Facebook Page
Return To Black Widow
There are lots of photos here, please be patient.

The true story of our Black Widow restoration and paint job goes like this. First and foremost, we never really thought about repainting the 3189 as it looked so good after an intensive cleaning. Having painted locomotives before, I knew how much work could be involved and so, suppressed any urges. One Sunday, Errol and I were alone together at the railroad and decided to try to get the steam generator working. After fooling with the water pump for a while, we found that the water tanks had so much sludge in them that the pump would not work. So, on a whim, we decided that the tanks should be removed and cleaned out. And so it was that the tanks were pulled out from under the locomotive, the tops cut out, the sludge removed, new baffles installed and then put back in place.

While the tanks were out, we decided to fabricate new skirting as it had been removed years before and added a lot to the cosmetics. A note regarding the skirting. In the sixties, there was a movement made to make the top of the fuel tank on Geeps more accessible for cleaning and less of a fire hazard. This was not a federal mandate but an individual railroad decision. The S.P. elected to follow this practice and thus the decorative skirting was torched away from all their Geeps. The fact that the skirting on the passenger Geeps did not hide the fuel tank but rather the water tanks did not alter the torch edict. And so, 30 years later, we were restoring this decorative accessory.

When we were finished, a friend who worked in Roseville got us a gallon of S.P. gray, but it did not match the rest of the locomotive. We knew there was some color difference between the 3189 and most other S.P. Geeps but this was way off. So, ultimately, the question of repainting it into Black Widow reared its ugly head. What the heck. Do it! Another friend presented us with copies of the original S.P. painting diagrams and color charts and so began 8 months of sanding, sanding, sanding (mostly Errol's job), and painting (mostly mine). Mixed with that were a couple of weeks of metal work on the nose and general dent banging. Little Bondo was used because she was is in remarkable condition after the 1986 Sacramento paint job. Fortunately for us, the winter of 1994 was a gentle one as all the work was done outside. The job was finally finished just 2 weeks before her departure for Sacramento and Railfair 1995.

One other note. There were a small group of dedicated volunteers who put in hundreds of hours of work on the restoration of the 5623. They did it for the love of doing it and the prospect of seeing a Black Widow Geep again. Errol and I christened them the "Torpedo Boat Crew" and had custom hats made for these folks. There are only 24 hats and 24 crewmen. Without them, the job could have never been done. When they started, we told them that all we could offer was a hat, a "Thank You" and a chance to run the 5623 when completed. No one has complained. 

One of the first jobs undertaken was the restoration of the number boards and class lights. The class lights were reasonably easy as the S.P. had simply broken the rear lenses and welded plates over the openings. The front class lights were intact except for missing red and green lenses. The front number board glass had been replaced with plastic boards with the number 3189 painted on so this was simply replaced with automotive safety glass and the number box interiors painted flat white. The rear number boards were a bit more difficult as their openings had been welded over with steel cover plates. 2467 boilermaker Mike Russel blew the plates off with his air-arc and, after a good bit of grinding and filling, Errol and I installed new plate glass. The first 3 photos are of the front end and the last is the rear end after removal of the cover plates. First and third photos by Brian T. Wise, second and fourth are mine.

Removal of the water tanks was not as difficult as it might seem. Of course, a beefy fork lift helped. In the first view, Mike is cutting out one section of the top. This photo gives one an idea of the size of a 600 gallon water tank Next, we have one of the group fishing for something. Good help is hard to get. After testing the clean tank for leaks, Mike welded the top sections back on. In the second and third photos, the new new skirting metal can be seen. The pattern for the elongated holes in the skirts was copied from the PLA's Western Pacific GP7 which had never been modified., Lastly, we did the same tank repair and skirt fabrication on the other side. All photos are mine.

Three months after we moved the 3189 to Oakland, I was informed that the S.P. had put sister Torpedo Boat 3195 on the dead line. As it turned out, LMC won the bid on the bunch of junkers that included the 3195, so I immediately talked to the folks at LMC and arranged to have accesss to the locomotive for a weekend. In particular, we wanted the rear pilot as it was the only one remaining on any locomotive other than the 3189. So, on August 3, 1993, we loaded up the torches and tools and headed for Richmond. Let this photo by Rod Ciganovich serve as some small memorial to her.

Born 1955 as SP 5624, became 3006 in 1965 and 3195 in 1977.

R.I.P. 1993.

Probably the most interesting job we undertook was the installation of the front pilot and rebuilding of the rear pilot. We were extremely lucky to have gotten the one remaining pilot off of the the 3195 before it was cut up as the one other existing boat (3190) does not have one. We would have been forced to fabricate one from scratch (and had planned to do so) were it not for the main generator fire in the 3195. The following 5 photos are of work on the front pilot. The second photo shows Mike and his artistry with an air-arc. All photos are mine.

The rear pilot, while intact, had sure suffered the ravages of time. The sheet portions of the pilot were originally made from 1/2" steel but it had been patched with everything from 1/8" to 3/4", making quite a mess out of the surface. So, I cut out all the pieces that were not original and (with Mike's help) sculpted it back into some semblance of its former self. Lots of 7018 rod and 1/2" steel plate went into this repair. All photos are mine.

