Friday, January 28, 2011

CN Logo Turns 50

The longevity of the CN logo is unparalleled on the modern rail scene. Painted on everything from boxcabs to boxcars, it's been affectionately called the "Lazy Three" (turn it 90 degrees counter-clockwise) or the "Wet Noodle". It's outlasted the Conrail can-opener, Penn Central's mating worms, the Frisco coonskin, CP's multimark, and the Chessie cat. CN's need for a progressive logo emerged at the end of the steam era and the advent of the swinging sixties.
Intended to revitalize an organization perceived as backward and anachronistic, and to evoke an image of technological advancement and customer focus, the new logo was launched exactly fifty years ago, in January 1961. CN's head of public relations, Dick Wright commissioned New York designer James Valkus to completely overhaul the corporate image. Said Valkus, "You don't want a trademark program - you want a corporate design program." Central to the program was a suitable logo. A Canadian graphic designer, Allan Fleming sketched the logo image on the proverbial cocktail napkin, while waiting for takeoff on the tarmac in New York. It's seen on a boxcab at Central Station in 1985** (top) and engine 9601 in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba in 1982** (above).
No more wafer, no more maple leaf, no more 'R' n CNR. Not specifically identifying a railway, the mechanical, almost austere look of the program would make CN look both mechanized and marvelously efficient. Fleming examined sources ranging from the Christian cross to the Egyptian ankh symbol, deriving from them a line of singular thickness which symbolized movement of people and goods from one point to another. Like a carload of wheels heading for the shop at Garneau, Quebec seen at Kingston on train 364 in May 2001 **(above).
Lorne Perry, head of CN's corporate design program, said "The scale and variety of equipment and facilities made CN something of a designer's dream". The logo could be applied to trucking and marine assets, stations and signage, stationery and sugar packets, menus and machinery. Rolling stock reporting marks were incorporated into a block, with bilingual "CANADIAN/CANADIEN NATIONAL" applied to alternating car sides. Wags suggested that since both sides of a car couldn't be seen at once, perhaps shop forces applied more English than French, or vice versa depending on the province in which the car was painted!
Primary colours and bold but understated lettering were applied liberally to visible exterior surfaces, and passenger car interiors. Even the taggers stopped short of covering the logo on CNIS 417107, first car on train 306 at Queens East in May, 2000* (above). As a designer, Allan Fleming is best remembered as creator of CN's logo. Three years afterwards, he became art director for Maclean's magazine, then vice-president and director of creative services at MacLaren Advertising, and later, chief designer at University of Toronto Press.
In 1960, Fleming stated, "I think this symbol will last for 50 years at least. I don't think it will need any revision, simply becuase it is designed with the future in mind. Its very simplicity guarantees its durability." Applied on a white patch, the logo makes itself visible on the cab corner of welded rail car CN 44283 at Napanee in 2005*:
For such an iconic symbol, I've seen very little acknowledgement of its golden anniversary. It's been painted on the flanks and noses of SW's, F's, GP's, SD's and ES44DC's, plus products of GMDL, EMD MLW, GE, CC&F, NSC, H-S and stencilled and sprayed at Pointe St Charles, Transcona and Woodcrest. Like the Canadian flag, it's easily sketched by schoolkids, and is a purely Canadian symbol readily identified with our great nation. CN 7316 and transfer caboose 76545 at Belleville in February 1988*** and 1379 and 40-foot boxcar 541381 at the same spot in 1987** show the logo looking good in a smorgasbord of seasons:

If you're seeing stars in this post, they're an indication of the number of CN logos you can find in the photo accompanying the starred caption. Here's a four **** photo, a hi-rail welding truck parked between the office and a grounded trailer, behind the classic limestone station in Napanee, Ontario in 2000:
Running extra...
An advertisement local accounting firm features one of their accountants posing on the platform at Kingston's VIA station. The ad has been running in the Kingston Whig-Standard, and appeared below an accompanying news story of a CN mechanical problem at the pictured location earlier this week:
It reminded me of the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch in which an accountant complained how dull, how dreadfully dull his job was. He wanted to retrain as a lion tamer. Roaring out of Queens 4, gunning for the Cat Spur is this RS18-powered wayfreight in 1985. It's about to cross the Counter Street crossing and through the station platforms in a cloud of 'Alco' smoke. There's no accounting for taste, is there?


Zartok-35 said...

Such a prestigeous occasion! This symbol has been a very significant part of my existance for most all the years of my life so far, regardless of how well the railway has been run. I've drawn it more than a few times, too. Heres' to 50 years!

Eric said...

I've doodled it in class thousands of times, Elijah. Here's an interesting series of photos on its development:

Thanks for stopping by,