The New Empire Builder

The Great Northern produced this brightly colored four-page brochure to advertise its new Empire Builder and no doubt handed out thousands of copies to people visiting the train when it was on display in cities throughout the Northwest. Unlike some railroads, which substituted post-war streamlined cars for heavyweights as they arrived, the Great Northern waited until it had all five entire trainsets in hand before it replaced the heavyweight Empire Builder with the streamlined version. (The exceptions were the locomotives, which were used to haul passenger trains when they arrived two years before rest of the train.)

Click to download a PDF of this four-page brochure.

The inside pages of this brochure have drawings of some of the features of the new train: reclining seat coaches, colorful lounges, and Diesel power. Some of these drawings will appear in four-color versions of later brochures as well, which raises a question: Since the GN had to use three colors to print this brochure (green, orange, and black), why didn’t it spring for a fourth color so it could have a full range of colors? Perhaps four-color printing in 1947 was a lot more expensive, relative to three-color printing, than it is today.

Each train included one 60-seat coach, which the brochure implies will be used for all passengers who don’t travel all the way from Chicago to Spokane or Portland/Seattle. This coach had wide windows that each served two rows of seats. The seats have footrests, but no leg rests.

The trains had three 48-seat coaches featuring one window for each row of seats and leg rests folded down from the seats in front. The seats were far enough apart from one another that they could be almost fully reclined, in a near-horizontal position, without interfering with the passenger behind. While not as comfortable as a berth, they were easy to sleep in. Contrary to the brochure’s claim, I suspect these coaches were used by any overnight passengers and not just those going all the way from Chicago to Spokane, Portland, or Seattle.

The last page of the brochure notes that the older Empire Builder would remain in service as a secondary train (one with more frequent stops) using the revived Oriental Limited name. The railroad had begun running a train by that name in 1905 to celebrate its new steamship service from Seattle to Asia.

In 1929, in celebration of the completion of the 7.9-mile Cascade Tunnel, GN President Ralph Budd–the future CB&Q president–renamed the railroad’s premiere train the Empire Builder, in honor of its founder, James J. Hill (who, in a confidential letter before he died, had directed his son Louis to promote Budd the job of president when Louis got tired of the job). The GN then made the Oriental Limited a secondary train. That lasted only two years, when the Depression forced the GN to drop the Oriental Limited entirely.

In 1946, in anticipation of the post-war boom, the GN revived the train. After 1947, the Empire Builder would operate on a 45-hour schedule from Chicago to Seattle, while the Oriental Limited would keep the Empire Builder’s previous 59-hour schedule.

Thanks to the Lindsay Korst for posting GN/Pullman publicity photos of the 60- and 48-seat coaches, which were scanned from a 1947 Science Illustrated magazine article.

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