E-4s for the Orange Blossom Special

The Orange Blossom Special was an all-Pullman, winter-only train between New York and Florida that the Seaboard Air Line began running in 1925. By 1941, the average speed of the New York-Miami trains was a respectable 57 mph. Like New York-Florida trains on rival Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard’s trains went over the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington and on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac between Washington and Richmond.

Postcards of the E-4 locomotives from the 1930s all show a bright green color. Color photos from the 1950s suggest that the actual green was much darker, almost black. It is difficult to tell today whether Seaboard changed its colors or the postcards were simply brightened up by the illustrators. Click image for a larger view.

The train was never streamlined, but in 1938 Seaboard purchased a fleet of eighteen E-4 locomotives from General Motors. Fourteen were A units (with cabs) and four were B units. Curiously, the E-4s were built before the E-3s, which came out in 1939.

The door/passageway allowing engine crew to walk between nose-to-nose A units is open in this photo. Click image for a larger view.

This was during the era when the smallest change in specifications led General Motors to designate a new number; the E-4 was identical to the E-3 except (as Wikipedia notes) that it had a “pneumatically-operated nose door passageway in order to facilitate crew movement between units in a locomotive consist.” After World War II, only major improvements in horsepower resulted in number changes from E-7 through E-9.

Click image for a larger view.

The paint scheme on the locomotive was designed by General Motors artist Leland Knickerbocker, who had also designed the Santa Fe warbonnet scheme and no doubt many other Diesel paint jobs. For the Orange Blossom Special design, Knickerbocker used the lime, orange, and lemon colors of Florida citrus groves. This was the only scheme for which Kickerbocker applied for and received a patent. Patent number 113,563 is for a “new, original, and ornamental design of a locomotive body.”

“By streamliner thru Florida” says this postcard, even though only the locomotives were streamlined, Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

Seaboard proudly distributed many different postcards showing the streamlined locomotives and downplaying the fact that the train itself still used heavyweight cars. A typical consist, pulled by three E-4s, included a baggage-dorm, thirteen sleeping cars, and two different dining cars, one of which went to Tampa and the other to Miami. The Orange Blossom Special was discontinued in 1953 in favor of fully streamlined trains such as Seaboard’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

Incidentally, I once believed that Seaboard Air Line used the term “air line” in its name to advertise that its trains relied on air brakes. The problem with this explanation is that Seaboard first began to use the name in 1888, by which time (according to historian John White) air brakes were “universal on American passenger cars” (see p.553). Wikipedia says it refers to a claim that the railroad was the shortest distance between major cities. A third explanation I’ve read is that it suggests that passenger trains feel like they are riding on air.

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