The 1936 Twin Cities Zephyrs

In November, 1934, after the end of the Chicago fair, the Burlington put its original Zephyr (number 9900) to work between Kansas City and Lincoln, Nebraska via Omaha–something of a spit-in-the-eye to the Union Pacific, which was headquartered in Omaha. After testing the original Zephyr, the Burlington had quickly ordered several more stainless-steel trains. The first two (9901 and 9902), nearly identical to the original, became the Twin Cities Zephyrs, which started running between Chicago and Minneapolis in April, 1935. A similar Mark Twain Zephyr (9903) began operating between St. Louis and Burlington, Iowa in October, 1935.

The little Zephyrs proved far more popular than the railroad anticipated, with every seat booked and sometimes (according to reports) people standing in the aisles (or, more likely, occupying supposedly non-revenue seats in the rear lounges). So the Burlington ordered five more shovel-nosed trains that were far larger than the little three-car prototype. On December 18, 1936, two seven-car trains plus locomotives started service as the new Twin Cities Zephyrs, bumping the previous ones to service as the Ft. Worth-to-Houston Sam Houston Zephyr and the St. Louis-to-Kansas City Ozark State Zephyr.

The new trains were powered by 1800-horsepower Diesels that were among several prototypes for what would eventually become General Motors’ E series of passenger locomotives. Each locomotive actually contained two 900-HP Diesels that generated electricity for the electric motors that propelled the trains. A smaller Diesel in the second car of the train provided power for lights and air conditioning. The rear half of this car served as a cocktail lounge.

The remaining cars on the trains included two 60-seat coaches; a combination coach-diner that had 56 coach seats and 16 seats in the diner; a 32-seat diner; a 19-seat parlor car with a private room; and finally a 24-seat parlor-observation car. The complete trains thus had 176 coach seats and 46 first-class seats (assuming three people in the private room).

Click to download a 4.5-MB, 16-page brochure about the Twin Cities Zephyrs.

The locomotives were named Zephyrus and Pegasus, and each car on the trains was named for a Greek or Roman god or goddess. Like the 9900, the cars were articulated, but the locomotives were not, so they could be detached and replaced with another locomotive or used on another train.

When the Twin Cities Zephyrs were replaced by dome-car trains in 1947, the 1936 Twin Zephyrs were put in service between Chicago and Lincoln (via Omaha) as the Nebraska Zephyrs. One of these, the “goddess” train, still exists at the Illinois Railway Museum. The “gods” train was sold to Saudi Arabia, and it is possible that it can still be found in Medina, along with some former Denver Zephyr cars, waiting for some entrepreneur to rescue and restore it.

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