7.6.17

IT'S STILL MEANINGLESS MOD TO ME.

Classic Trains columnist Kevin Keefe refers to the "cool school" of railroad design.
I was also a railfan, a solitary pursuit where I lived, and I was enjoying my second full year of reading Trains magazine. After the August 1967 issue arrived at the house, something unusual caught my eye.

It was a news photo of a directors’ special train on the Great Northern, pulling out of St. Paul Union Depot on May 11, its two lead SDP45 diesels and several cars sporting a new paint scheme the railroad was calling “Big Sky Blue,” including a re-working of GN’s famed Rocky the mountain goat. “Farewell, Omaha orange,” said the magazine’s caption writer.

Color printing in Trains was scarce to nonexistent in those days, so you had to take the editors’ word that the new GN livery was a bold combination of bright blue and white and gray. But even in the magazine’s somewhat muddy reproduction, it was impressive.
The paint job, and the meaningless mod goat, only lasted a short time, as Burlington Northern happened early in 1970, and the graphic designers came up with an N-hiding-inside-a-B logo, and a similar typeface, but with green and white paint.  A few of the Great Northern passenger diesels remained in the blue into the Amtrak era.


Milwaukee, 26 November 1971.  Stephen Karlson photograph.

Some of the railroads that invested heavily in those hippie-era makeovers (often, to disguise the fact that they even were railroads) later thought better of it.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe uses the same Omaha orange and green, when it's not using the Santa Fe warbonnet and the Holy Rood (or is it a sun sign) of the old Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.

The most notorious case of an image makeover was Canadian Pacific's, where the shield and beaver gave way to some abstraction that looked like a foreshadowing of Pac-Man. But if you see a recently painted Canadian Pacific car passing through your town, you will once again see a shield and a beaver.

But there is a better object lesson for the trustees, running right through DeKalb. As it was in the beginning, it is now (and ever shall be?) Armour yellow and the Federal shield on the Union Pacific.
I had been inspired to write these posts to draw attention to universities, and intercollegiate athletic conferences, tweaking their logos at a time when the academic mission is being neglected, and the sports become money-sucks when they're not providing material for future police procedurals.

In like manner, there was money in the railroads' coffers for these branding initiatives, if not for cleaning the coaching stock or replacing the crossties.
[Great Northern] was fully aware that it was messing with a rich tradition. Rocky the goat dated back to 1921, and Omaha orange had been carrying the GN flag since its introduction on FT freight diesels in the 1940s. The orange-and-green paint scheme achieved its widest fame in 1947 with the introduction of the fully re-equipped Empire Builder, with other GN streamliners to follow.

The new blue design was the work of Lippicott & Margulies, a top-flight New York design firm known for such visual commercial icons as the Betty Crocker spoon, the General Mills big “G,” and the god Mercury in the FTD florists’ logo. L&M had transportation cred in the Sixties, too, with Eastern Airlines and the CP Rail “multimark” among its creations.

As Trains reported, Great Northern suspected its image was becoming passé, so something had to be done. GN President John M. Budd was quoted as telling the L&M designers, “there were absolutely no sacred cows — or goats — to consider.” Subsequent research showed that the public identified Rocky with the railroad to a much greater degree than anyone anticipated. So Rocky stayed.

Editor David P. Morgan later dismissed the updated Rocky as a “mod goat,” which says something about DPM’s relative cultural hipness. For its part, L&M described the new Rocky as “more vigorous, dynamic.” It certainly looked more contemporary, especially on the broad flanks of the 14 blue F45 cowl units GN ultimately added to its roster.
Perhaps, although Editor Morgan did not live long enough to see how well the current fleet of BNSF wide-nose diesels wear the Omaha Orange and Glacier Green, nor Canadian Pacific restoring the beaver.


Rochelle, 9 April 2017.  Stephen Karlson photo.

And cool?  I'm reminded of the preacher noting how a little paint could hide a lot of dirt.
The Great Northern was not a pioneer of this new style of railroad corporate image. That honor belongs to the Boston & Maine and the New Haven, whose misadventures in the mid-1950s with CEO (and crook) Patrick McGinnis nevertheless produced two exciting new paint schemes distinguished by large block-letter logos. The image makeover is sometimes credited to McGinnis’ wife, but the logos themselves were the work of Swiss-born designer Herbert Matter.

This was the era of cool, with origins in the pre-war Bauhaus school of design. It was an ethos characterized by Mies van der Rohe and the Chicago school of architecture, the suddenly ubiquitous use of the new Helvetica typeface, and, perhaps playing in the background, the music of Dave Brubeck.
Perhaps, although that was also the era of Johnny Carson cracking jokes about the shortcomings of the Long Island Rail Road, and on occasion, the New Haven got a ribbing. Had the Tonight Show recorded in Boston, the whole country would know about the Boston & Maine and New Haven of the era.  "Herbert Matter could put new paint on the New Haven and on the Boston and Maine, but if the trains were unreliable, it made no difference."

What of Lippincott and Marguiles?  "There were other memorable railroad image updates, some of them tied to Lippincott & Margulies. One was notorious, the “mating worms” logo of the new Penn Central of 1968. Another was Amtrak’s “pointless arrow” and patriotic red, white, and blue of 1971."

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