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Color Schemes, Lettering, and Heralds

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Overcoming the Challenge of Black and White Photography

On a visit to the Copper Country I asked an old timer about the colors of Mineral Range Railroad (MRRR) and Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Railway (DSS&A) equipment, specifically the caboose. He told me that he recalled that the cabooses were gun metal gray. This completely surprised me because I thought they were red or possibly orange. Then he told me that of course all he has ever seen of these cabooses are old black and white photographs. This was his way of gently reminding me that he was not an old timer after all. Another Copper Country wag, who will also remain nameless, suggested that I paint everything in shades of gray since that is the only color I can verify. Here is my dilemma. Almost all the images I have seen for the MRRR and DSS&A have been black and white photographs. The following information is based on some limited documentation, interviews with people up home with vague memories of color, and the examination of black and white photographs.

I will make a special plea here for corrections and additions. If you know I have something wrong, then please contact me. You will not hurt my feelings if you correct me. In fact, I will be thrilled. I plan to soon start painting undecorated cars in the colors I suggest here. I would prefer to be corrected now so that I do not have to repaint a model later. However, be prepared for me to ask you for the source of your information.

"THE SOUTH SHORE." herald I refer to on this page looked like the following image on a box car

ss7boxgif.gif (3796 bytes):

For more information about this herald see my page on logos.


These colors, as well as the lettering and herald information, pertain only to the 1915-1925 period. The design department of the DSS&A became much more creative in the 1940's and 1950's with their use of color and windswept lettering. I think it is safe to say that they went wild with the color for their diesels, a combination of yellow with green trim and red lettering!


From black and white photographs it looks like most of the DSS&A locomotives were painted all black. However, I have also noticed in photographs that some of the older engines had their smoke boxes painted gray or silver. Lastly, I have seen a few pictures where the locomotive looks like the smoke box is painted black, but the boiler is a painted dark gray. My informants all remember the engines being just black. The tenders were painted all black.

The MRRR color scheme for locomotives and tenders looks very similar to that used by the DSS&A during this period.

Conclusion: I will paint both the DSS&A and MRRR locomotives steam engine black and will weather the smoke box with a dark-dirty gray.

Freight Cars

From communications with others interested in the DSS&A I know that most of the freight cars were painted "box car red," but that can cover a range of colors. One of my informants warned me that box car red meant whatever reddish brown color was available in the store room that day. Also, the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society has several preserved DSS&A freight cars that they have painted a bright red. Lastly, some black and white photographs seem to indicate that some freight cars might have been painted yellow or orange with red trim, such as, refrigerator cars, and merchandise service cars after 1922. Despite the bright red used at the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society museum, the consensus seems to be that box, flat, gondola, and ore cars were box car red and not bright red. Refrigerator cars and special merchandise service cars were bright yellow or orange.

Box car red seems to be the only color that the MRRR ever used. However, one informant remembered more modern steel ore cars being painted black.

Conclusion: I will paint most of the DSS&A and MRRR freight car box car red, a dark reddish-brown. I will hold off painting any refrigerator cars until I verify the color.


The consensus is that both the DSS&A and MRRR cabooses were painted a bright red. I seem to recall someone mentioning that some of the small 4-wheel cabooses were painted bright yellow or orange. However, I can find no confirmation of this. [Note: When I look at the black and white photograph of the 4-wheel caboose from the 1911 rates case at the State of Michigan Archives, I believe I see two colors. The first color is light, perhaps yellow or orange, and the other color is darker, perhaps a red. The lettering over the windows and on the logo appear to be on the red background. Again, this is a black and white image, it is just as likely that all I am seeing is an all red caboose! This is probably only an example of my over active imagination.] I did learn from several informants that the caboose ends were painted yellow sometime after 1930.

Update: The Spring 2002 issue of The Soo had two articles dealing with wood cabooses used by the Soo Line and the DSS&A after 1924. These cabooses were painted freight car red (dark oxide) with white lettering. The handrails were painted yellow. The South Shore herald is white with no black background. The ends were not painted yellow until the mid-1950s. (See Nelson 2002, 19, 21-23, 25, and "Soo Line Caboose Painting" 2002, 27.)

Conclusion: I was going to paint both DSS&A and MRRR cabooses a bright red, but considering the new information about post-1924 colors, more research is necessary before making a decision..

Passenger Cars

Most of my informants recall that the passenger cars were a maroon with gold lettering. However, in the Perron Collection, Passenger Car Binder, there is a 6 August 1924 letter from an unnamed Master Car Builder to M. J. Dunnebacke stating that the coaches (nos. 712 and 715) are to be painted "Kay & Ess Tuscan Red" with the lettering in gold. To my unaesthetic eye, tuscan red and maroon are very similar. The Canadian Pacific and Soo Line passenger cars were a maroon with gold lettering. Since the Canadian Pacific owned both the DSS&A and Soo Line, it is reasonable to believe that they shared a similar color scheme.

The interior of the passenger cars is more complex. A 30 May 1902 clipping from the Marquette Daily Mining Journal in the Perron Collection, Passenger Car Binder, indicates that the newly purchased sleepers had interiors of green and gold. It goes on to mention that the cars used St. Jago mahogany, in combination with some other woods, as well as bass fixtures. The state rooms of the sleeper were in prima vera or white. The ceilings were a soft green, and the carpet, window shades, frieze panels, and draperies were a delicate green color. In addition, many of the drawings in the Perron Collection, Passenger Car Binder, mention green upholstery with some imitation leather. It seems that the primary color used on the interior of the DSS&A cars was green in various shades.

