Big Domes for the Santa Fe

When Burlington inaugurated its vista-domed Kansas City and American Royal Zephyrs on the Chicago-Kansas City route, the Santa Fe responded by ordering full-length domes for several trains serving the same route. Although Pullman, which manufactured the Milwaukee Super Domes, proposed to make similar cars for the Santa Fe, the railroad turned instead to Budd to build its “Big Domes.”

This advertisement from the November 8, 1954 Life magazine shows passengers craning their necks to see the scenery from the lounge portion of the Big Domes. Click image for a larger view.

In March, 1954, the Santa Fe added one of these domes to each of the six El Capitan all-coach Chicago-LA trains plus one each to a pair of trains that went between Chicago and Oklahoma City. Inaugurated in 1938 (initially between Chicago and Wichita), the northbound train each day was called the Chicagoan while the southbound train was called the Kansas Citian.

Other than being fluted stainless steel rather than painted, the Big Domes superficially appear almost identical to Milwaukee’s Super Domes, but a close look reveals several differences. Upstairs, rather than arrange all the seats in coach formation, the rear part of the car had 18 lounge seats allowing for parties of three to eight to sit together. With the 57 coach-like seats, the dome had total seating for 75 (as opposed to 68 in the Super Domes)–more than three domes of the Kansas City Zephyr and American Royal Zephyr combined.

The lounge beneath the dome provided seating for groups of one to six people. Note that the hall for passengers walking through the car is on the right. The images of the katchina dolls were done by an artist named Pearson Berlinghof, while Pierre Bourdelle did the linoleum sun carving on the front of the bar. Click image for a larger view.

Downstairs, Budd made the contrary decision to have passengers entering from adjacent cars turn left instead of right to pass through the car. Unlike the Super Domes, the cars also have a vestibule so passengers and employees could get on or off without stepping into the next car. As with the Super Domes, the Big Domes had 28 seats in a lounge on the bottom level beneath the dome, but Budd also managed to find space to provide a bedroom for the on-board courier-nurse.

Unlike Pullman, Budd provided passengers walking through the car under the dome with two windows in each of the side passageways. Click image for a larger view.

Compared with the Burlington’s, Santa Fe’s Chicago-Kansas City trains were both faster (as little as seven-and-a-half hours vs. more than eight hours) and more frequent (six per day vs. the Burlington’s two). Yet Santa Fe’s Big Domes may also have contributed to a rare defeat for the zephyr fleet. Although Burlington continued to operate a shortened Kansas City Zephyr until 1968, several of the cars made for the train were dispersed to other, more successful zephyrs.

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