ATSF H12-44TS 543

The year 1956 saw a couple of significant and distinctive additions to Santa Fe's passenger fleet. That summer, new Hi-Level chair cars, lounges, and diners arrived for the El Capitan, and a somewhat less glamorous but still vital component of the passenger operation was enhanced by the delivery of three new Fairbanks Morse H12-44TS's for service as coachyard switchers at Chicago, IL.

The H12-44TS was one of a handful of locomotive models that was unique to the Santa Fe. Built as a special order, the three locomotives were essentially lengthened H12-44 switchers with a short hood housing a steam generator. A switcher with a steam generator was necessary to keep the trainline from freezing up as passenger consists were shuffled between the 21st Street coachyard and Chicago's Dearborn Station. Breaking down the designation, H indicated a hood-unit, 12 stood for 1200 horsepower, and 44 meant 4 traction motors and 4 total axles. As for the TS, Extra 2200 South magazine says it stood for "Terminal Switcher," while The Santa Fe Diesel V.1 claims it stood for "Train Steam."

Close examination of the H12-44TS suggests that it was something of a Beloit "kitbash," with pieces coming from both the H12-44 switcher and the H16-44 roadswitcher FM was building at the time. The 31' truck centers and 55'4" overall length were identical to those of the H16-44's being built in 1956 for railroads such as Virginian and B&O (interestingly, the original Loewy-styled H16-44's were over a foot shorter than the more spartan versions built after 1953, so Santa Fe's H12-44TS switchers were actually longer than their 3000-class H16-44 roadswitchers!). The short hood, with its recess for the cab door and its high mounted headlight, and resting atop a louvered box containing the main air reservoirs, is also recognizable from the H16-44. In contrast to the H16-44, the H12-44TS short hood lacked the large, angled numberboards, permanent classification lights, and external handbrake, in keeping with the locomotive's role as a switcher, not a road switcher. Inside the short hood was a single Vapor Clarkson OK-4070 steam generator, the type used in most of Santa Fe's passenger F-units. The partioned tank slung under the frame, carrying 1200 gallons apiece of diesel fuel and water, appears to be the same tank used under passenger H16-44's built for Chihuahua Pacific (#600-602) and New Haven (1600-class).

The remainder of the H12-44TS - the switcher trucks, long hood, and the power plant inside - are the bits contributed by the H12-44 switcher. The H12-44TS's were built just prior to the last H12-44 carbody revision, and the lower profile, four section, horizontally louvered battery boxes and low headlight positioning on the long hood contrasted with the vertical louvered boxes and high headlight on the short hood end of the locomotive. The H12-44 long hood was also slightly narrower than the H16-44 short hood on the other side of the cab, and lacked a recess for the open cab door. Under that long hood was FM's signature opposed-piston, 6-cylinder 38D 8 1/8 engine, producing 1200 hp at 850 rpm. The engine turned an FM-built, Westinghouse-compatible DGZJ generator, providing DC power to four DRZH traction motors mounted in Type-A switcher trucks. Shop diagrams in the back of Iron Horses of the Santa Fe Trail show a gear ratio of 68:14 and a top speed of 60 mph for the H12-44TS's, though its doubtful the units ever achieved that speed in service. On rigid switcher trucks, it would have been quite a ride!

The three H12-44TS's, ATSF 541-543, joined five boiler-equipped Santa Fe RS-1's (2395-2399) that had switched Dearborn since the late 40's. Alco was still building RS-1's in 1956, and one might have expected Santa Fe to place a repeat order when the need for more coachyard switchers arose. In the years since the RS-1's arrived, however, the railroad had begun purchasing what ultimately became a fleet of 59 Fairbanks Morse H12-44 switchers. These locomotives were assigned to the eastern portion of the system between Kansas City and Chicago. Meanwhile, Santa Fe's Alco switcher fleet was concentrated at the other end of the system on the Coast Lines. The RS-1's in Chicago were essentially Alco orphans in a sea of FM's, and this may explain why Santa Fe placed the special order for FM terminal switchers rather than opting for more RS-1's.

With the possible exception of trips to Argentine for overhauls, the H12-44TS's spent their entire working lives in Chicago.

