Southern Pacific Menu Blanks

Here are five different menu covers from Southern Pacific trains. We’ve seen menus like these from the late 1930s through the early 1950s.


Click image to download a 3.1-MB PDF showing five menu covers.

The above photo shows the Hotel Playa de Cortés in Guaymas, Mexico, as the SP once had a line from Tucson down the West Coast of our southern neighbor. The 1937 ad below features this hotel. The other menu covers show San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park; the New Orleans French Quarter, the southern Arizona desert, and Lake Tahoe.

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The Only Rose Bowl They Ever Won

A dealer posted a low-resolution image of this menu on ebay; ordinarily, I wouldn’t include it here but the story is too good not to tell. The menu cover says “Oregon State College Football Team Returning from Rose Bowl Game with Duke University at Durham, North Carolina.” Why would the Rose Bowl be played in North Carolina?


Click image to download a 0.5-MB PDF of this menu.

The game took place on January 1, 1942, just 25 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Officials feared the Japanese would bomb a major West Coast event such as the Pasadena Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, so they cancelled the parade, while Duke, which had been invited to play Oregon State, offered to host the game at its stadium.

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1950 Redwoods Menu

This is a special menu serving the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Shriners, who were on their way to Los Angeles for an annual convention. The only direct route between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles that would take the Southern Pacific would have been the Golden State route, but it is possible they used a less direct route through New Orleans or San Francisco. Though the trip took place in 1950, it could easily have been on a heavyweight train.


Click image to download a 0.8-MB PDF of this menu.

The breakfast menu itself offers a choice of an omelet, ham or bacon with eggs, or two eggs. These entrées come with juice, fruit, or cereal, toast or muffins, and a beverage. There are no prices on the menu, indicating the meals were included in the package tour.

Golden Gate Exposition Menu

The 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition led Western Pacific and its partner railroads to inaugurate the Exposition Flyer from Oakland to Chicago and Santa Fe to inaugurate the Valley Flyer to Bakersfield.


Click image to download a 1.3-MB PDF of this menu.

Southern Pacific, however, had the most trains to the Bay Area of any railroad–quite probably more than all other railroads combined. This menu would have been used on one of those trains, which was likely a heavyweight as it is not marked for the City of San Francisco or Daylight, SP’s two streamlined trains in 1939. Given the menu’s date of October 1939, it could easily have served passengers going to or from the expo, which ran from February through October 1939 and again from late May through September 1940.

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Mt. Rainier Lunch Menu and Curious NP Ads

This North Coast Limited menu doesn’t have a date, but it urges people to “apply now for training as a U.S. Army Aviation Cadet.” This places it before 1947, when the Army Air Corps became the Air Force. Since the menu doesn’t say that it complies with the rules of the Office of Price Administration (which was created in late 1941 and abolished in 1947), the menu must date from before the war. My guess is 1939 or 1940.


Click image to download a 1.2-MB PDF of this menu from the New York Public Library.

Although this menu is not from my collection, the fact that it is from the North Coast Limited allows me to bring up the following curious advertisement for Baldwin locomotives. “Modern Baldwin 4-8-4 type locomotives haul the famous North Coast Limited in high-speed, transcontinental service.” Illustrating the ad is a photograph of the train going over Bozeman Pass in the Montana Rockies.

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Santa Fe “Chief Way” Stationery

Although the Santa Fe had special stationery for its premiere trains such as the Super Chief and even secondary trains such as the Kansas City-Galveston Ranger, it must have used this somewhat generic stationery for some of its lesser trains. In this case, “the Chief Way” doesn’t refer to the Chief or even Texas Chief but simply an admonition that the Santa Fe should be people’s chief mode of transportation on the routes it covered.


Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead; click here to download a PDF of the matching envelope.

