A 1956 Desperate Stand Menu

The Great Northern needed five complete train sets to protect the streamlined Empire Builder‘s 44-hour schedule between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. The observation cars on the 1947 Empire Builder were named Mississippi River (car number 1190), Missouri River (1191), Flathead River (1192), Kootenai River (1193), and Marias River (1194). Each of these cars had a different Charles Russell painting in the lounge.

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Marias River was selected for early publicity photos of the 1947 Empire Builder. Interior photos clearly show the Russell painting, “Desperate Stand,” on the bulkhead at the forward end of the lounge. Winold Reiss Indian portraits are also visible between the windows.

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This photo, or one very similar to it, may have been the inspiration for the illustrations shown below that can be found in early Empire Builder and Western Star publicity.

In 1950, when the railway ordered five completely new trains for the Mid-Century Empire Builder, it also ordered another River-series observation car for the Western Star. Because the latter train went over a longer route and made more stops, it took as long as 51 hours to go from Chicago to Seattle and so required an extra train set for the journey. I still haven’t found any record of what Russell painting was used in this car, but since I also haven’t seen any menus with other Russell paintings on them, I suspect it was a duplicate of a painting used in one of the other cars.

Click image to download a 2.4-MB PDF of this menu.

In any case, here is another Desperate Stand menu, this one from 1956 after the River-series of cars had been replaced by Mountain observation cars. This is a dinner menu with table d’hôte prices ranging from $1.85 (about $15 in today’s money) for a “Traveler’s Special” of “chef’s suggestion of meat or fish” to $3.25 (about $27 today) for prime rib including soup, potatoes, vegetable, salad, biscuits, dessert, and beverage.

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