The Northern Pacific Northern Lights

I found this illustration when going through a collection of photos of Budd Company-built trains in the Paul Crét collection at the University of Texas Architecture Library archives. The 1951 document is an artist’s conception of a train called the Northern Pacific Northern Lights, as can be seen from the rear drumhead. The back of the drawing says little other than it was project number 633 for Paul Crét’s firm (the next listed project, number 635, was the Hi-Level El Capitan while project 634 was no doubt a non-rail project).

Click image to download a 1.0-MB PDF of this drawing.

At first glance I thought it was misfiled picture of the Canadian (project 652), but then I noticed that the train was more like the California Zephyr (project 628) but adorned with the Northern Pacific name. Like the CZ, the train has a baggage car, three dome-coaches, a dome-buffet-crew dorm, a diner, four sleeping cars, and a dome-observation car. The train is mostly bare stainless steel but the letterboard above the windows appears to be painted (as the Canadian would be), probably in some hue of Northern Pacific green.

I can only speculate how this proposal came about. In 1951, the Great Northern completely re-equipped its Empire Builder, and turned the 1947 version of that train into its secondary train, the newly named Western Star. Since NP’s streamlined North Coast Limited was frankly inferior to the 1947 Empire Builder, this meant GN would have two daily Chicago-Pacific Northwest trains that were better than anything NP offered.

Budd must have seen this as an opportunity to sell a new train to the older railroad. Fresh from building the California Zephyr, Budd no doubt promised NP that a similar train in the Northwest would outshine anything the Great Northern, Milwaukee Road, or Union Pacific had to offer.

We know what happened instead: the NP hired Raymond Loewy to redecorate its existing train and then ordered four dome cars and a diner from Budd for each of its five North Coast Limited train sets. Budd was probably pleased to get an order for these 25 cars, though disappointed it didn’t get an order for the full 55 cars needed for five Northern Lights trains like the one shown in the drawing. Probably because Loewy was already involved, Paul Crét’s architectural firm may not have assisted in the design of the NP domes and diners as there is no project number listed for them in the archives.

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