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Burlington Northern Bicentennials and the American Freedom Train

These locomotives (in different pairs on different occasions) pulled the AFT to Colorado Springs, CO, Cheyenne, WY, and Billings, MT before the 4449 steam locomotive caught up with the train just north of Ogden and pulled it the rest of the way to Salt Lake City. Weeks later, 1876 would accompany the AFT (and the 4449) through the Cascade mountain range.

Image: Bob Skillman collection

There is a lot to know about the three BN Bicentennial units (1776, 1876 and 1976) in order to understand what you're seeing when looking at photos of them with the AFT; especially the accident-prone BN Bicentennial 1876:

BN Bicentennial #1776 was a GE U30C, originally delivered (and later renumbered) 5325. Retired in October 1990.

BN Bicentennial #1876 was BN's first EMD SD40-2, originally delivered as road number 6325. When it was first painted in Bicentennial colors, it was not number 1876. It was Burlington Northern's 'original' Bicentennial number 1976. That is, until it was involved in a grade crossing accident on its very first run in Bicentennial paint. As the railroad was planning an imminent and very public debut of their two Bicentennial diesels (1776 mentioned above, and this loco), damaged 6325/1976 obviously was not going to make the big event. The loco was hastily renumbered back to 6325 (with wrapping paper taped over the "1976" on its sides and hand-numbered "6325") and sent for a few weeks of repairs. Still in urgent need of a "1976" loco for their event, a substitute was found. BN 6397 (an SDP40) just happened to be in the shops, looked like a good candidate, and was quickly turned out as "the new BN 1976" -- and made it to the public event on time (a ceremony in Minneapolis on May 14, 1975 in which the famed James J. Hill stone arch bridge over the Mississippi was designated a national historical engineering landmark. The Bicentennial units brought the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul to the event). Since the damage to 6325 was only to the front and rear frame and didn't effect the Bicentennial paint too much, 6325 was fixed up, touched up, and became BN 1876. So, yes, there were two different "BN 1976" units; just not at the same time. BN Bicentennial 1876 is now (in 2007) BNSF 6397. Now here's the part you probably didn't notice: SD40-2 BN 6325/1976/1876/BNSF 6397 currently serves the BNSF wearing the same road number as the BN SDP40 that replaced it as BN Bicentennial unit number 1976. The two numbers 6397 are in bold above, but they are not the same locomotive. Need aspirin? You can thank John Lewis and his Burlington Northern 1975-76 Annual.

The "second" Bicentennial BN #1976, as discussed above, was originally BN SDP40 #6397. It, too, pulled the AFT, but only as a helper with #4449 in the Cascade range.

So for those who enjoyed all that and want to take their BN knowledge one step further, Mr. Lewis notes that...

Actually, the SDP40 was the 3rd BN 1976 ...

1st BN 1776 was a former NP GP9, renumbered to BN 1764 (2nd) to make way for the Bicentennial U30C #1776

1st BN 1876 was a former NP GP9, renumbered to BN 1801 (2nd) to make way for the Bicentennial SD40-2 #1876

1st BN 1976 was a former SP&S GP9, renumbered to BN 1793 (2nd) to make way for 2nd BN 1976 (the SD40-2)

2nd BN 1876 was the former BN 1976/nee BN 6325

2nd BN 1976 was former BN 6325 (same locomotive that became the 2nd BN 1876)

3rd BN 1976 was former BN 6397

Now you know.

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