Amtrak Diners: Making Streamliner Memories Today


Pardon me while I fast-forward to the present day, where, for better or worse, the trains aren’t so different than they were in the streamliner era. We don’t have high-speed trains as they do in so much of the world, so you can still travel across the US, and up and down its east and west coasts, on schedules close to those of the ‘forties and ‘fifties. And today’s train equipment and consists are similar to what they were in the streamliner era. Amtrak Superliner roomettes are equivalent to what were called “enclosed sections” on the 1930s Super Chief. Amtrak bedrooms are like Pullman bedrooms. Amtrak Superliner coaches are modeled after Santa Fe El Capitan coaches. And the essence of the dining car experience remains intact, although admittedly more casual in part because of how travelers dress today.

The photo above I took in the diner on the northbound Silver Meteor this June. The photo immediately below is of the diner section of the diner lounge on the westbound Cardinal, June, and the bottom photo is of the diner section of the diner lounge on the eastbound Texas Eagle.




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Burlington Zephyrs and non-Zephyrs

As a kid, I wrote to Burlington and asked for pictures of their trains, and received the postcards below of six Zephyrs.
















By later in life I was interested in the non-Zephyrs, as well, such as The Coloradoan, leaving Chicago (in my June 1949 Official Guide) at 11:30 in the morning, carrying a sleeper that would go all the way to Billings, MT on Burlington rail. The car was transferred at Lincoln to a train once named The Adventureland, coming up from Kansas City. My June 1954 Official Guide shows the car being forwarded by Great Northern from Billings to Great Falls. Below, the August 1967 George Berriso photo (from Burlington Northern and Its Heritage, Steve Glischinski) shows the erstwhile Adventureland stopped at Newcastle, WY near the end of its life.


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Santa Fe Grand Canyon set-out sleeper



Meet me at Chicago Dearborn Station, June 1949. It’s late morning, and we’re waiting to board our sleeper for the Grand Canyon, carried on Santa Fe’s #23 The Grand Canyon to Williams, Arizona, leaving Chicago at 12:01 PM and arriving Williams at 10:30 PM the next day. Our sleeper will park at Williams until 4:15 AM, when it will depart, along with a sleeper from Los Angeles, arriving the Grand Canyon at 7:00 AM. (But, remember, railroads operated year-round on Standard Time, so add one hour to all times if you’re in a jurisdiction that observes Daylight Time.) If we only want to spend a day at the Grand Canyon, on our way to LA, we’ll depart in our same sleeper that evening at 8:00 PM, arrive Williams 10:20 PM, where our sleeper will be attached to #23, departing at 10:30 PM and arriving LA at 10:40 the next morning. The LA-Grand Canyon- Chicago sleeper  will sit at Williams until 3:30 AM, when it will be attached to #24, arriving Chicago one day later at 3:45 PM. Trains 23-24 The Grand Canyon were operated in two sections during the summer of 1949, the first all sleepers, with diner and lounge, and the second all coaches, with lunch-counter diner and lounge. Both were predominantly heavy-weight. In my experience, the train always carried four or more mail, baggage and express cars. Not until cancellation of The Chief, in 1968, did The Grand Canyon become streamlined by default.

As late as 1962, Santa Fe still ran the Grand Canyon sleeper. Perhaps it lasted until the cuts in 1968.



Ads top and above, from my collection, appeared in the National Geographic. Ad below reproduced here from All Aboard America: Classic American Trains, Melville Wheaton, editor.



The photo below (Otto C. Perry, Denver Public Library Collection, reproduced here from Night Trains: The Pullman System in the Golden Years of American Rail Travel, Peter T. Maiken) shows a 1933 Ash Fork-Phoenix Santa Fe train that fed Chicago sleepers to the mainline. Our 1949 Williams-Grand Canyon train likely looked much the same.



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Union Pacific station, Cheyenne, Wyoming: “Lady, if all your things were on that train, you should’ve been on it, too.”


You don’t have to do much reading between the lines to see what was going on.

In the late ’40s my Aunt Lacy and “a gal” she met were having highballs in the club car with some soldiers on the Chicago-bound San Francisco Overland. The gal had her little girl with her. When the train stopped in Cheyenne, the two women left the little girl with the soldiers and got off to buy postcards. They decided to have a quick beer in a bar across the street from the depot.

When they returned to the track where their train had been, it wasn’t there. “Where’s the train that was on this track?” Lacy demanded of a redcap. “All our things and her little girl are on it.”

“Lady,” the redcap retorted, “if all your things and her little girl are on that train, you should’ve been on it, too, when it left ten minutes ago.”

Union Pacific found space for our two damsels in distress on the eastbound Los Angeles Limited, coming along within the hour. No berths were available, so they were in coach. The next day a conductor had them hop off in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to identify their things and collect the little girl who had been deposited in the stationmaster’s care an hour earlier when the Overland passed through. They arrived in Chicago in time to make their respective connections and probably weren’t even hungover by then.

The photo of the Cheyenne station, above, from the Western Collection, Denver Public Library (reproduced here from Beebe and Clegg, The Trains We Road) is obviously from an earlier period. The Union Pacific ad below appeared in the National Geographic.





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California Zephyr refurbished


In the late 1950s through the first half of 1960 the three railroads that ran the pre-Amtrak California Zephyr refurbished the train’s cars that had been functioning since the late 1940s. Above is the refurbished cocktail lounge beneath the dome of the observation car.

The above photo and those below are from the brochure issued about the newly decorated cars. (Most of the brochure is identical to the original brochure, issued near the train’s inauguration and reproduced here on in an earlier post.)

The first photo, below, is the inside of the observation lounge looking toward the stairs to the dome. Next is the “Cable Car Buffet Lounge,” also a dome car. Below that is the cover of the brochure and the two pages of photos and text that differ from the original brochure. The back cover of the new brochure, also different from the original, is featured in the post below this one.


Note the writing desk in the upper right corner. It was stocked with stationery, a sample of the letterhead reproduced below; at the stationery are the three railroad names.




Below is a lunch/dinner menu from The Cable Car Room buffet lounge. Below that is a breakfast menu from the buffet lounge before it was redecorated and named The Cable Car Room.









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California Zephyr in the Colorado Rockies


The back cover of brochure issued in March 1961 after refurbishing of the Burlington-Rio Grande-Western Pacific train.

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Chicago to LA by train in the early ‘fifties–via the film Narrow Margin


The railroad and train are fictitious (although it takes the Santa Fe route), the station scenes when it’s boarding in Chicago are filmed at LA Union Station, and the external shots of the train vary from Pennsy steam to SP Daylight steam, yet the 1952 noir film Narrow Margin takes place almost entirely on the train and gives an accurate feel for the trip in the late forties/early fifties.

The lounge car below is on Union Pacific, but the lounge on the film’s train brought this picture to my mind. In the film one of the characters says, “Meet me in the club car.” I recall my grandmother talking about club cars on trains, and some timetables used the term club-lounge all the way up to Amtrak time, 1971.



The closest I can come to a real train that might match the one in the movie would be the Santa Fe Chief, when it left Chicago in the afternoon and arrived LA on the second morning. It was sometimes hauled by steam post-war, although most if not all of its cars were stainless steel streamlined whereas many of the cars shown in the film are heavy-weights.

Ad above from a 1952 National Geographic. 1948 photo below by Charles H. Kerrigan, reproduced here from a Vanishing Vistas post card, shows one of Santa Fe’s few streamlined steam engines.


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