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A Trip to Cajon Pass to Photograph Santa Fe 5704 6/25/2022

by Chris Guenzler

This trip started after looking at and learning that Santa Fe Bicentennial Unit 5704 was coming into California on Saturday June 25th on its way from Kansas City, Missouri to its final home of the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris. Elizabeth and I decided we needed to cover it and do some railfanning. Elizabeth was only four in 1976 and had never seen a Bicentennial locomotive in person, and it brought back many memories to me including seeing this particular engine on a bicycle trip to Cajon Pass in 1975.

Santa Fe Bicentennial Unit 5704 was on the point of the Super C, the fastest freight train in America at the time.

Santa Fe 5704 Background

It was 1976, and the United States was celebrating its 200th birthday by turning everything red, white and blue. Commemorative bicentennial souvenirs abounded, and many companies tied their products or brand to the observance. The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (Santa Fe), a BNSF predecessor, got in on the patriotic wave, painting five locomotives numbered 5700-5704 in a unique bicentennial scheme. The Electro-Motive Division SD45-2s were initially placed at the front of the railroad's premium freight trains operating between Chicago and Los Angeles. They also assisted with the operation of the American Freedom Train and were used in special events.

But soon after the celebrating stopped, the engines would be repainted in Santa Fe's standard blue and yellow paint scheme and become work horses in freight service. Over the years, three would be rebuilt and eventually retired. One continues in service and another -- 5704 (renumbered to BNSF 6484) -- was retired in 2008 and bound for scrap in 2020 after four decades and millions of miles of service. That's when Eric Goodman, manager, Economic Development for BNSF, first heard of 5704's destiny.

"The locomotive was in Memphis, with plans to scrap it," Goodman recalled. "A number of us who are involved with the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society [SFRH&MS] learned of it and agreed it needed to be saved. We just had to figure out how." They formed a team, with Goodman working with BNSF to donate the unit. They searched for a railroad museum to donate it to and chose the Southern California Railway Museum (SCRM) in Perris, California.

The team approached Mid-America Car and Locomotive to donate the expertise of its craftsmen to transform 5704 back in time in every detail.

"The Mid-America team worked diligently to ensure the bicentennial version of 5704 was perfectly replicated," said Stephen Priest, railroad author and historian who the museum made on-site project engineer and manager in Kansas City, Missouri, where 5704 was eventually moved to be cosmetically restored.

"Sherwin-Williams replicated the paint color formulas for Santa Fe's bicentennial locomotives. They not only replicated them for this restoration project, but they donated the paint," Priest added. "It's been meticulously applied, with three coats of each color, plus clear coat to preserve the color integrity and protect the paint from the elements." Priest and Goodman both credit the paint company and Eagle Graphics of Wichita, Kansas, for ensuring 5704's appearance in 2022 is true to its appearance in 1976.

"The museum wanted the locomotive to be era-specific," said Goodman. That was challenging given that over the years pieces of the locomotive had been modernized. BNSF’s shop in Topeka, Kansas, helped to correct some of the modifications such as a period-specific air conditioning unit and Goodman donated a horn from his personal collection that was an exact match of the original.

"This has been a labor of love for everyone," Goodman said. "It's one of the coolest projects I've been involved in the 21 years I've been with the railroad. When we rolled it out for the first time after it got its paint job, some of our employees were seeing it for the first time and were so excited and proud of BNSF's contribution."

In addition to giving the museum the locomotive itself, BNSF is also donating an electrical cabinet to assist with mechanical restoration as well as transport of the unit when the time is right.

"This was a piece of history that we are proud to have donated for its next stage of life," said Lena Kent, BNSF general director, Public Affairs. "Our donation is just a small part of the collaboration and enthusiasm that have gone into this project. It will be exciting to see what happens in 2026, when our nation celebrates its 250th anniversary."

Currently the locomotive is being stored at BNSF's yard in Kansas City, Kansas. In June, it will be on display for the public at the Kansas City Union Station as part of the SFRH&MS annual convention June 15-19. Eventually it will be moved to Perris, where the museum will continue its restoration to make it again operational.

"After receiving 5704 at our museum in Perris, we will assess what is needed to mechanically restore the locomotive to operating condition," Hank Winn, SCRM vice president and chief operating officer, said. "Our team at Perris is capable of making that happen if the material resources can be acquired and that is our goal. That's a ways off, so for now we look forward to enjoying the cosmetic restoration when 5704 journeys from Kansas City to Perris."

The above taken from the BNSF Rail Talk blog post of April 2022.

Our Railfanning Adventure

I drove us out to Cajon Pass via CA Highway 55, CA Highway 91 and Interstate 215 to Cajon Boulevard, which we took up to the pass. We parked on the old highway and did not have long to wait for a train.

BNSF 6375 East was our first train of the day.

BNSF C44-9W 712.

BNSF C44-9W 776.

BNSF 4034 East was the second train of the day.

BNSF C44-9W 756.

Union Pacific 5398 West, on the Palmdale Cutoff, was the third train with an unknown DPU on the rear end.

BNSF 3870 East was the fourth train.

BNSF C44-9W 731 in the consist. With the light changing for the worse, we relocated to Swarthout Canyon Road.

BNSF 6663 East was the fifth train.

BNSF 7879 East was the sixth train of this trip.

BNSF DPUs 600 and 6618 was the seventh train of the day on Track 1.

BNSF 3808 East was our eighth train.

BNSF 100 West was the ninth of this trip.

Union Pacific 2581 East with DPU Union Pacific 7639 was the tenth train of this journey.

BNSF 7751 West with Union Pacific 4783 in the consist with DPUs 7660 and 4454 was the eleventh.

Union Pacific 7711 East became the twelvth train of this rail adventure.

BNSF 3811 West with Santa Fe SD45-2 5704 Bicentennial Unit was lucky thirteenth train of the day.

Union Pacific 7172 East was the fourteenth train and our last one in Cajon Pass. Elizabeth drove starting back and along lower Cajon Boulevard, I took this next picture.

BNSF 3811 West at Keenbrook died on the hours of law and would have to be re-crewed. It was over 103 degrees along Cajon Boulevard further south so we headed to the San Bernardino station to wait for the train there.

A dead-heading Metrolink from the yard to Downtown San Bernardino station was our fifteenth train.

BNSF 4652 West was our sixteenth train.

BNSF 7306 West was the seventeenth train that we photographed.

BNSF 3811 West was the only repeated train, but one of the best. We drove to Jersey Mike's off Central Avenue in Riverside before Elizabeth drove the rest of the way home, ending another great railfanning adventure.