In the summer of 1948, little more than a year after Great Northern introduced the streamlined Empire Builder, Chicago held what some have called the “last great rail fair.” Great Northern was one of 39 railroads that participated.
Click image to download a 4.0-MB PDF of this brochure.
Like many rail fairs, the highlight of the Chicago fair (which was repeated in 1949) was a “pageant of trains” presenting a series of historic locomotives and trains moving under their own power. The Great Northern’s contribution was the William Crooks, an 1861 locomotive that was the first to be purchased by the Minnesota & Pacific (but soon renamed St. Paul & Pacific), the Great Northern’s earliest predecessor.
Great Northern didn’t have any streamlined passenger cars to spare from its five Empire Builder trains to display at the fair, so it commissioned members of the Twin City Model Railway Club to build a 24-foot-long O-scale model of the train along with a layout featuring 135 feet of track. This is featured in the brochure. I’m not sure if it is the same organization, but today a Twin City Model Railroad Museum has an O-scale layout that features a 1955 Great Northern Empire Builder train.
Strangely, the brochure doesn’t mention that Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and their jointly owned subsidiary Chicago, Burlington & Quincy had a major exhibit at the fair called “Vacationland” featuring a miniature geyser and a small log chalet similar to the hotels tourists could stay at in Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
Walt Disney attended the rail fair and it inspired him to build Disneyland, with Vacationland being the obvious inspiration for Frontierland and Nature’s Wonderland. “Vacationland” was a term used in many brochures and advertisements published by the Great Northern and other railroads, and Disney also borrowed it for a quarterly magazine promoting Disneyland and, later, Disney World.