Logo Language


No matter what term applied, emblems, heralds, insignias or logos, the importance of selecting an eye-catching if not dynamic corporate image surfaced in early within railroading. That was especially critical in the expansionistic period of the industry from 1870 to 1900 when clearly several sectors of the Nation had too many individual railroad companies. Some called advertising art trademarks or emblems, etc. but whatever the terminology, getting your corporate name in the forefront was of paramount importance. That era saw the development and deployment of hundreds of artful, creative, distinctive, and occasionally dynamic insignias that captivated attention to the point that a passenger or shipper would patronize one railroad as opposed to another.  Many track-side admires got their start by watching thousands of freight cars roll by, all displaying the distinctive graphics that implied the romance of far-off places. Aside from normal road grime, most railroad freight cars of old were free from any form of graffiti or visual tampering of any sort so the images remained bold and distinctive. Freeman Hubbard, rail author and long-time editor of Railroad Magazine, effectively spoke to that in his book Railroad Avenue, which includes a very insightful chapter regarding the evolution of railroad logos.

Some logos paid tribute to the home base or mainline routes of a carrier and the Pennsylvania Railroad Keystone, B&O Capitol Dome, CNJ Statue of Liberty, and D&RGW latter-day Rockies theme reflected that Others featured a corporate theme, C&O For Progress, SP sunset image, FEC Florida beach silhouette and B&M Minuteman represent that trend. The diamond-shape either representing the gem or “black gold” – coal, also prevailed, popularly associated the Erie, Reading, Lehigh Valley and Illinois Central. Some emblems reflected the art of linking an appealing shape and image to promote a carrier including the NYC oval, while other logo designs were forced on a railroad by the carrier that controlled them including the Ann Arbor flag (Wabash) and the Long Island keystone (PRR). Logos that featured locomotives, cars or rail-specific themes were among the most popular with the rail-inclined and examples of those include Clinchfield, pre-1950 RF&P, pre-1050 Western Maryland (locomotives) Pullman (sleeping car) and Bessemer & Lake Erie (rail). In the 1930s C&O adopted a secondary logo “Chessie” – “Sleep Like A Kitten” to promote its new air-conditioned sleeping cars and in1972, that secondary logo advanced to first place.

Wide-spread mergers, disappearance of passenger service by private carriers and changes in marketing and imagery have altered the appearance of graphics and reduced the number of railroad logos. Canadian National was among the earliest to break from the elaborate logo traditions of the past in the early 1960s when they migrated to the bold CN, in one continuous line – or to some -spaghetti shape. The 1968 Penn Central intertwined PC – “mating worms” to the masses, was a variation of the CN concept. The creators of Conrail introduced what they though was an effective, simplified image of a freight car wheel on rail only to have disparaging employees and shippers name it “the broken wheel on broken rail”. General spread of crime and less respect for private property have also compromised a carrier’s image. Animal-theme graphics seem to attract the most abuse. In 1972 when C&O, then merged with B&O and WM, adopted the silhouette of the Chessie cat into the C in Chessie System, hackers and after dark yard artists went to work on the cat and created sometimes humorous but often vulgar additions. Rival Norfolk Southern experienced similar, but more short-lived and controllable, embarrassment with the Thoroughbred logo. During the pre-press production of the company calendar one year, a hacker altered the anatomy of the stallion to the point that distribution was out of the question. A limited number of copies leaked out but most were caught and destroyed.  If you want one of those hot calendars with tampered graphics, keep checking auctions.

Logos have great meaning to the model railroader as well. While we all have our favorites, say for instance the Santa Fe, and we may be disposed to amassing a large inventory of Santa Fe equipment, it is unlikely that any typical train consist would feature cars from only one railroad. So having a mix of different car types from different railroads is more prototypically accurate, especially if your model railroad reflects a specific region or carrier.  MTS continuously features a wide range of car types and railroads to help make that process affordable, easy and rewarding.

Frank Wrabel