Here’s a coaster showing Rocky, the Great Northern Goat, working as a waiter on one of the Big G’s fine trains. Click the image to download a PDF of the coaster; click here if you prefer to download a full-sized jpg.
The Great Northern’s Twin Cities-Winnipeg Winnipeg Limited dates back to at least the 1930s. Unlike the daytime Red River and Internationals, the overnight Winnipeg Limited was not converted to a streamliner overnight. Instead, streamlined cars incrementally replaced heavyweight cars until, on March 1, 1956, the train was fully streamlined.
Click image to download a 2.8-MB PDF of this two-page, six-panel brochure.
Much of the equipment for the Winnipeg Limited was drawn from the fleet of streamlined cars built by Pullman for the 1947 Empire Builder. The train was led by two E-7 passenger locomotives that were used to pull the 1947 Empire Builder but that had later been replaced by F-series locomotives in transcontinental train service.
After the Great Northern added dome cars to the Empire Builder, that train didn’t need the large-windowed Mountain-series of observation cars, so it put those cars on the Western Star. This brochure advertises the upgraded train including interior photos of the new observation cars. Since the brochures for the Mid-Century Empire Builder only had illustrations of the interior of this car, these photos provide a new look into life aboard Great Northern’s greatest trains.
This illustration has been recycled from the Mid-Century Empire Builder brochure, but it fits the Western Star equally well. Click image to download a 4.7-MB PDF of the streamlined Western Star brochure.
The front bulkhead of each of the River-series observation cars featured a distinctive painting by Charlie Russell and the panels between the windows displayed Winold Reiss Indian portraits set off by Hudson-Bay-blanket-colored curtains. The Mountain-series cars were not so imaginatively decorated, as the bulkhead merely had a map of the Great Northern and the panels between the windows portrayed state flowers for each of the states served by the Great Northern set off by green curtains.
Initially, at least, the Great Northern tried to offer nearly identical service on the Western Star as on the Mid-Century Empire Builder. The railway had two routes from Minneapolis to Fargo; two from Fargo to Minot; and two from Havre to Shelby, Montana. The Empire Builder took the short route but residents of bigger cities, such as Grand Forks and Great Falls, on the longer routes had their own streamliner in the Western Star.
Click image to download PDF of these reservation cards. Unfortunately, my collection is missing the 5:00 pm reservation card.
By 1962, according to one former dining car employee, there were some differences between the two trains. Cooks on the Empire Builder made pies, muffins, and mashed potatoes from scratch. The Western Star served pies and muffins made in the Great Northern commissary and instant mashed potatoes.
It may be true that nothing could be finer than eating in a diner, but waiting in line for a seat in the dining car was a hassle. A few railroads avoided that by offering passengers reservations.
Click image to download PDF of these reservation cards.
These reservation cards gave Empire Builder passengers a choice of eating at 5:00 pm, 6:15 pm, 7:30 pm, or 8:45 pm. When the train was particularly crowded, they sometimes had a fifth seating for dinner.
The SP&S carried through cars from the Empire Builder and North Coast Limited to Portland, allowing the GN and NP to say their premiere transcontinental trains served both Seattle and Portland. This placemat incongruously depict’s the railway’s main cities: Spokane (which is in the northeast part of the railway’s territory) in the northwest part of the picture and Portland (which is in the southwest part of the railway’s territory) in the southeast part of the picture. The SP&S also had extensions to Astoria, Eugene, and Bend, Oregon (but not Seattle).
Click image to download a 1.1-MB PDF of this placemat.
James J. Hill built the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway when Edward Harriman denied Hill’s lines equal access to the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company through the Columbia River Gorge. The OR&N had once been affiliated with the Northern Pacific Railroad, but the latter lost control when it went bankrupt in 1893. For a time, the NP and UP shared use of the OR&N over its tracks on the south bank of the Columbia River to Portland, but Harriman managed to get financial control and used it in his decade-long war with Hill. This meant that, to reach Portland, Hill’s trains first had to climb the steep grades of the Cascade Mountains to Seattle and then journey an extra 180 miles south from there.
Hill responded by starting the Portland & Seattle Railway (the name a subterfuge to confuse Harriman) and building from Spokane to Portland. For much of this way, the north bank of the Columbia River provided a beautiful, water-level route that was much less costly to operate than the the lines over the Cascade Mountains. Initially, the SP&S suffered from the general glut of east-west railroads that emerged after the Panama Canal opened, but it became highly profitable during and after World War II.
Here’s a placemat from the Challenger, the Union Pacific’s answer to Santa Fe’s El Capitan. But where the El Capitan was an extra-fare train that happened to have exclusively coach seating, the Challenger was designed as an economy train, with special low-cost meals and services.
Click image to download a PDF of this placemat.
Photographic evidence indicates that, unlike the El Capitan diners, diners on the Challenger served meals over paper placemats, not linen tablecloths. No doubt the train’s patrons were happy to accept this compromise in exchange for the money they saved. Note that this placemat was actually printed in three different colors.
Like the Great Northern’s placemat, this Santa Fe placemat shows a map of the railroad, in this case surrounded by hints of sights seen along the way. But this placemat is much simpler, being printed only in one color.
Click to download a 1.2-MB PDF of this placemat.
Photographic evidence shows that diners for the El Capitan and all of the Chief trains used linen tablecloths. This placemat must have been used in the coffee shop cars of the premiere trains as well as on day trains such as the San Diegan, Chicagoan, and Kansas Citian.
While the dining cars of premiere trains such as the Empire Builder and–in its early years, at least–the Western Star used heavy linen tablecloths, secondary trains such as the Red River and Internationals used paper placemats instead. Paper placemats were also used in the Ranch Car and other coffee shop cars on the premiere trains.
Click to download a 1.4-MB PDF of this placemat.
The Great Northern’s placemat is the most colorful I have seen. Most others, like the Northern Pacific Traveller’s Rest placemat, were printed in just two colors.
Though nominally competitors, after 1900 the Great Northern and Northern Pacific had several major stockholders in common, notably the Great Northern’s founder, James J. Hill. As a result, the railroads had many things in common, including sharing a headquarters building in St. Paul, Minnesota and, eventually, similar logos: both circular and dominated by the color red, hinting at an Asian influence.
Click image to download a 2.0-MB PDF of this 12-page brochure.
While the Great Northern simple red circle eventually evolved into its famous goat, the Northern Pacific used the more subtle yin yang, emphasizing the railway’s part as a route to the Orient. This brochure, distributed by the railway in the 1960s, tells how the Northern Pacific came to adopt this logo.