The "Beep"

Santa Fe's SWBLW

History

One of Santa Fe's most interesting, enduring, and endearing exercises in life sized "kit-bashing" was a curious creation that rolled out of the railroad's Cleburne, TX shop in December 1970. Officially dubbed an SWBLW, it had a cab whose contours clearly said "Baldwin" and frame to match, but that was about all that matched. Perched atop the frame was an EMD GP7-style long hood with a 16-567BC engine chanting away inside. Crammed beneath the frame were a pair of EMD Blomberg trucks, occupying space that was only meant to accomodate Type-A switcher trucks. As David Lustig so aptly put it in a sidebar to his article The Creatures from Cleburne (reference 4), the locomotive looked like five quarts of water in a four quart container. Various monikers have been applied to it over the years. It has carried numbers 2450, 1160, and 1460, and has been called everything from a VO1000u to an SW7. The name most commonly heard in railfan circles, and one that just seems to fit somehow, is the "Beep," a contraction of Baldwin Geep.

To be sure, Santa Fe didn't invent the concept of transplanting an EMD 567-series engine into a Baldwin switcher. As early as 1953, the Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis railroad had sent three well-worn VO1000's and one VO660 to the EMD plant at LaGrange, IL for repowering. The locomotives came back sporting new EMD-style switcher hoods over new 567 power plants attached to the old Baldwin frame and cab. A flurry of similar repowerings for other railroads took place over the next decade or so. Typically, an 8 or 12-cylinder 567 prime mover of 900-1200 hp replaced the old Baldwin 606 or 608-series engine. When EMD performed the transplants, the locomotives usually received EMD switcher-style hoods. A few railroads did the repowerings themselves in their company shops, and as a result, some 567-repowered Baldwins managed to retain their old Baldwin hoods and radiators, with only a telltale pair of exhaust stacks indicating what had gone on inside. CNW, MKT, and Reading each amassed a dozen or more EMD-powered Baldwins, with lesser numbers on a variety of other roads. According to The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide, the repowering craze began to fade in the early 60's as trading in old locomotives to EMD or GE for credit towards new power had become more financially attractive. Some Baldwins owned by the Navy and US Steel were repowered with EMD engines as late as the early 80's, but Santa Fe's Beep may well have been the last instance of a common carrier attempting such a repowering.

By 1969, Santa Fe was well acquainted with the trade-in process, having already traded in its large fleet of EMD FT cab units for new EMD roadswitchers. It was facing a similar prospect with its hundreds of worn out F3's, F7's, and F9's when management decided to buck the trend. The large, underutilized, steam-era shop complex at Cleburne, TX was revived and put to work to see if its forces could turn the old cab units into 1500hp roadswitchers roughly equivalent to EMD's GP7. The gamble paid off - the resulting locomotives, dubbed CF7's, could be produced in-house and still qualify for new locomotive tax credits, offering a considerable savings over trading in the F's on new locomotives of similar horsepower. The program ultimately produced some 233 CF7's before Santa Fe literally ran out of F-units to rebuild.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe's fleet of end-cab switcher locomotives was also rapidly nearing retirement. Although Santa Fe's road power of the 40's and 50's had been overwhelmingly EMD, the switcher fleet was a varied assortment of models from EMD, Alco, Baldwin, and FM. By 1970, only EMD was still in the locomotive business, so an in-kind rebuild of most of the switchers would have been an expensive and unrealistic proposition. In the spirit of the CF7 conversions, the railroad decided to see if remanufacturing its non-EMD switchers with EMD powerplants could be a viable alternative.

The concept that ultimately developed at Cleburne was far more ambitious than the 1950's era switcher repowerings at other railroads. Those programs had turned out locomotives that were clearly still switchers: a thousand horsepower or so and riding on rigid, low-speed switcher trucks. Santa Fe's product was to be somewhere between a switcher and a light roadswitcher. VO1000 #2220, a July 1943 graduate of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, was selected as the guinea pig. The hood, engine, Westinghouse electrical and control gear, and the switcher trucks were discarded. The heavy cast steel frame (still bearing one of its original round Baldwin builders plates), the cab, and a few other pieces were retained. To those parts, the shop forces fitted a GP7-style hood fabricated from scratch in-house, an EMD 16-567BC engine rated at 1500hp, generator, controls, and Blomberg-B road trucks.

If that doesn't sound easy, it wasn't. Anyone who has attempted to build a scale model of the resulting locomotive can attest to the challenge of merely fitting the Blomberg trucks into the available space (see references 1 and 2). The prototype's frame required a considerable amount of modification before it would accept the EMD engine and trucks - too much as it turned out. While the resulting locomotive was a success, it was doomed to be a one-off. Extra 2200 South magazine reported that Santa Fe had also set aside FM H10-44's #501 and 502 and Alco S-4 #1532 for possible repowering, but the locomotives ultimately went to scrap instead. The economics of a large-scale switcher repowering program at Cleburne just didn't pencil out.

The solitary prototype emerged from the Cleburne shops in December 1970. The strange looking locomotive was numbered 2450, a safe distance below the "2500-class" CF7's that were being numbered downward from 2649 as Cleburne churned them out. The model designation that appeared for it in timetable special instructions and in the summary tables of Santa Fe Locomotive Folio Section K was SWBLW, apparently from Switcher, Baldwin Locomotive Works. The actual locomotive diagram in the June 1987 edition of Section K identified the unit merely as "Switcher." Railfans, however, quickly dubbed the unit a "Beep," or occasionally a "Bleep."

