Super Domes for the City of Denver

Even though they were overnight trains, the vista-dome Denver Zephyr must have eaten into the ridership of Union Pacific’s City of Denver. UP responded by borrowing two super domes from its new partner, the Milwaukee Road. These super domes began operating in Chicago-Denver service on December 1, 1957, and replaced the pub-lounge on that train that had been open to coach passengers. The club-lounge that was open only to sleeping car passengers remained on the train, and the 68 dome seats in the super domes were open to all passengers.

The Union Pacific placed this ad in a Milwaukee newspaper, which seems strange not only because the City of Denver didn’t serve Milwaukee, but the super domes used on the City of Denver came from diminished service on the Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities route. Note that the photo is from the same photo session used to originally promote the Milwaukee super domes. Click the image for a larger view.

The super domes lasted on the City of Denver for just a little over a year. On January 11, 1959, Union Pacific combined the City of Denver with the City of Portland, so the former train enjoyed the three short domes on the latter. Unfortunately for Portland passengers, going through Denver added several hours to the trip. The Union Pacific used one of the two super domes occasionally after that time when its regular dome cars were in the shop.

Advertising the Denver Zephyr

Burlington rolled out the vista-dome Denver Zephyr with the typical full-page color ads in Saturday Evening Post and similar magazines. The ads promoted the “bigDenver Zephyr, a reference to the older Denver Zephyr‘s diminutive size relative to ordinary trains.

Click on any image for a larger view.

By March, 1957, Burlington had modified the ad only slightly, emphasizing a “vacation in colorful Colorado” in place of “proudly presents.” The following ad is from National Geographic.

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Denver Zephyr On-Board Stationery

In the 1950s, the Burlington settled on a standard pattern for Zephyr on-board stationery: black or grey printing on white paper stating “Aboard the . . .” on the left of the Burlington Route logo, and the name of the train to the right. The main cities served by the train were listed at the bottom.

This letterhead is from the post-war, pre-vista-dome Denver Zephyr. Letterheads for all vista-dome trains included the words “Vista-Dome” to the right of the Burlington logo and above the line.

It is possible that the grey printing is meant to subtly reflect the silvery-grey stainless steel of the Zephyr trains. In any case, this was much more sedate than the flamboyant stationery used on the pre-war Denver Zephyr.

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The Colorado Room

Like the California Zephyr‘s observation cars, the lounge under the Denver Zephyr‘s last dome, known as the “Colorado Room,” had a linoleum carving by Pierre Bourdelle and a mural by Russell Patterson. Patterson also did murals in the parlor portion of the car in front of the dome, and the observation portion behind the dome.

The Silver Chateau is the tail car on this Denver Zephyr. Click image for a larger view.

The beverage menu for the Colorado Room had one of the wildflower paintings on its cover. This particular one has the columbine and deer vine painting, but I’ve also seen one with the wild rose and lupin painting.

Click image to download a PDF of this beverage menu.

Dining on the Denver Zephyr

The Denver Zephyr‘s dining cars were remarkably similar to those of the California Zephyr, from the Pierre Bourdelle linoleum carvings at the steward’s stations to the Mary Lawser sculptures of grapes and grape leaves above the entry ways. The dining rooms also had large etched glass mirrors by Hamilton Carved Glass.

Click the images to download larger versions of the covers of these menu. The interiors of my copies are blank so they aren’t included.

One difference was in the menus, which in the Denver Zephyr‘s case are based on paintings hung in each of the double-bedrooms and compartments on the train. The wildflower paintings on the menus and in the rooms were done by Kathryn Fligg, who has been incorrectly credited with doing murals in the Twin Zephyr and California Zephyr dome-coaches, but in fact did the murals in the Kansas City Zephyr domes.

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The Chuck Wagon

The Chuck Wagon room was the Denver Zephyr‘s equivalent to the California Zephyr‘s Cable Car Room. Like the Empire Builder‘s Ranch Car, the Chuck Wagon was decorated to look like the dining hall of a dude ranch, though it probably wasn’t as successful as the Ranch Car. Each car had large murals of old West scenes painted by Mary Lawser.

