Empire Builder Going to the Sun Menu

This 1943 menu has the same cover as the 1949 Oriental Limited menu that I posted a few weeks ago. Inside is very different with lower prices, advertisements for “victory bonds,” and a sticker proclaiming May 17-22 as “National Cotton Week.” While yesterday’s menu was from the New York Public Library, this one (along with its Oriental Limited mate) is from my own collection.


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

Named for the mountain in the background of this photo, the Going to the Sun Highway was opened in 1934 leading to a huge increase in park visitation. Construction of the road was controversial as everyone knew it would only be open a few months of the year. At least one newspaper argued that the highway would be just a subsidy for the Great Northern, which was charging people $10 to $15 to carry their autos from the Twin Cities to the park. Of course, the eventual construction of U.S. 2 actually reduced the Great Northern’s passenger business.

Grinnell Lake Menu

Like the Little Chief Mountain menu shown here previously, this menu is from 1941. While the two are not exactly the same, the main entrées seem to have been simply rearranged.


Click image to download a 652-KB PDF of this menu.

Both menus offer “seasonable fish, broiled or fried.” But one menu has “chicken saute on toast” while the other is just “chicken [with] savory dressing.” One has “charcoal grilled” steak; the other is “charcoal broiled.” The a la carte sides are nearly identical, but one has apple fritters while the other only as “assorted cold cuts.”

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1934 Empire Builder Brochure

To commemorate the 175th anniversary of the birth of James J. Hill, who built and managed the Great Northern Railway, here is a video about Hill produced by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The first person interviewed in the video is Thomas White, who for many years curated Hill’s business papers at the James J. Hill Library in St. Paul. The other man who was interviewed, Craig Johnson, made a couple of errors: he says Hill tried to build into Canada but was forbidden from doing so by the Canadian government, so he built west instead. In fact, he did build into Canada to Winnipeg, and only built west when it became plain that the Canadian government would not incorporate Hill’s American railway into the planned Canadian Pacific Railway. Johnson also suggests Hill was worth more than $250 million when he died; it was more like $60 million.

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Northern Pacific Semicentennial Folder

In 1883, Northern Pacific financier Henry Villard celebrated the completion of the transcontinental line with a fabulous “golden spike” ceremony (which didn’t actually use a gold spike), and then promptly had a nervous breakdown over the company’s weak finances. To commemorate this event fifty years later, the Northern Pacific published this folder and cover announcement.


Click image to download a 2.2-MB PDF of this folder.

The folder has an announcement glued on top, which I Photoshopped out of the image shown above. The PDF has the cover both with and without the announcement. Since the interior and back cover of the folder are both blank, I didn’t include them in the PDF.

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Northern Pacific Steam On-Board Stationery

Unlike the previous NP stationery from the heavyweight era, this one doesn’t mention air condition or roller bearings, so it must be from the 1920s or early 1930s.


Click image to download a 151-KB PDF of this letterhead.

The image of the steam locomotive on the letterhead doesn’t show the wheels, and from the front the first NP 4-8-4 locomotives (which were built in 1927) looked very similar to the NP’s earlier 4-6-2 locomotives. One difference was in the pilot (“cowcatcher”): the 4-6-2s appear to have had more slats than the 4-8-4s, though this could change as wooden pilots were rebuilt from time to time and neither had as many as appear in the above drawing.

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North Coast Limited Dining Car Brochure

This undated brochure doesn’t mention air conditioning or roller bearings, suggesting that it was printed before the mid-1930s. Northern Pacific was proud of its dining car service, having been the first transcontinental railway to offer a dining car on its trains (as documented in the book, Dining Car Line to the Pacific).


Click image to download a 4.5-MB PDF of this brochure.

In 1909, NP introduced the “Great Big Baked Potato,” spuds grown mainly in Washington’s Yakima Valley that averaged 4 pounds in size. These became the railway’s signature dish, and the above brochure notes that the railway’s diners served 90 tons of red meat and 50 tons of poultry, but 265 tons of Great Big Potatoes each year.

Pikes Peak Menu

Here’s a breakfast menu from 1939 that’s a mate to the 1941 dinner menu I posted last May. Where the dinner menu featured Mesa Verde on the cover, this one has Pikes Peak.


Click image to download a 1.1-MB PDF of this menu.

Both menus feature trout and have a cute logo reading, “Mountain trout every day in the dining car.” The trout were probably farmed, but the railroad had a ritual where the train would stop and a fisherman outfitted with a rod and creel would hand the fresh trout up to the dining car.

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Exposition Flyer Menu

After the Panoramic and the Scenic Limited but before the California Zephyr was the Exposition Flyer, the first through train allowing coach as well as sleeping car passengers to go from the Midwest to California over the Rio Grande route. Like the Scenic Limited, the Exposition Flyer used the Western Pacific from Salt Lake City to Oakland, but unlike the Scenic Limited, which went over the Missouri Pacific to St. Louis, the Exposition Flyer used the Burlington to Chicago.


Click image to download a 348-KB PDF of this menu, which is from the California Zephyr Virtual Museum.

As the name suggests, the Exposition Flyer began operating in 1939 to take passengers to the Golden Gate International Exposition, which took place on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. However, the train was so successful that the three railroads continued operating it until 1949, when they replaced it with the even more successful California Zephyr.

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Scenic Limited On-Board Stationery

Wall Street financial whiz Jay Gould gained and lost control of the Erie, Union Pacific, and numerous other railroads. When he died at the age of 56, the largest railroad he left to his son, George Gould, was the Missouri Pacific, which had a line from St. Louis to Pueblo, Colorado. George acquired control of the Denver & Rio Grande, and mortgaged it to build the Western Pacific in order to have his own transcontinental railway.


Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead. The Denver & Rio Grande became the Denver & Rio Grande Western in 1921, so it is possible that this letterhead predates that year.

Though Gould eventually lost control of these railroads, from 1915 to 1946 the Scenic Limited covered the St. Louis-Oakland portion of this transcontinental route. Despite the name and stationery, the Scenic Limited wasn’t really a through train. In fact, at least in the 1921 Official Railway Guide, neither the Missouri Pacific nor the Western Pacific used the name “Scenic Limited” for the trains that connected with the Rio Grande’s trains number 1 and 2.

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Panoramic Views, 1950 Edition

By 1950, the Rio Grande no longer operated a train called the Panoramic, but it retained the name “Panoramic Views” in this updated brochure featuring streamliners and dome cars. As with the 1930s edition of the brochure, this one is undated, but it includes photos of dome cars that entered service in September, 1949, while the map still shows the Rio Grande Southern, which was abandoned in 1951, so the brochure dates pretty closely to 1950.


Click image to download an 8.5-MB PDF of this brochure.

Like the 1930s brochure, this one has about a dozen photos (11 scenic photos, two photos of passenger cars), but arranged differently. Also like the 1930s brochure, at least some of the photos appear to be hand-colored versions of black-and-white photos, though others, such as one of the Maroon Bells, appear to be color photos.

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