Whatever its designation, locomotive 2450 soon found a nitch for itself in south Texas. Crews appreciated the superior riding qualities of the Blomberg trucks compared to the Type-A switcher trucks under most other switchers. The locomotive was also several tons heavier than a typical GP7, giving it more tractive effort for switching long cuts of cars. For many years, 2450 was leased to the Port Terminal Railroad Association in Houston, a switching road jointly owned by several of the railroads serving the area.

By late 1974, the CF7 program had reached number 2500 and kept right on going down into the 2400's. Santa Fe renumbered the Beep to 1160 in August 1974 to get it out of the way (a new CF7 numbered 2450 came out of Cleburne in 1977, and the program would conclude at 2417 the following year). In January 1977, Santa Fe renumbered its dwindling supply of unrebuilt EMD switchers into the 1400-series. The Beep was included in the renumbering, becoming the 1460.

By the mid-1980's, 1460 was assigned to Cleburne as the shop switcher. In 1985, the unit received a number of external modifications. An air conditioner was fitted to the cab, and the rear cab windows were modified from their original Baldwin pattern to a new arrangement featuring three panes of glass per side (see photos below). This allowed the use of standard sized window glass common to many EMD locomotives. At the same time, the switcher received a fresh coat of blue and yellow paint. Mercifully, the paint shop did not attempt to fit a blue and yellow warbonnet to the unit, but merely repainted it in the same old obsolete (but in this case better looking) 1960's version of the blue and yellow freight scheme with a yellow pinstripe.

In 1987, Santa Fe's last standard EMD switcher, SW900 #1453, was retired, leaving the 1460 as the only example of an end cab switcher on the entire roster. The Beep continued to work at Cleburne until the shops closed at the end of 1987. It was then ferried north to Kansas and put to work as the shop switcher at the Argentine shops in Kansas City, KS. For the next decade, the unit bounced back and forth between Argentine and Topeka, serving as the shop switcher at either location. At some point in the early 1990's, remote control equipment was added so that the 1460 could be operated by a person on the ground. Externally, this modification manifested itself as a set of colored lights on the side of the cab. How frequently the unit was used in remote mode is not known. The lights disappeared some time between February and September 2007.

The Beep continued to serve through the BNSF merger, and was one of only three blue and yellow units not slated to receive a new number in the sweeping renumbering program that followed. The unit did receive BNSF sublettering under the road number on the side of the cab, as well as a four-stack exhaust manifold, following the merger. There were occasional rumors of the 1460's imminent demise, but somehow it managed to postpone the inevitable until in December 2008, when it was laid up bad order at Topeka. On May 14, 2009, the unit departed Topeka dead-in-tow, headed for Barstow, CA and a new home at the Western America Railroad Museum. WARM's collection also includes FP45 95 and numerous other Santa Fe artifacts.

Upon retirement, the Beep had been on the Santa Fe and BNSF roster for 38 years, far longer than any of the hundreds of other locomotives rebuilt in the company shops. The contemporary CF7's were far more numerous, but few stayed on the Santa Fe roster longer than 15 years. The 1460 was also the last repowered Baldwin active on a Class-1 railroad, though some repowered Baldwins continue to work for shortlines and the military. The locomotive may have cost too much to produce, but it's hard to argue that the Santa Fe didn't get its money's worth out of the Beep.



Beep Shots


December 31, 1972, Houston, TX
courtesy Ralph Back

October 21, 1973, Houston, TX
courtesy Ralph Back

October 13, 1974, Cleburne, TX
courtesy R.J. McKay

July 1975, Cleburne, TX
courtesy John Sjolander

July 1979, Cleburne, TX
courtesy GCM

ca.1986, Cleburne, TX
Courtesy Robert Seale

July 1990, Argentine,
Kansas City, KS

July 1992, Topeka, KS
courtesy Mike Murray

May 18, 1995, Argentine,
Kansas City, KS

May 18, 1995, Argentine,
Kansas City, KS

May 18, 1995, Argentine,
Kansas City, KS

June 2001
Topeka, KS
Courtesy Tony Kimmel

October 2002
Topeka, KS
Courtesy John Mallory

January 14, 2008
Topeka, KS
Courtesy Jeff Carlson

March 28, 2010, Barstow, CA

March 28, 2010, Barstow, CA

March 28, 2010, Barstow, CA
If you have a Beep shot you'd like to add, or additional information on this unique locomotive, please drop us a line.

References

1. Bassett, Gordon C., "Modeling the 'Beep,'" The Santa Fe Modeler, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1st Quarter 1991), pp.8-13.
2. Campbell, C. Langdon, "A 'Beep?'" Railroad Model Craftsman, June 1976, pp.33-35.
3. EuDaly, Kevin, Santa Fe 1992 Annual, Hyrail Productions, 1992.
4. Lustig, David, "The Cleburne Baldwin," Railfan & Railroad, Vol. 5, No. 10 (May 1985), p.48.
5. Pinkepank, Jerry, The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide, Milwaukee, WI: Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1973.
Thanks to Ron Flanary for additional information on the NC&StL repowerings and to photographers Ralph Back, Jeff Carlson, "GCM," Tony Kimmel, John Mallory, R.J. McKay, Mike Murray, Robert Seale, and John Sjolander for the use of their photos.

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