The Incomparable Empire Builder

With the addition of nearly 150 non-revenue seats in the Great Domes (a term the railway used to refer to both short and full-length domes), the Empire Builder had become “incomparable” in Great Northern advertising. This oddly-folded brochure has interior photos showing bright red seats in both the domes and the coach portions of the domes–a bold color choice in an age when most train upholstery was some shade of brown to disguise stains.

Click image to download a 3.9-MB PDF of this brochure.

Our friend Stephen Brown has posted four photos of Empire Builder interiors. He doesn’t say when he took them, but I suspect it was on his trip on the North Coast Limited during the Chicago-Minneapolis portion when the two trains were merged. Click any of the images for a larger view.

Here is a view of the long end of one of the dome-coaches. The brightly colored seats are complemented by Pierre Bourdelle’s linoleum carvings based on Haida Indian art. Each of the three dome-coaches on each train had a different set of carvings, and their whimsical locations made the cars far more interesting than the drab historical vignettes on the Northern Pacific dome-coaches.

This is a view of the full-length dome from the back. Note the lounge seating in the foreground and that most of the forward-facing seats seem to have green upholstery. However, the front five rows of seating are red. Could the red and green be a subtle reference to the exterior green-and-orange color scheme?

The lounge beneath the full-length dome is an almost perfect match with the Santa Fe lounge, with the substitution of Northwest Indian art for Southwest Indian art. Once again, Pierre Bourdelle did the linoleum carving in front of the bar while Pearson Berlinghof did the paintings in the plexiglass panels that divided the lounge in to smaller sections. It is hard to tell for certain, but the little curtains appear to have the same pattern as those in the dome-coaches.

Steve also took a photo of the 1951 diner showing two of the etched-glass dividers. There are two more behind the photographer; the etchings represent Minnesota ore docks and freighter; North Dakota wheat farms; Washington apple trees; and Cascade Mountain forests.

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