I have no information about the color used on the single MRRR passenger car. I assume it was painted similarly to the DSS&A cars.

Conclusion: I will paint the DSS&A passenger car exteriors maroon and use a light green for the interior seats but a mahogany color for the walls..

Maintenance of Way Cars

I do not yet have any information on the colors used for maintenance of way cars. Like other railroads, the DSS&A may have painted these cars a light gray, but I have no verification of this. In most of the photographs I have seen of this equipment, the carslook too dark to be light grey. Perhaps these cars were painted box car red.


The consensus from my informants is that MRRR buildings were painted a pale yellow, almost creme color, with dark brown or dark reddish-brown trim. No one seems to recall the color of the roofing shingles. This yellow and brown color combination seems to be the colors used for depots and freight buildings north of the Houghton-Hancock bridge. I am not sure of what colors the DSS&A used elsewhere on the system. Nor do I know if the MRRR colors were also used on water towers, coaling stations, roundhouses, and other right-of-way buildings. I have noticed that the L'Anse DSS&A station is sided with green asbestos siding on the bottom floor and gray asbestos siding on the top floor. I do not know if this pattern was used elsewhere. I have noted that the old section house at Au Train is painted box car red, but this might have been done after the Soo Line merger. Lastly, some of the buildings done in Jacobsville sandstone (reddish-orange) or brick appear to have had a dark brown or dark reddish-brown trim.

Conclusion: For wood buildings I will use a pale yellow with a dark reddish-brown trim. The shingles will be dark brown. I will use this color combination consistently on all MRRR and DSS&A wooden structures. For stone or brick buildings I will use the natural color (I already have several samples of native rocks to compare the paint to) and a dark reddish-brown trim.

Lettering and Heralds

I have fewer problems with determining the lettering and heralds used on the DSS&A and MRRR. Black and White photographs are often a suitable solution for determining lettering and heralds since most of them were white on black, box car red, or bright red. However, there are some unclear areas that I indicate below.

All the lettering appears to be in a Railroad Times Roman font.


The lettering on DSS&A locomotives was white (or aluminum white paint) and consisted of the engine number on the cab side, on the sides of the sand dome and the light, and on the front of the locomotive. The engine class was placed below the engine number in smaller letters under the cab window. The lettering included "THE SOUTH SHORE." herald on the tender as follows:

ss7blck.gif (3796 bytes)

By 1922 the MRRR engines had white lettering with the engine number under the cab window, on the sand dome, side of the light, and the front of the locomotive. On the tender was "MINERAL RANGE." in white letters, like the following:

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Occasionally, I have seen large engine numbers on the tender and "MINERAL RANGE." under the cab window. However, this appears to have been an older pattern. There is no engine class number under the name or number on the cab window.

Freight Cars

For DSS&A box cars, the lettering was white. "THE SOUTH SHORE." herald looks like it is white with a black background in some cases, possibly white on a red background in other cases. The full name of the line also appeared on the side of the car as:

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Where 8090 is a sample car number. The herald was to the right of the door and the large text to the left of the door. Capacity, builder, and maintenance information appears in small letters, in blocks, on the lower edge on either side of the door. On both ends would appear "DSS&A" on one line and then the car number on line underneath. Lastly, the sign "Post No Advertisements." would often appear somewhere on the box car.

The other freight cars were similarly lettered. However, the flat, gondola, and ore cars did not carry the herald or the full name of the railroad. The initials "D. S. S. & A." appear on these cars in large letters. Also, it looks like the lettering on the refrigerator cars was either red or black on a yellow or orange background.

The MRRR did not use a special herald. On the ore and other freight car photographs I have observed I only see the letters "MINERAL RANGE." followed by the car number in the same size letters. There are also the standard capacity, builder, and maintenance information along the bottom of the car in two separate blocks.


The lettering on the DSS&A caboose was white on a red background, except for the herald, which was white on a black background. The large 8-wheel caboose had "DULUTH, SOUTH SHORE & ATLANTIC." over the windows, the herald between the windows under the cupola, and the caboose number under the herald.

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The small 4-wheel caboose had "D. S. S. & A." over the windows, the herald between the windows under the cupola, and the caboose number under the herald.

The MRRR cabooses also used white lettering on its cabooses, all of them 4-wheel small ones. Over the windows was "MINERAL RANGE." There was no logo. Between the windows and under the cupola was the caboose's number.

Update: The cabooses purchase in 1924 had white heralds with no black backing with just 'The South Shore." on them. (See Nelson 2002, 19, 21-23, 25, and "Soo Line Caboose Painting" 2002, 27.)

Passenger Cars

The lettering on the passenger cars were gold. The number of the car appeared on the lower corners of the car's profile, occasionally there is a thin line above and below the number. Also, on some cars I have observed in photographs that the car number appears on either side of the doors at both ends of the car. Across the windows would appear "DULUTH, SOUTH SHORE, & ATLANTIC." I do wonder if the lettering was really a gold color or a bright yellow.

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Maintenance of Way

I have no information about heralds and lettering used on maintenance of way cars yet.

Conclusion for all lettering and heralds: I will have to share photographs with decal makers to provide them with the detail they need to generate accurate decals. As my proficiency working with the scanner improves, and as I can gain copyright permissions, I hope to include photographs on these web pages that will clearly show how the lettering and heralds were used.

Please contact me should you have any questions or comments regarding this page.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright 1996 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI. Created 7 July 1997. Last modified 27 October 2009.