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Only two railroads had their own track from Chicago to the West Coast: Santa Fe and Milwaukee Road. One prospered in the passenger market (Santa Fe) and the other didn’t. Although post-War Milwaukee streamlined its Olympian Hi sooner than one of its competitors (Northern Pacific), Milwaukee’s equipment, despite the grandeur of a car like the one above, on the whole lacked features that gave Great Northern and ultimately Northern Pacific the competitive edge.
I rode the Union Pacific/Milwaukee Road Challenger (LA-Chicago) in one of four former Olympian Hiawatha leg-rest coaches. They had less leg room than the Union Pacific coaches and were obviously older. Also, the full-length dome, which looks so great in the photo above, didn’t allow for forward viewing, which the full-length domes run on Great Northern and Santa Fe did, as did the middle-of-car domes run on many trains.
I would guess the date of this undated brochure (a route guide) to be 1952 or ’53: the dome has been added to the Olympian Hi, and the secondary train on the route, the Columbian, was running.
Most of the photos in this route guide are small, along the top of the page. I include below the few that relate directly to the train journey, including the photo of Chicago Union Station and a list of tunnels along the Milwaukee Road route from Chicago to Seattle-Tacoma. Incidentally, on the Amtrak Empire Builder you can still depart Chicago Union Station at approximately the same time the Olympian Hiawatha left, and you will follow Milwaukee’s track as far as the Twin Cities, from which the Builder will depart on former Great Northern track for its journey on to Seattle, where it will arrive at approximately the same time the Olympian Hiawatha arrived.
I recently rode the Amtrak Silver Meteor, once a train of Florida East Coast’s competitor Seaboard. Today’s Meteor follows its original track only as far as inland central Florida; from there north it uses track once traveled by the Atlantic Coast Line West Coast Champion (and, above Jacksonville, the full fleet of ACL/FEC Florida trains).
I think it interesting that the photos below, chosen below, include the Illinois Central chocolate and orange City of Miami, a Chicago-Florida train that used FEC track from Jacksonville.
I’ve reproduced here only train pictures from the booklet, not the Florida scenes which make up most of it.
The timetable below is late in the life of FEC passenger service, which ending with a 1963 strike, leaving Atlantic Coast Line South Florida trains permanently re-routed over Seaboard to Central Florida, where they joined the route of the ACL West Coast Champion up to Jacksonville and beyond. Note that the engine on the timetable has FEC’s later, simplified passenger diesel color scheme.
All photos and captions from a Great Northern folder published, I believe, in 1958, although the domes were added to the train earlier in the 1950s. Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels the same route from Seattle/Portland to the Twin Cities (although via Grand Forks and Fargo, as the Western Star did), but uses the tracks of the former Milwaukee Road (route of the Hiawathas) from the Twin Cities to Chicago, whereas the pre-Amtrak Empire Builder used the Burlington for this leg. Since Milwaukee Road and Burlington both used Chicago Union Station, the beginning and end points of the present day train are as they were since its inception, and the schedule is almost the same as it has been since the train was streamlined in the late ‘forties.
Like the Golden State, the City of San Francisco never had its own full-color brochure after the train became daily in the late forties because the train sets varied. Southern Pacific included the Overland Route as one of its four “Wonderful Ways West” in the booklet so named and included the colored artist rendering above and the pictures below. The black-and-white ads above and below are from late forties, early fifties National Geographic magazines.
The City of San Francisco crossed Donner Pass at night. The photo above is of the San Francisco Overland, which left Chicago 3 hours earlier and arrived San Francisco 4 hours later (on a schedule a little faster than the California Zephyr) and carried the through New York-San Francisco sleepers in the early fifties.
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 http://atsf.railfan.net/depots/carlsbadnm.html
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.
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.