Great Northern 441 Luxury Locomotive Lodge

The Paint Shop

Surface preparation

As GN 441's restoration neared completion, the locomotive was moved to RELCO's paint shop. On July 25-27, 2009, it became the first locomotive in 40 years to be painted Big Sky Blue.

Because GN 441 will spend the rest of its days exposed to the weather - and because painting it on-site will be a major challenge - the locomotive received a first-class paint job to stand up to time and the elements.

The most tedious – and most critical – step of the painting process is good surface preparation. It begins with a thorough cleaning, either by grit blasting, or in this case, a 40,000 PSI blast of water to strip the paint down to bare metal.

Bondo is then applied to fill in minor surface imperfections, followed by sanding, more sanding, primer, and yet more sanding.

   

First coat of white paint

After the cab has been masked off, the 441 is finally ready for its first color coat of Dupont Imron. Compared to the rest of the process, this is over in no time. The locomotive is then baked at 150 degrees Fahrenheit to speed up the curing process. This requires a tremendous amount of heat; the furnace is fed by a 2 inch natural gas line.

Masking the nose stripes

Once the paint is cured, it's time to apply the first round of masking, another very tedious process that will take six hours - two of them on the nose alone. Curves can be extremely difficult to lay out, particularly when they run across corners of the carbody; getting the curves wrong would be an easy way to botch the restoration. By complete happenstance and great fortune, thanks to Jeff Lemke of Twin Ports Rail History, Inc., we located a set of original EMD paint masks to lay out the complex curves, 40 years since they were last used!

Masking GN logo

Masks for the lettering and logos are also applied at this time.

Today's railroads generally use Scotchlite decals for lettering to provide better nighttime visibility and faster installation.

In this case, however, adhesive paint masks were used. In addition to being authentic, painted lettering is much more durable and will last longer than decals.

Applying the paint masks was the most tedious part of the masking process. Every edge had to be sealed carefully to keep paint out. Otherwise, the paint crew would have a nightmare of a job touching up the complex Great Northern graphics.

   

GN 441 gets painted Big Sky Blue

NOW we’re getting somewhere! An application of Big Sky Blue makes a world of difference. The paint booth is a mild wind tunnel; air moves from front to rear so painters can control the overspray. Note the blue air filters in the far wall.

Masking GN 441 for the dark grey

   

Another bake cycle, another round of masking to protect the Big Sky Blue, and then it's time to apply dark grey to the roof and underframe.

The surface prep and painting on GN 441 went on continuously throughout the weekend into Monday.

The paint shop works 24/7 to keep up with RELCO's repair and rebuilding work and contract paint jobs.

GN 441 after spraying dark grey

On the other side of the door behind GN 441, workers are water-blasting the Santa Fe colors off BNSF 6856, an EMD SD40-2; it’s next in line for painting.

Unbagging GN 441

With much anticipation, the morass of masking tape, paper, plastic and 3M masking is finally removed, or “unbagged” as the painters call it.

Unmasking Rocky

The masking for the Great Northern logo is removed, revealing “Rocky,” the GN's iconic mountain goat.

Much work remains, though; minor touch up paint, and clear coat over the color coats. Normally only one clear coat is applied, but GN 441 received two clear coats to provide additional durability and longevity.

The skill, care and pride of RELCO painters was obvious throughout the process. You would have thought they were painting their best buddy’s ‘68 Chevy.

   
GN 441 unmasked

Engine room access doors, cab doors, headlight housings, and radiator, dynamic brake and inertial filter grilles are usually painted while installed on the locomotive. In this case, however, they were painted separately because of the complexity of this project and to provide a better finished product.

Next:

Builder’s Photos of GN 441

All photos copyright Tom Lambrecht or Bill Christopher

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