Rio Grande streamliner Royal Gorge in the Royal Gorge: two more photos of different trains sets from different views



The photo above is reproduced here from a Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad post card. The caption reads:

“America’s Best-Loved Travel Wonder–the Royal Gorge–is the scenic highlight of one of Rio Grande’s two routes through the heart of the Rockies. All daytime passenger trains make a ten-minute stop at the narrowest point in the Gorge…”

Amtrak’s California Zephyr takes the Moffat Tunnel Route, the other breath-taking rail crossing “through the heart of the Rockies.”

The photo below, reproduced here from a Vanishing Vistas post card, is credited on the card to C.W. Bill Brown, D&RGW RR.


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The Canadian: artist’s rendition for Budd Company


Reproduced here from a National Geographic ad.

I had the pleasure of riding The Canadian in its early VIA days, when it still used the Canadian Pacific route across Canada. I spent much of the journey looking out the back windows of the observation car.

On many Amtrak trips today I find my way to the rear of the train and stand for long periods watching the countryside and the track recede. By looking out the back (or the front, if you’re the engineer), you get a broader perspective on the scenery, or so it seems to me.


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Chicago to LA streamliners in 1949: Super Chief, Chief, El Capitan, City of LA, Golden State


Train service changed continually, so we can talk only about a moment in time. Travel back with me to June 1949. There were far less people in the world than there are today, and less had money to travel, and, in the U.S., less had moved to the West Coast. From Chicago to LA–the heaviest-traveled route west–five streamliners and six non-streamlined trains handled all traffic.

Santa Fe had three Chicago-LA streamliners: the all-Pullman Super Chief, the slower but essentially identical all-Pullman Chief, and the all-coach El Capitan, an entirely separate train on a separate schedule from the Super Chief (though in later years, the Super and El Cap would be combined). Union Pacific (and partner Chicago & Northwestern east of Omaha) had one streamliner: the coach-Pullman City of Los Angeles. Rock Island-Southern Pacific had one streamliner: the coach-Pullman Golden State.

The Super Chief, El Capitan, and City of LA left Chicago in early-to-mid evening and arrived LA in early-to-mid morning after two nights en route. The Chief, slower, left in early afternoon and arrived LA in early-to-mid morning. If you were crossing the country, chances were the Chief wouldn’t make your trip much longer because so many premier trains from the East Coast arrived in Chicago in the morning. In fact, the through sleepers from New York and Washington to LA in June 1949 operated on the Chief, not the Super Chief, and for Union Pacific passengers on the unsteamlined Los Angeles Limited, which ran on a schedule similar to the Chief”s. The RI-SP Golden State carried coast-to-coast sleepers and traveled on a schedule all its own, leaving Chicago after ten at night and arriving LA around five in the afternoon on the second day.

Santa Fe ran three all-Pullman trains: Super Chief, Chief, and, at least in summer of 1949, an all-Pullman section of the non-streamlined Grand Canyon. And Santa Fe ran two all-coach trains, El Capitan and an all-coach section of the Grand Canyon, which carried a lunch-counter diner and lounge car, mirroring El Cap’s consist, except the GC’s cars were heavyweight and it lacked the observation on the end. But El Cap’s observation car was, in fact, mainly a coach, having 42 seats, compared to the 44 seats of other El Cap coaches.

For the Super, El Cap, and the Chief, it was the era of observation cars. Less so for the City of LA and the Golden State; on the former, 3 days out of 5 a finished-end club car ran in lieu of an obs, and on the latter, 3 days out of 5 a finished-end sleeper carried the markers.

The Santa Fe Railway photo, above, reproduced here from Zimmerman, Karl, Santa Fe Streamliners: The Chiefs and Their Tribesmen; the Union Pacific photo, below, reproduced from Ranks, Harold & Wm. Kratville, The Union Pacific Streamliners; and the Richard Steinheimer photo, DeGolyer Library, bottom, reproduced from Steinheimer, Richard & Donalds Sims, Growing Up With Trains.




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B&O’s Ambassador behind steam, 1951



When we think of the streamliner era, it’s easy to forget how late steam-powered, predominantly heavy-weight trains ran. Above, B&O’s Ambassador leaves Washington for Detroit in December, 1951. (Photo reproduced from Kirk Reynolds and Dave Oroszi, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad)

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Santa Fe: Along the Route

SFEalongtheroute1 SFEalongtheroute2I have multiple copies of Santa Fe’s booklet, “Along the Way.” The most recent, published in 1960, managed to look older because only the first few pages were updated. Above are the front and back covers.

Only small black-and-white photos appear in the booklet, at the top of its pages. I reproduce, below, those train-related: LA Union Station, the Chief in the mountains of New Mexico, Kansas City Union Station, Santa Fe’s bridge over the Mississippi River, the portal of Raton Tunnel, and a San Diegan along the ocean.

During the streamliner era, Santa Fe produced only two color brochures that I know of: one about the Hi-level El Capitan and the other about Santa Fe passenger trains in general. For each of their Chiefs and El Capitan, they produced a “welcome aboard” brochure that provided details of a train’s features and its schedule.

Union Pacific was much more lavish in its advertising. Yet I believe most people would say that Santa Fe provided the best service of the three railroads mainly responsible for LA-Chicago trains. Santa Fe certainly carried the most passengers, easily twice as many as Union Pacific. The difference was in the details. For instance, Santa Fe carpeted all of its long-distance coaches, whereas Union Pacific carpeted only its handful of dome coaches. Carpeting made a coach feel more luxurious. Also, Santa Fe provided a better ratio of dining seats per passenger. I once traveled on Union Pacific’s Challenger with 16 coaches and only two 32-seat coffee shop-lounge cars for food service. Meals on the Challenger were not by reservation. You took a number and stood in the small lounge section of the car or in the next coach and waited for your number to be called. I loved it all, of course.

SFEalongtherouteLAUSTS SFEalongthewayCHIEF SFEkansascitystation SFEmissriverbridge SFEratontunnel SFEsandiegan




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Union Pacific dome diners: two interior color schemes




Both photos from Union Pacific ads in the National Geographic, latter half of the 1950s. These cars ran on the City of LA and City of Portland.




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Los Angeles Union Station ticket sales wing

DSCI1465Today this wing of the station is reserved for special events, including, I believe, filming for movies and commercials.

When I was a kid, each of the three railroads’ names appeared in sedate chrome or gold-colored metal lettering behind their series of ticket sales windows. The tickets that passengers carried away came in folders and envelopes as illustrated below.

The photo, which I took in June, 2014, belies that fact that, owing to the number of Surfliners, Metrolink trains, and transit lines serving Los Angeles Union Station, the beautifully-preserved station is busier than at any time in its history.









The diesels pulling the trains were painted as illustrated below, but for only about ten years because by the late fifties SP went to its cheaper gray and red color scheme; also, while the post card, “distributed by Souvenir Color Card Company” was from a “Union Pacific Railroad color photo,” the color is off: Union Pacific trains were never such a yellow shade of yellow. The back of the card reads, “Three streamliners lined up for departure from Union Station.” One wonders by what trick the passengers were going to get on the middle train. Of course, they aren’t really three trains lined up for departure, but the numbers on the SP and UP engines suggest one will pull tonight’s Sunset Limited and the other the late afternoon’s City of Los Angeles.



No longer in print, but available used, is The Last of the Great Stations, which includes the Donald Duke photo, bottom, of the main waiting room, essentially unchanged today.



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