A Norfolk And Western Font

Posted on May 4th, 2012, by Michael Rountree

Hurray! Norfolk Southern has decided to paint several new locomotives in “heritage” schemes, harking back to the fallen flags that played a role in the mergers that became today’s carrier. If you’re wanting to play along, you might wish to re-create the corporate look of the N&W of the 1960’s, as NS has done with its spiffy blue heritage unit:

NS Heritage Unit 8103

This engine recalls the brief period when N&W contemplated merger with C&O; they adopted blue instead of black in order to fit in with the merger target. This was referred to as the “Pevler Blue” scheme, after the N&W president at the time. Here’s a shot of an actual blue+hamburger engine, EMD SD45 #1724:

NW SD45 1724

Portion of photo by Tom Sink, via Midwestern Model Works web site

So if you want to work with that Dulux Yellow and Blue scheme, one thing you need to know is what font to use for that crisp, san-serif lettering style they used. Of course, for decaling a model, one can go the easy route and use readily available decal sets. But what if you want to craft a web page, or make letterhead for yourself, etc.? Or suppose you want to create a fictional railroad based on the N&W, and need to develop artwork for custom decals? What if, like me, you’re just curious as to what they might have used?

Fonts back then were not computer files, so it’s unlikely that an exact match exists in terms of today’s downloadable styles. I have spent a little bit of time hunting, and here are the best candidates I have found. The starting point is plain old Arial, which in its Bold or Black variants gives a rather good first approximation. But notice the tail on the R… we need something with a straight leg there. As you examine the others, some of the differences are the circular shape of the O, the relative lengths of the horizontals in the E, how the ends of the S finish, and the uniformity of stroke width through a character (such as the N, in which the diagonal seems thicker than the verticals).

NW fonts, part 1

I found most of these fonts at a great site called www.dafonts.com, with most being free for personal use. The license on any particular font can vary, so don’t assume you can just use them as you see fit. This next batch shows a few more options; notice that I also began to play with character width in some cases, since my graphics software (Canvas) permits this. I can tweak a number of things beyond just width, too; I can assign an outline stroke to make characters more bold, I can adjust kerning, and more. Thus, these samples should not be judged on the relative stroke widths, since I can adjust those. But if you don’t have similar controls, then you do need to pay attention to the relative “fatness” of the characters, and their natural spacing.

NW fonts, part 2

After seeing all of these together, I think the closest overall would be Media Gothic. It has two deficiencies, the diagonal on the N is fat, and the D is not curved right. The next closest is Hit The Road, which has an O that is not quite circular, and the middle stroke of the E is not centered. Unfortunately, Hit The Road is a font that does not properly validate, and I have not found a fixed version of it yet; thus, it does not render in Canvas. I had to use a screenshot of the font sample on dafont, recolored and pasted in as an image. Old Sans Black, when stretched a bit, looks rather good, but still the O is not exactly circular. The Florencesans family is good, but it has an S that terminates wrong.

So, you can see it’s a game of compromise, unless you know how to craft a font and wish to make one yourself! If you do, I’d love to hear about it. Of course, it may well be that the real railroads did not adhere to a single style all that diligently. Consider this photo of a caboose I found, which shows an O of a very different shape. It may well be that they used a Zero stencil, since the O looks just like the number below. It may also be the case that this is a repaint done by private hands, and not N&W’s original, since this looks to be a restored car in a private collection.

Norfolk and Western Caboose 500836

There you have it! Now go have some fun with fonts.

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