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Rare Museum Locomotive Arrives in Frisco, Texas

The 1948 ALCO PA-1 diesel-electric locomotive recently gifted by the Smithsonian Institution to the Museum of the American Railroad has arrived in Frisco, Texas.  The locomotive was shipped from Portland (Lebanon), Oregon where it had resided for nearly ten years awaiting ultimate disposition.  Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway graciously provided the use of two flatcars and transportation of the rare locomotive to Texas. 

The PA-1, numbered 59L when originally built for passenger service on the Santa Fe Railway, represents the zenith of post-war streamlined diesel locomotive design.  Its distinctive exterior styling was by GE, then a partner with ALCO, and supplier of locomotives to the industry today.  Santa Fe, a predecessor to BNSF Railway, operated premiere long-distance passenger trains between Chicago, California, and Texas.  For two decades, ALCO PA-1s provided power for the line’s named trains, including Super Chief, El Capitan, and the Chicago-Dallas/Fort Worth-Houston Texas Chief

Painted in the line’s classic “Warbonnet” scheme featuring brilliant red and yellow hues from the American Southwest, the Santa Fe PA-1s were considered one of the most striking and successful industrial designs of the era.  The locomotive, while presently in poor condition as a result of a derailment on the Mexican National Railway (its third owner) in 1981, will be cosmetically restored to its former Santa Fe grandeur.  “It’s the successful end of a 26-year saga to rescue AT&SF 59 – when everyone at the Smithsonian thought I was nuts.  Now it’s the beginning of a new role for this great American icon, thanks to MAR,” said Bill Withuhn, Curator Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution. 

BNSF has been very supportive of this project, having been involved in the original movement of the locomotive during its repatriation to the U.S. from Mexico by the Smithsonian in 2000.  BNSF officials expressed interest and excitement when the Smithsonian conveyed it to the Museum and plans were announced to restore it to Santa Fe livery.  “We are indebted to BNSF for providing transportation of the locomotive to Texas.  Without their support this project would not have been possible.  We are proud and honored to preserve a part of the line’s history and heritage,” said Robert Willis, Museum Trustee and ALCO PA-1 Project Coordinator. 

The locomotive was unloaded from the two flatcars on which the carbody and wheels traveled from Oregon.  It was reunited with its wheels and now awaits stabilization and restoration.  The rare ALCO joins the Museum's Historic Santa Fe Collection - a nationally significant assemblage of rare and unique locomotives & cars from the line.  The locomotive is currently not accessible to visitors.  It will reside at a private facility in Frisco until the Museum’s new site is ready for occupancy.  The Museum will mount a nationwide campaign to raise funds for the locomotive’s repair and restoration, including fabrication and replacement of several exterior stainless steel panels.  “The ALCO PA-1 locomotive has a strong following of devoted enthusiasts.  With this project, they will have an opportunity to take part in the creation of a one-of-a-kind exhibit of an authentic survivor from the classic era of the streamliner," said Willis.   

In addition to our gratitude to BNSF Railway, the Museum of the American Railroad is deeply indebted to Bill Withuhn, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian who – starting in 1984 – patiently and persistently negotiated all the details of the return of AT&SF 59L to the U.S.  Without Bill’s efforts, no ALCO PA-1s would be left in this country.  The Museum is also indebted to rail preservationist Doyle McCormack of Daylight Locomotive & Machine Works, Inc. for preparation and loading of the ALCO PA-1 locomotive in Oregon.  The Albany & Eastern Railroad provided storage of the locomotive and also assisted in loading the unit onto flatcars for transportation to Texas.  Frisco Wholesale Lumber and Crocker Crane provided much-needed resources for the unloading and storage of the locomotive in Frisco. 

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