Santa Fe's H12-44TS's were delivered in the standard Santa Fe switcher scheme of the 1950's, black and aluminum "zebra stripes." Ed Burggraf visited the 18th St. locomotive facility in June 1961 and caught the 543 loafing with another H12-44TS, a pair of RS-1's, and assorted F-units. The FM's were actually a few inches longer than the Alcos, but the latter's low-slung profile made them look longer. The RS-1's were set up with the long hood designated as the front, while the H12-44TS's were set up for short-hood-forward operation.
Santa Fe adopted the blue and yellow pinstripe scheme for switchers and roadswitchers in 1960. Repainting the switcher fleet took nearly a decade. This Ted Ellis photo shows 543 in stripes in 1965, and Boyd's Fairbanks Morse Locomotives in Color contains a photo at 18th St. in January 1966 showing 541 and 542 in blue and yellow, but 543 still decked out in stripes. It would get its coat of blue and yellow some time before the end of 1966.
The three H12-44TS's continued to switch Dearborn until the startup of Amtrak in 1971. Santa Fe's coachyard switchers then went into storage. Gerry Putz photographed 542 and 543 stored nose to nose along with the RS-1's on September 3, 1971. Thankfully, the FM's would soon enjoy a brief reprieve.
Amtrak leased the 542 and 543 from late-1971 to mid-1974 to serve once again as coachyard and terminal switchers. Now, instead of moving passenger consists to Dearborn, the H12-44TS's were shuffling them into Union Station, which Amtrak had selected as its Chicago terminal. Gerry Putz caught the revived 543 at Union Station in July 1972 coupled up to some warbonnet F-units that were also leased to Amtrak. Both 542 and 543 carried extended "all-weather" windows on the engineer's side on the cab during this period. The passenger carrier did not lease the 541, and it left the Santa Fe roster in October 1972.
The 542 and 543 were finally retired effective May 7, 1974. The last two H12-44 switchers were stricken from the roster the same day, closing out 29 years of opposed-piston power on the Santa Fe. The 542 was sold and presumably scrapped, but fortunately, 543 was retained by the railroad for a proposed Santa Fe museum. The locomotive was moved west to Albuquerque, NM, where it joined a growing collection of diesels and steam locomotives in the roundhouse. On July 6, 1981, 543 was occupying stall 35 as a tour group visited the collection (which was not normally open to the public).
As the 80's wore on, it became apparent that a Santa Fe museum was not going to come to fruition. The railroad began to look for a way to dispose of the collection, and in late March 1986, it assembled a "museum train" to ferry the locomotives west to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Before departing, the train was spotted at the Albuquerque depot for two days to allow the public to get a last look (and in most cases, a first look) at the collection. The 543 is shown sandwiched between 4-8-4 #2925 and H12-44 #608 as the public looks them over on March 30, 1986.
A photo in Boyd's Fairbanks Morse Locomotives in Color confirms that 543 spent at least some time displayed inside CSRM's main exhibit hall, and the locomotive was on the museum grounds with Baldwin DS-4-4-1000 #2260 during a special reception for attendees of the 1997 Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society Convention, as seen in the upper photograph. Unfortuately, for a variety of reasons, 543 and the rest of the Santa Fe collection spent most of the 80's, 90's, and 2000's in the circumstances depicted in the lower photograph: stored outside, out of public view but not out of the reach of vandals and copper thieves, at the closed Southern Pacific Sacramento Shops. The 543 towers over its partners, NW2 2404 in the foreground and RS-1 2394 in the background. The 2394 was the only Santa Fe RS-1 not permanently assigned to Chicago, spending most of its service life in San Diego and Los Angeles.
CSRM began to deaccession pieces of the Santa Fe collection to other museums in 2006. The 543 was loaded on a heavy duty flatcar in April 2008 and readied for a trip back to more familiar territory, the Illinois Railway Museum in the Chicago suburb of Union, IL. It took more than a year for the engine to finally leave Sacramento and begin its journey east. Gary Gray caught it descending Cajon Pass in Southern California on a Union Pacific train on August 21, 2009. It would later continue its journey east on UP rails. One can only hope better times await this Santa Fe unique once it returns to the "Land of Lincoln."


1. Anderson, Craig T., Amtrak: the National Passenger Rail Corporation 1978-1979 Annual, Rail Transportation Archives, 1978.
2. Boyd, Jim, Fairbanks Morse Locomotives in Color, Morning Sun Books, Inc., 1996.
3. Extra 2200 South magazine, Issue 117, Iron Horse Publishers.
4. McMillan, Joe, Santa Fe's Diesel Fleet, Chatham Publishing Co, 1975.
5. McMillan, Joe, Santa Fe Motive Power, McMillan Publications, 1985.
6. Priest, Dr. Cinthia, The Santa Fe Diesel, V.1, Paired Rail Railroad Publications, Ltd., 1997.
7. Sweetland, David, H15-44 and H16-44: Fairbanks Morse's Distinctive Road Switchers, Withers Publishing, 2004.
8. Worley, E. D., Iron Horses of the Santa Fe Trail, Southwest Railroad Historical Society, 1965.
Special thanks to Ted Ellis, Gary Gray, Ed Burggraf, and Gerry Putz, for the use of their photographs.

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