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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