And while all this was going on, the entire body was once again cleaned with an industrial cleaner. I say "again" because it had originally been washed in 1993 when we first put it into service on the OTR. After the washing, the preparation began. Did I mention the sanding? Well, there was a lot of that. And, there is this instrument of torture called a "needle gun" which was used on the trucks only. Luckily, the Southern Pacific lettering was a sprayed on Scotchlite product and while very tough, came off with the palm sander. Where primer was required, we used a Dupont self etching product. Fantastic primer but nasty stuff to work with because of its phosphoric acid content.. The first photo is of a good friend, Dave White, who has since passed away. I sure am glad he had a chance to run the 5623 and hope he enjoyed it. All photos are mine.

I have to admit that I was anxious to see what the Black Widow paint scheme looked like so we began work on the rear end where no body work was required. It also happened that the engineer's side of the locomotive was toward the south at this time and given the sun's location, that's where the work started. I built a scaffold on top of the hand rails and painted the area above the engine doors first. Having the body broken up into sections by all those doors was sure a blessing. Next, the end was painted aluminum followed by some of the orange. Then, a half day or so of masking allowed the application of the black which formed the wings. Finally, came the red frame stripe. It looks a bit unorganized in the photos but it all made sense at the time. Many folks ask if I used Dupont Imron. The answer is "No". I used Dupont Centari with the addition of a polyutherane conversion hardner. The colors are just as vibrant today as they were when first applied in 1994. The S.P. Lettering Gray is Dupont Dulux with Dupont's hardner. The third photo is by Rod Ciganovich, the rest are mine.

And here we have crewman Aaron Stout at work with the paint gun. Aaron wanted to learn automotive spray painting and he really got some practice. Fact is, the only paint run on the entire locomotive was put there by yours truly. I have excuses in case you ever want to hear them. Both photos are mine.

Next, came the front end. There was significant damage to the right side lower portion of the short hood due to water from the steam generator, so the first order of business was some patching. The lower 4 inches of metal was replaced all around the right side of the nose and the corner areas were replaced on both sides. In addition, a band about 2" wide was replaced just below the nose sheet. At this time, I should have replaced the curved sections below the nose but did not and regretted it later. Last photo is by Rod Ciganovich, other 4 are mine.

You will note that the lettering has already been applied to the cab side in these views. We were getting ahead of ourselves a bit but could not stand to wait. My son Brian made all the painting masks for the cab lettering and, as a matter of fact, the "5623" was traced off of the side of a 2500 class SW1500. Luckily, the S.P. had stayed with the same style of numbers and letters, 15" high for all these years. Photo 1 is mine, 2, 3 and 5 by Brian T. Wise, 4 by Jim Plunkett and 6 by Rod Ciganovich.

The cab side lettering on the 5623 is typical of all early Southern Pacific diesels. The 5623 is 15" and the "260" and "DF-606" are 2". The 260 is for the weight in thousands, the DF-606 is "Diesel Freight - 606" and the "SF/COM" is for the assignment, "San Francisco Commute". The 5623 is lettered as she appeared in 1959 with the commute assigment and the stacked Southern Pacific lettering. Many folks ask why she is classed "DF" when she is obviously a passenger locomotive. To this question, I have no answer. Very few of S.P.'s locomotves were classed "DF" other than the E's and PA's before the renumbering in 1965. At that time, the 5623 became the 3005 and was assigned class "EP418" which translates as Emd Passenger, 4 axle, 1800 horsepower. There is a small "U" shaped clip in the upper right of the photo which is the hanger for the Blue Flag applied to a locomotive when being worked on. The Blue Flag rule requires that the flag be easily seen from the engineers position so, being dual control, the 5623 has a flag clip on each side.

The last thing on the agenda was the Southern Pacific lettering. While on a tour of the abandoned S.P. paint shop in Sacramento, I had discovered Cotton Belt painting masks, still in boxes with the address of the manufacturer. A call to Los Angeles led to conversation with a very cooperative lady who told me that they still had the dies for the S.P. lettering and would cut us a set for $150.00. A bit on the extravagant side perhaps but they would be accurate. So, the masks were ordered. When they arrived, we found that as applied to locomotives with the Bloody Nose scheme, the letters were further apart than they would have been with the Black Widow scheme. There was a lot of "measure twice, cut once" in this operation, believe me. Once the black was clean, the masks in place and the rest of the locomotive suitably protected from overspray, lettering gray Dupont Dulux was applied. The masking material was removed before the paint was totaly dry in order to get crisp edges.  Photos 1 and 2 by Brian T. Wise, 3 and 6 are mine and 2 by Jim Plunkett.


On 05/20/1995, Roland Meyers caught the application of the last of the lettering. This had to be done a bit differently because the letters are so dainty. Masking material was applied to the hood side, layout lines snapped and then a stencil taped over the masking. The letters were traced to the mask with a very fine pen, the stencil removed and then the lettering was gently cut out with an Exacto knife. Once again, the lettering was sprayed with lettering gray Dupont Dulux. By the way, the stencil was made from a tracting of the "Radio Equipped" on the E9 6051 in Sacramento. It was the only accurate example of the lettering we could find. And then, on the first weekend in June, 1995, we took turns up on the forklift, shooting the 5623 on the official day of her rebirth as a Black Widow. Left photo by Rolland Meyers, right by Rod Ciganovich.

Return To Index