equally hard to imagine that these locos would have left Burnham shops without being carefully painted in the D&RGW's mostly shiny black with their own Moffat Green jackets and aluminum lettering standard at that time. Perhaps a thorough search of the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post newspapers of 1928 and 1930 would reveal the RR's public relations releases when these beautiful engines were shipped to Salida and Alamosa ...

Jerry Day provided the following internal D&RGW letter:

Following is a D&RGW letter with instructions for painting narrow gauge locomotives and cars. You might notice that several types of black paint are used on the locomotives and that parts of the locomotives were varnished. Think that might make parts of the locomotives appear brighter in a B&W photo? See any green boilers here?

More Information

"D&RGW 4-8-4 Westerns", by Robert B. Schaefer, in The Prospector, Volume 2, Number 2

Russian Iron