Every Luxury — Every Economy

Here’s another mystery brochure about the Empire Builder, the mystery being when it was published. Unusual for pre-war Great Northern brochures, both the front and back covers have color photos (actually, colorized versions of black-and-white photos–a black-and-white version of the back cover photo can also be seen on page 14 and a black-and-white version of the front cover is on page 2 of the 1938 Glacier photo booklet). But after the war, the GN was using streamlined Diesels delivered in 1945 to pull the still-unstreamlined Builder. Since page 19 pictures an S-2 steam locomotive, which dates back to 1930, I’m pretty sure this brochure is from before the war.


Click image to download an 11.0-MB PDF of this 20-page brochure.

The luxury coaches whose interiors are pictured on page 16 were added to GN’s roster in 1937, so the brochure had to be that year or later. I’m surprised there are no exterior photos, as these coaches were semi-streamlined and gave a more modern appearance to the train. The coaches had rivets, but the rooflines were smooth, rather than tapering at the ends. By contrast, the heavyweight cars pictured on the cover look out of date. In any case, based on the colorization and the photo in common with the 1938 Glacier booklet, I’m guessing this brochure is from 1938 or 1939.

Inside the brochure, the photos are all black-and-white (though pages are enhanced with light green trim), but many photos are heavily retouched. This is especially apparent on pages 8 and 9, where a pair of photos gives a view of the inside and outside of the train’s solarium-observation car. On the exterior view, images of passengers on board the train have been crudely added to the photo. The images of passengers off the train from the interior view are not as crude but it is just as unrealistic to expect that film would naturally reproduce such clear portraits through glass.


Click image to download a 1.3-MB PDF of this flyer. I’ve included the back even though it is blank.

Folded in this particular copy of the brochure was a flyer almost 9″x16″ in size showing floor plans of all the different kinds of cars used on the Empire Builder of the day. In addition to the luxury coaches–distinguished by having ends exactly perpendicular to the length of the car–there is a tourist sleeper with 32 beds; a diner; an eight-section, two-compartment, one-drawing-room car (23 beds); an eight-section, five-double-bedroom car (24 beds); a fourteen-section car (28 beds); a twelve-section, one-drawing-room car (27 beds); and the solarium-observation car. Except for the luxury coaches, most of these cars date back to 1929 and the tourist sleepers are probably even older.

When first-class cars ranged from 23 to 28 beds, I have to wonder how the porters were given assignments. Were those with the greatest seniority allowed to choose which cars they preferred to work? And were their preferences for the cars with the fewest beds or the cars most likely to generate the most tips (which might have been the same cars)?


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