Click image to download a PDF of this menu.

Here’s a 1970 breakfast menu from the Chuck Wagon. It was printed on very nice paper and the prices aren’t much more than a 1950 menu, which makes sense as inflation had made a 1950 dollar worth about $1.60 in 1970.

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Denver Zephyr Brochures

After introducing the Denver Zephyr with yesterday’s large and lavish brochure, the Burlington printed smaller versions of the brochure to advertise the train over the years. Though the brown one is dated 1963, seven years after the train was introduced, it still says it is “new.” The green version is dated 1967, and the several repetitions of the word “new” are gone.

Click image to download a 2.0-MB PDF of this brochure. This PDF was made from someone else’s scans that are lower than my normal resolution, but it is still very readable.

All but two cars of the train’s standard consist were made by Budd specifically for the Denver Zephyr. The consist includes:

  • A baggage-RPO car (Silver Mail; Silver Pouch)
  • A baggage car with a steam generator originally built for the Twin Zephyrs before Burlington settled on using “Silver” in all car names (Argo, Olympus)
  • Two 56-seat coaches (Silver Rein, Bit, Halter, and Blanket)
  • A dome-buffet with “chuck wagon” dining service (Silver Kettle, Cup)
  • Two Slumbercoaches (Silver Slumber, Rest, Siesta, and Repose)
  • A dining car (Silver Chef, Tureen)
  • Three 10-roomette, 6-double-bedroom sleepers (Silver Ridge, Plateau, Hollow, Terrain, Ravine, and Boulder)
  • A 6-double-bedroom, 5-compartment sleeper (Silver Swan, Pelican)
  • The dome-observation car with a drawing room, 11 extra-fare parlor seats, and a mural room under the dome and rear lounge open to all sleeping-car passengers (Silver Veranda, Chateau)

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The Last Streamliner

The vista-dome Denver Zephyr was the last complete streamliner built during the Silver Age of passenger trains. Put in service on October 26, 1956, to replace the aging 1936 Denver Zephyr and compete against an incrementally improved City of Denver, the Burlington Railroad naturally had it built by the Budd Company, as it had every other train it had ordered since 1933.

Click image to download a 12.8-MB PDF of this 16-page brochure. Several of the pages fold out; to portray them, the pages that do not fold out are shown with blank spaces next to them.

The new train was in many ways patterned after the California Zephyr, with a roughly similar consist and interior decorations by the same artists. One difference was that the Denver train had only one dome-coach and two regular coaches instead of the three dome-coaches of the California train; a second difference was the blunt-end observation car on the Denver train–complete with a factory-equipped diaphragm for mid-train operation–instead of the semi-eliptical end on the California train.

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Aboard the Hi-Level El Capitan

Click image to download a PDF of this luggage tag.

Passengers checking baggage on the hi-level El Capitan were given colorful baggage tags advertising the train. However, unless you had a lot of luggage, it wasn’t necessary to check it as the cars had huge baggage racks on the lower level.

Click image to download a 2.3-MB PDF of this brochure.

Once on board, passengers were encouraged to read this brochure to learn such things about the train as how their reclining seat worked and how much meals in the diner cost. A complete dinner with a charcoal-broiled steak cost $2.75, about $22 in today’s money, which is a bargain considering that a similar steak dinner on the City of Los Angeles cost about $4.50 at the time.

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The Hi-Level El Capitan

On July 8, 1956, the Budd Company and the Santa Fe Railway wowed the railroad world by introducing a whole new kind of train: the Hi-Level El Capitan. Just 27 months after adding Big Domes to the El Capitan, the Santa Fe replaced the entire all-coach train with double-decked train cars, including coaches, a lounge car, and a diner. The Big Domes were bumped to the Chief.

Click image to download a 6.1-MB PDF of this brochure.

Budd had pioneered the construction of double-decked rail cars when it built the first bi-level commuter cars for the Burlington in 1950. The Milwaukee Road and Rock Island bought bi-level cars from Budd, while the Chicago & North Western and Southern Pacific bought simiiar cars from Pullman and St. Louis Car Company, all for commuter traffic in and out of Chicago or San Francisco.

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