Southern Pacific-Rock Island Golden State


The Chicago-LA  streamliner Golden State wasn’t orange and white, as this artist’s rendering looks, but red and silver, and was that for only the first couple of years of its life as a streamliner, from 1948 until soon after 1950, when SP inaugurated the New Orleans-LA Sunset Limited and decided to paints its Golden State cars the same as the Sunset, fluted stainless steel–or that color–with a red stripe above the windows. Rock Island decided to paint its Golden State cars fluted stainless steel color or to make those that were fluted stainless steel plain when the red paint began wearing off.


The rendering and short piece above (click to enlarge for reading) are from the SP booklet “Wonderful Ways West,” touting its four routes: Sunset, Golden State, Overland (with UP-C&NW), and Coast Lines. I’ve never seen a booklet advertising the streamlined Golden State by itself (a route guide, yes). Somewhere in my collection I’ll come to, and scan online,  a black-and-white leaflet smaller than half the size of business stationery. Probably SP didn’t do a full-scale color booklet for the Golden State, as they did for the Sunset Limited, because there was no single Golden State train set, rather five sets of three different types. The observation interior in the Rock Island ad below is of a car built for the Golden Rocket, which was canceled before it ever ran on its Chicago-LA schedule which would have equaled that of the Super Chief and the City of LA. SP-RI decided that instead of inaugurating the Golden Rocket, they would drop the word “Limited” off their existent Golden State Limited and create a faster (but 4 1/2 hours slower than their Chicago-LA competition) streamlined Golden State using some cars already built for the canceled Golden Rocket and using other new cars they would build for the Golden State, along with other streamlined cars already in their inventory, including some added to the Golden State Limited pre-War.



The observation car above was one of a kind on the Golden State in that it had over-sized windows; the other two observation cars built for the train had normal sized windows, and the fourth and fifth train sets had center-of-train lounges with a finished-end sleeper carrying the Golden State tail sign. (To see a photo of this sleeper, click on Golden State in the right column, and then click on continue reading in the post “Chicago-LA…)

The coffee shop pictured immediately below, from an SP ad, was not the single Mexican-style “Fiesta Coffee Shop Lounge” built for the planned Golden Rocket (and pictured further below), but one of the plainer four cars. Likewise, only a single “El Comedor” diner (also pictured below), with an artist’s hammered copper masks, grilles and window trim, was ever built. So you see the problem with creating a pamphlet: a passenger never knew which train he was going to ride on.



Rock Island photo of the “Fiesta” coffee shop is reproduced below from Will C. Hollister’s Dinner in the Diner: Great Railway Recipes of All Time. Below that, RI photo of diner “El Comidor” is from Some Classic Trains.



For the first year or two of its streamlined life, the Golden State left Chicago at 10:00 at night, called at Kansas City in the morning, El Paso late the second night, Tucson and Phoenix the second morning, and arrived Palm Springs and LA the second afternoon. But by 1950 the westbound schedule had been revised to leave Chicago around 1:00 in the afternoon, call at Kansas City that evening, El Paso the second afternoon, Tuscon and Phoenix the second evening, and arrive Palm Springs and LA early in the morning. The eastbound scheduled remained the same throughout almost the entire life of the train: early afternoon departure from LA, calling at Phoenix and Tucson that evening, El Paso the next morning, Kansas City very late the second night, and arrving Chicago near noon. Only in its last year or two of operation, when it was consolidated with the Sunset, did its eastbound schedule change, to leave LA at 8:00 PM, arriving Chicago late on the second evening. I rode it from LA to El Paso during this time, or technically rode the Sunset since I continued to New Orleans. The combined train was 20 cars, all coaches except for a baggage car, one sleeper, a coffee shop lounge, and an automat car.

At least once, in an earlier, happier time in the the train’s life, I recall President Eisenhower using the Golden State for a trip to Palm Springs.

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve mention how Amtrak allows us to re-live and create our own streamliner memories. In the SP photo below, reproduced from Arthur D. Dubin’s More Classic Trains, the eastbound Sunset Limited (in the background) meets the westbound Golden State in the afternoon at El Paso in 1952. Last summer Todd and I boarded the eastbound Sunset Limited at the same time of day at the same El Paso depot, now restored. We also took a side trip to Carlsbad Caverns, as SP advertised; while there, we drove up to the town of Carlsbad and photographed the Santa Fe depot as it is today. Until the 1950s Santa Fe ran a sleeper from Chicago to Carlsbad via its Scout. The sleeper parked for the day at Carlsbad. The present-day depot, with its Spanish-style, dates from a 1929 revision. See

Dubin’s More Classic Trains, along with his earlier Some Classic Trains are, along with Beebe and Clegg’s 2-volume The Trains We Rode, the definitive works of US twentieth-century passenger train history. All four of these volumes include, along with exterior shots of trains, many interior shots and many views of stations. Greg Stout’s Route of the Rockets: Rock Island in the Streamlined Era has an excellent section on the Golden Rocket/Golden State, as does Some Classic Trains. 



The AT&SF photo below, also from More Classic Trains, has no business in a post about the Golden State, but I include it because also on last summer’s trip Todd and I visited the remains of Dearborn Station, Chicago, home of Rock Island competitor on the California run, the Santa Fe. The clock tower and the structure adjacent to Dearborn Station are still standing and today used for offices and businesses. The photo below shows the San Francisco Chief arriving in 1957. A park and a housing development are now where the tracks once  were.




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Travel the Santa Fe Way


This black-and-white brochure issued during the ‘sixties includes a few photos I haven’t seen elsewhere, including the one above of the lounge car on El Capitan.  (Today these cars are Pacific Parlor Cars–diner-lounges, really–on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, an interesting transition for the cars, which began as lounges on an all-coach train.) Note the sign above the stairs telling passengers that the “Kachina Coffee Shop” is below. At one end of the car’s upper level was a news agent stand. The news agent periodically passed through the train selling his wares (candy, cigarettes, magazines, etc.). I had a friend in high school whose older brother, a college student, got a summer job as a news agent on El Capitan. What a dream job, to my mind at the time.

The dining car, below, could be on any Santa Fe train except the Hi-Level El Capitan. Likewise for the coach scene, below that, with the stipulation that it be a train with leg-rest coaches (not the day trains, in other words, and, during the era of this brochure, probably not the Grand Canyon).

The “Big Dome” scene, bottom, would be on the Chief, San Francisco Chief, or Chicagoan/Kansas Cityan.





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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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