Assuming they didn’t have their own stationery, this stationery might have been used on the Chicagoan/Kansas Cityan (shouldn’t that be spelled “Citian”?), a streamlined train that operated between those two cities between 1938 and 1968; the Kansas City-Tulsa Oil Flyer (1940-1968); the Kansas City-Tulsa Tulsan (1939-1971); Oakland-Bakersfield Golden Gate (1938-1965). All of these trains were streamlined and all had observation cars and thus were likely to make stationery available to passengers.

Santa Fe Observation Car Stationery

This stationery doesn’t have a train name, but the font makes it plain that it is for a pre-war heavyweight train. Assuming that the railway’s premiere trains such as the Chief and California Limited had their own stationery, this stationery likely came from secondary transcontinental trains such as the Navajo (which operated from 1915-1940), Scout (1916-1948), Grand Canyon (1929-1971), or Missionary (unknown).


Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead. Click here to download a PDF of the matching envelope.

According to the June 1921 Official Guide of the Railways (warning: 281-MB PDF), in that year the Santa Fe had four Chicago-Los Angeles trains: the California Limited (trains 3 & 4), which made the journey in 71 hours; the Navaho (trains 2 & 9), which operated about 12 hours apart from the California Limited and required 72-1/2 hours; the Scout (trains 1 & 10), which left Chicago a few hours after the Cal Limited but required nearly 84 hours to get to Los Angeles; and the Missionary (trains 1-21 and 22), which went via Amarillo but managed the journey in the same time as the Navajo. The California Limited had an observation car, but of the other train only the Navajo had one and then only east of La Junta, NM, as the observation car and some of the other cars on the train split there to go to Denver. The California Limited was also the only train that had a diner all the way to Los Angeles; the others only had diners between Chicago and Kansas City.

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The Slow Death of the Overland Limited

As previously noted, the Southern Pacific was the last of the three “overland” railroads to actually use the name Overland Limited, as Union Pacific and Chicago & North Western began using the name no later than 1895 while SP did not until 1899. So it is somewhat ironic that SP was the last of the three railroads to promote the train and cling to the name.


Southern Pacific loved to advertise using photos of its trains crossing the Great Salt Lake. This postcard from the 1930s does not mention the Overland Limited, but the name on the rear drumhead is clear. Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

As noted yesterday, the North Western stopped running the Overland Limited in 1955, leaving it an Omaha-San Francisco train. Union Pacific dropped the train in 1960, leaving it an Espee-only train until that railroad finally dropped it in 1962.

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1954 Overland Limited Menu

Eclipsed by the streamliners, in 1955 the Overland Limited would be cut from a Chicago-San Francisco train to an Omaha-San Francisco train, and after 1956 it had only coaches–not even a diner. So this menu from 1954 represents about the last full service on this legendary train.


Click image to download a 1.8-MB PDF of this menu.

When compared with the train’s 1947 lunch menu, there doesn’t appear to be any downgrade in service in the intervening years. Go back another decade, though, to the 1939 menu shown below (courtesy of the New York Public Library), and there is a major difference.

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Continental Limited Stationery

The Continental Limited was the Union Pacific’s secondary train from Chicago to the Pacific Coast. Early in its life, the train foreshadowed the late 1960s “city of everywhere” by going to all three of Union Pacific’s coastal cities, with the Portland section splitting off at Green River, Wyoming and the San Francisco and Los Angeles sections splitting up in Ogden.


Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead.

Like the Oregon-Washington Limited, the Continental Limited isn’t in Wikipedia’s list of named passenger trains. I don’t see it in a 1910 Official Railway Guide, but it is listed in the 1921 guide with westbound trains numbered “Second No. 19 for Los Angeles,” “2d No. 19 for Portland,” and “2d No. 19-S for San Francisco.” First No. 19 is the Pacific Limited which goes over the Milwaukee Road instead of the Northwestern from Chicago, then follows the same schedule as the Continental Limited to Ogden, then somehow leaves Ogden 50 minutes before it arrives in order to reach San Francisco two hours before the Continental Limited. Eastbound trains are number 20 except there is no 20 from Portland, its place being taken by train number 4, the Atlantic Express, which splits into Chicago and Kansas City sections.

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