Norfolk & Western EMD SD-45 1776

photo courtesy of NS Locos

Donated by Norfolk Southern Corporation.
Restoration funded by Trains Magazine and many generous donors.

In the mid-1970s, the Norfolk & Western Railway boldly painted a locomotive—the number 1776—red, white, and blue to celebrate the USA’s Bicentennial of national independence and to demonstrate the railroad’s commitment to America’s strong future.

The 1776 was manufactured in 1970, one of 115 purchased by the N&W. The unit was originally delivered in the “Pevler Blue” paint scheme that was in use by the Norfolk & Western from 1966 to 1971.

By the early 1970s, a Bicentennial fever was gripping the nation, turning everything from locomotives to Roanoke’s famous star red-white-and-blue. Railroads across the country decorated or repainted more than 200 locomotives to commemorate America’s freedom.

Thomas C. Heinrich, a trainee who later became assistant roadmaster at Mullens, WV, knew N&W’s locomotive number 1776 was due for an overhaul, and wrote to N&W President John P. Fishwick in 1973, suggesting its patriotic makeover. 

In 1974, the 1776 received its distinctive paint scheme in honor of the 200th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1976. From 1974 through 1978, the engine proudly headed trains across the 14-state N&W system.

The high nose cab of the locomotive featured an eye-catching circle of thirteen stars on a blue field representing the original thirteen colonies that declared their independence from England in 1776. Striking red and white stripes ran the length of the locomotive.

In 1978, the engine was painted N&W black and continued in service until Leap Day in February, 1988. Norfolk Southern donated the locomotive to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in 1991. The 1776 was once again painted in its patriotic red, white 1776and blue, but this paint job did not last.

A fundraising campaign was mounted in 2011for a cosmetic restoration of the 1776. A railfan favorite, the engine was a 2011 People's Award Choice Winner in the Virginia Association of Museums’ Top Ten Endangered Artifacts competition. Trains Magazine awarded the 1776 its prestigious annual Preservation Award, the sole recipient from among 120 entries. The restoration was completed in 2012 in the Norfolk Southern Shops in Chattanooga, TN.