The Blackhawk

In January, 1930, the Burlington added three new luxury trains to its schedules: the Chicago-Lincoln Ak-Sar-Ben, the Chicago-Denver Aristocrat, and the Chicago-Twin Cities Blackhawk. The timing was obviously poor: the trains had been ordered before the stock market crash and were delivered less than two months after the crash. But one of the trains, the Blackhawk, remained on the timetable until 1970.

Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead.

Named for an Indian chief who sided with the British during the War of 1812 (and who probably didn’t look anything like the image on this letterhead), the Blackhawk was an overnight train. When the Twin Zephyrs covered the same route in just six daylight hours, the Blackhawk remained on the schedule to provide service to people who didn’t want to spend any business hours on the train.

The Blackhawk enters Chicago in 1939 being pulled by the Æolus, one of Burlington’s two stainless-steel, streamlined steam locomotives. Click image for a slightly larger view.

This on-board stationery somewhat crassly gives a condensed train schedule. I wondered if it was really one sheet of a note pad, but I’ve seen similar stationery for The Aristocrat. The letterhead is almost certainly from the late 1930s, after the introduction of the Twin Zephyrs but before Burlington Dieselized its passenger trains.

First, the bottom of the letterhead says the train was “completely air-conditioned,” which would have been important in the 1930s, when air conditioning wasn’t taken for granted. Second, my earliest Burlington timetable is from 1947, and in that and later years the Blackhawk left Chicago at 9:30 pm or later and took 10-1/2 hours, so the 8 pm departure and nearly 12-hour schedule listed on this letterhead suggests that this is firmly in steam era, when trains required more time due to changing and servicing locomotives.

The Blackhawk survived as the Burlington’s connection with the Great Northern Western Star and Northern Pacific Mainstreeter until 1970. It disappeared from Burlington Northern timetables just a few weeks after the GN-NP-CB&Q merger.

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