The San Francisco Chief

In an effort to compete with the California Zephyr and City of San Francisco, in July, 1954, the Santa Fe inaugurated its San Francisco Chief. In addition to coaches, sleepers, and a diner, each of the six trains included a Budd-built Big Dome, bringing the Santa Fe’s total to 14 full-length domes. In order to provide a crew dorm for 12, these last four domes had a smaller lounge downstairs.

The dome car is about the eighth car back in this photo of the San Francisco Chief in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

A typical consist for the San Francisco Chief included three coaches, a lunch counter car, the Big Dome, a diner, and four sleepers. Unlike the Super Chief and El Capitan, the San Francisco Chief did not have a round-tailed observation car.

This image of Santa Fe locomotives passing in front of Temple Rock in New Mexico looks generic, but it was almost exclusively used in advertising for the San Francisco Chief, including this two-page ad in the June 7, 1954 issue of Life magazine. Click image to download a PDF of this ad.

Despite a longer route, the San Francisco Chief took fewer hours to travel between Chicago and Oakland than the California Zephyr, but it was not as fast as the City of San Francisco even after that train was slowed in response to ICC orders and other factors. Santa Fe’s train may never have earned the Cal Zephyr‘s cachet, but unlike the Zephyr it continued to operate right up until the day Amtrak took over.

The Budd Company commissioned this painting of the San Francisco Chief from Leslie Ragan to promote its railcars. Click image to download a PDF of the complete Budd advertisement.

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