Aboard the North Coast Limited

This isn’t primarily a photo blog, but Stephen Brown has posted such an extraordinary set of photos of his two trips aboard the North Coast Limited that I am reposting many of them here with his permission. These photos give the flavor of riding the train and show that, even in its final years, it remained one of the world’s finest trains. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Between Chicago and St. Paul, the North Coast Limited and Empire Builder operated over the Burlington Route (which was jointly owned by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific). In the late 1960s, the Burlington combined the two trains with the Afternoon Zephyr to create a massive train with potentially 13 dome cars. Here in the second NP dome is a view of the four GN domes in three different color schemes: orange-and-green, big-sky blue, and Cascade green.

The two trains are separated at Minneapolis, where the photographer takes a long exposure of the Empire Builder domes on the left and the North Coast Limited on the right.

Before leaving Chicago, Brown snapped a photo of the Traveller’s Rest car with two crew members taking a rest before serving passengers.

The next morning dawns in Mandan, North Dakota.

The train proceeds through the North Dakota Badlands.

Between meals, Brown caught a photo of the diner. Note the image of the locomotive beneath the steward’s stand in the background, no doubt carved by Pierre Bourdelle, while the lantern sculpture above the entryway is possibly by Mary Lawser, who did the scultures in the same location for the California Zephyr diners.

Shortly after entering Montana, the Northern Pacific route meets the Yellowstone River, which it would follow for 240 miles.

At Miles City, Montana, Brown took a close up of one of the dome cars and the letters, “Vista Dome North Coast Limited.”

The NP route crosses or passes over several mountain ranges. This one is called the Crazies.

In 1967, the Northern Pacific dropped the observation car from the North Coast Limited and remodeled half the dome-sleepers to be a “Lounge in the Sky,” with tables served by a small bar installed in one of the former sleeping rooms below the dome. Here, the photographer’s mother watches the scenery from one of these domes.

The train continues to follow the Yellowstone River.

The Absoroka mountains as seen from the North Coast Limited dome.

Livingston, Montana was the figurative half-way point in the North Coast Limited‘s journey, where locomotives were swapped and passengers detrained heading for Yellowstone National Park. This 1970 photo shows four different color schemes. Including the Loewy greens and stainless steel Slumbercoach, the Burlington Northern merger is visible by the Cascade green dome car and dining car in front of the Slumbercoach. For most of the life of the vista-dome North Coast Limited, the dome coach and dome sleeper owned by the Spokane, Portland & Seattle (which was jointly owned by the GN and NP) were in Loewy colors, but shortly before the merger the SP&S decided to paint them in its own rather uninspired color scheme.

This April 1969 photo shows snow is still at Bozeman Tunnel, about 5,700 feet in elevation. The tunnel opened in 1945 to replace an older, longer tunnel that opened in 1884 and is visible on the left.

At some point along the route, Brown snapped a photo of the stewardess, whose name he said was Miss Dow.

After leaving Bozeman, Montana, the Northern Pacific follows the Jefferson River. Between Bozeman and Missoula, the tracks of the Milwaukee Road are often visible from the NP.

Another view of Jefferson Canyon.

Between Whitehall and Butte, Montana, the NP climbs over Homestake Pass in one of the most scenic parts of the journey.

A little higher up and the train has entered the snow zone.

This image of people gathered around the dome coaches in Butte is just stunning. Except for a bit of paint scraped from above the doorway of the CB&Q dome car (it has to be a dome car because the roof has ribs), the cars look as clean and fresh as they did in 1954.

Steve didn’t take the North Coast Limited west of Butte, but searching the web I found this uncredited photo of the North Coast Limited at King Street Station in Seattle. The train is facing south, meaning it is eastbound train that will soon depart for Auburn, Washington, where it will turn east and head to Minneapolis and Chicago.


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