Baltimore and Ohio all-coach Columbian, late 1940s/early ’50s

As a kid, I wrote to railroads and asked them to send me pictures of their trains. This came from B&O, along with an interior shot of a coach with snack bar, a system map, and other less interesting, more child-oriented stuff.


Note the low-profile Strata-dome car, a dome lounge on the Columbia. Until the 1960s, when the every-other-day Chicago-Florida City of Miami and South Wind began carrying domes from Northern Pacific and Great Northern, B&O was the only railroad in the East to operate dome cars.

Few trains in the East or West carried dome cars in the late 1940s, yet at that time you could cross the country on trains with domes by taking B&O’s Capital Limited or Columbian to Chicago, and from Chicago the Super Chief to LA, California Zephyr to the Bay Area, or Olympian Hiawatha to Seattle.


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Canadian Pacific Rail Diesel Cars


Ad appearing in a late 1940s/early ’50s National Geographic


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Union Pacific Domeliner City of Portland

UPCITYOFPORTLANDbrochure5The distinguishing feature of the City of Portland, as of the City of Los Angeles, was its dome diner. The COP’s competition, the Empire Builder and the North Coast Limited, had plenty of domes, but no dome diner. The COP also offered a late afternoon departure from Chicago, convenient for passengers connecting from day trains, whereas the Builder and NCL left Chicago in early afternoon. The COP was faster for Chicago-Portland passengers, and, for much of its life, carried a through sleeper to Seattle that got passengers there as fast as either of its competitors.

The Union Pacific brochure reproduced above and below is dated 9/59. It shows the dome lounge being run on the end, as an observation car, as indeed it was built to be; but the car soon would be moved to mid-train, behind the dome diner and in front of the sleepers.

Union Pacific was among the leaders in publishing beautiful brochures about its trains.








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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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