Sunday, July 17, 2016

Toasters, Red Barns and Other Nicknames

Railfans spend a lot of time waiting for trains. I'm convinced this is when we come up with nicknames for particular types of locomotives. Here are a few common ones.

The Toaster

Probably the most well-known railfan nickname is the "toaster", a name now applied to most if not all GE locomotives. I believe it was first applied to the Amtrak AEM-7 and P42DC locomotives due to their toaster-like shape, and the fact that GE also makes household appliances like toasters.
Amtrak 58, Philadelphia, 2005
More recently GE locomotives have acquired this nickname for the burn marks on the sides of some locos.
I think it's browned enough
There's a great photo by Stephen Tripptree of a CSX unit belching flame on Railpictures.

I've also heard "techno-toaster" for the P42DC or for a Dash-9. Speaking of Dash-9, I believe that's another railfan term.

Red Barn

The GMD SD40-2F is commonly known as a "red barn" because it is a cowl unit and wears the Action Red of CP Rail.
CP 9021 in Winnipeg, MB
Ten of these "red barns" have found their way to the Central Maine and Quebec Railway, including CP 9021 above. Frank Jolin has some great shots of them on his Flickr profile, including this one.

Big Mac

EMD's SD70MAC, SD80MAC and SD90MAC locomotives are called "Big Macs" for obvious reasons. The "M" is for a safety cab and the "AC" means they use AC traction motors rather than DC.
CP 9109 at La Salle, MB
CP 9109 is/was an SD9043MAC.

Covered Wagon

Pretty much every EMD "E" or "F" locomotive (think E8, F7, etc.) is called a covered wagon. These are called that because they are cowl units, where the shell sits on the frame.
Covered wagon E9A CN 102


I've heard the SD40-2W units called "thundercows" but I don't know why.
"Thundercow" CN 5279 on the CN Family Day train in September 2014

Spongebob Squarecab

This was a new one to me. I can't remember if I saw it on Instagram or Facebook, but it refers to CSX cab rebuilds like this one from Flickr:
CSX 4053 SpongeBob and new track

It does look a bit like Spongebob SquarePants.

Blue Devils

There are a set of blue locomotives, IC 2455-2466, that were leased to Conrail and Illinois Central. This explains the blue! They are sublettered for IC under the locomotive number but have the big CN noodle. Railfans call them "blue devils" (why devils? I don't know), not to be confused with "blueberries" (the dark blue BC Rail units) and "blue bells" (blue GTW units).
"Blue Devil" IC 2460

Individual locomotives have nicknames too. I won't list them in this post but the most famous VIA Rail locomotive nickname was...

The Turd

You can read some more nicknames here. Weigh in with your own nicknames in the comments!


Shane said...

I've heard a few of those. I've never heard of a thundercow. In Walker yard a GP9rm/slug set used to be fairly standard yard power and was known as "Doug and the slug". (Referring to the old Canadian 80's band)


Canadian Train Geek said...

Shane, I guess the GP9rm/slug set was "Making it work"..

That was bad.

Seriously, I have heard of the "Doug and the slug" too. I forgot to include that one :)

Ev-M said...

Re: Toaster -- I'd only heard this as a nickname for the AEM-7, but you mention GE -- GE had no part in building the AEM-7. AEM-7s were a collaboration between Sweden's ASEA and GM's Electro-Motive.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi Ev-M, poor wording on my part. I didn't mean to imply that GE built the AEM-7. I was trying to say that GE units normally get the "toaster" nickname these days, but one of the original "toasters" was the AEM-7.

Unknown said...

One nickname I know of are the "Blue Devils", for the IC 2400's in blue paint.

Pdxrailtransit said...


I am pretty sure that Southern California railfans were calling GEs toasters at least as far back as the early 70's. Espee's U25B's used to howl like crazy when in full dynamics going down Pomona Hill. The brake grids themselves were very visible, and did look like toasters.


Unknown said...

Great post Steve! Here in the UK we have also have nicknames for locos. The GM/EMD built class 66 freight locos are called "Sheds", class 56s are "skips", class 37s are "tractors" due to them sounding like...well...tractors!

Names like "Red Barn"s make sense but the Thundercows one for sd40-2Ws is rather odd tbh!...keep up the good work on the blog!


Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, Rory! I think every country has its own set of nicknames. I wonder why class 56s are called skips?

Hannah Miyamoto said...

In the states, a switcher and a slug or booster unit used to be called a "cow and calf."

On a related note, all switch engines in the US are "goats", going all the way back to the days of steam. I guess it is because they spend so much time pushing cars, like a goat butting things and people with its head.