Rio Grande Domes

The Chesapeake & Ohio had ordered six dome cars for its ill-fated Chessie train, including three dome-sleepers and three dome observation cars. When the B&O purchased the dome-sleepers for its Capital Limited, the other three went to the Denver & Rio Grande Western. The Rio Grande apparently did not want observation cars (which require extra switching to turn them around at each end of a trip) and so it converted them for mid-train operation.

One of the Chessie dome-observation cars converted for mid-train use on the Royal Gorge. Note that the car next to it is a heavyweight car.

Starting in September, 1949, the Rio Grande added these cars to its Royal Gorge train, which connected Denver and Salt Lake City via Pueblo and Tennessee Pass–a longer route than the one followed by the California Zephyr. The Royal Gorge merged with the Prospector, which followed the same Denver-Salt Lake route as the Cal Zephyr on an overnight instead of a daytime schedule, in Grand Junction, so the Prospector too could say it was a dome-car train for at least part of its route. Since the Rio Grande had three of these domes, and only needed two for the Royal Gorge at any given time, it is likely that domes sometimes ventured east of Grand Junction on the Prospector trains.

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The B&O Capitol Limited

In January, 1951, the Baltimore & Ohio introduced domes to its premiere Pullman train, the Capitol Limited. Like the Columbian, the Capitol Limited connected New York, Baltimore, and Washington with Chicago, and in later years the two were combined into a single train.

One of three dome cars originally intended for the Chessie but purchased by the B&O for the Capitol Limited. Note the curved glass and the spot lights on the front of the car. Click image for a larger view.

Unlike the Columbian, the railroad didn’t completely re-equip the Capitol Limited in one order; instead, it simply replaced older cars with newer ones as they became available. When rival Chesapeake & Ohio cancelled its Washington-Cincinnati Chessie train before it even began operation, the B&O picked up some of the cars in the Chessie order, including three dome-sleeping cars.

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The Eastern Train of the Year

A B&O brochure calls the Columbian “The Train of the Year.” Although the Pennsylvania Railroad had completely re-equipped the all-Pullman Broadway Limited just 45 days before the B&O introduced the new Columbian, the nation’s oldest railroad could make the case that, as the only dome-car train in the East, it deserved the title of “The Eastern Train of the Year.” However, it could not compete with the five-domed California Zephyr, which had been inaugurated the same day as the renewed Broadway.

The railroad loved to publicize photos of its trains on the Thomas Viaduct, one of the nation’s oldest railway bridges. Located just south of Baltimore and completed in 1835, it is still in use today by B&O successor CSX.

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The B&O Columbian

On May 5, 1949–just 45 days after the California Zephyr‘s inaugural run–the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad introduced the first dome cars in regular service east of Chicago. The cars, which the B&O called “strata-domes,” were part of the Columbian, an all-coach train that went from New York to Chicago via Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, and Akron, Ohio.

This highly stylized photo shows one of the B&O’s first two domes, “Sky Dome.” The other dome was named “High Dome.” Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

Starting in 1931, the Columbian was the nation’s first air-conditioned train, and it went between Washington and New York (actually, Jersey City, where passengers caught a ferry to New York City). But in 1941, the B&O extended it to Chicago, initially as a day train but later scheduled it to follow the all-Pullman Capitol Limited by a few minutes. In the Washington-Chicago market, the two trains were highly competitive with the Pennsylvania’s Liberty Limited, actually beating that train’s time by about a half an hour. However, the B&O trains were not at all competitive with Pennsylvania or New York Central trains in the New York-Chicago market, and in 1958 the B&O dropped that portion–which was ironic considering that the Columbian started out exclusively serving that route.

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Cal Zephyr Stationery

Click image to download a PDF of the letterhead.

Passengers in the observation cars of the California Zephyr could use this on-board stationery to write friends about their journey. The letter and envelope was the same size as stationery for the Twin Cities Zephyr, as was the line, “Aboard the vista-dome [name] Zephyr” (though in a different font).

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Journey by Postcard

As a part of their advertising, the railroads operating the California Zephyr made tens if not hundreds of thousands of postcards. I have at least ten different postcards, some of which I’ve already shown, but I’m showing them again here in order to show a complete travelogue of the journey, with some gaps filled in with photos taken by Steve Brown in January, 1968.

Click any postcard image to download a PDF of the postcard.

After leaving Chicago at 3:30 pm, the train stops in Galesburg at 5:45 pm for five minutes. Early risers the next morning will see Colorado’s Front Range before the train arrives in Denver at 8:20 am.

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Non-Railroad Ads

In addition to the General Motors ad that appeared in the July, 1949 issue of National Geographic, several other companies placed CZ-related ads in Nat Geo or other magazines. One of them, naturally, was the Budd Company, which built the railcars.

Appearing in the April, 1949 issue of National Geographic, Budd’s ad shows the CZ in the same Feather River Canyon location, Rich Bar, portrayed in various brochures. Click any image for a larger view.

Standard Oil of California commissioned at least two paintings of the California Zephyr for use in ads boasting of its lubricating oils that were used in the train’s Diesels.

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The Story-Board Ads

Four different Western Pacific story-board ads–ads made up of several black-and-white photos illustrating features of the train–were featured in 1956 issues of National Geographic. Two more story-board ads signed by all three railroads appeared in the February 1964 and February 1965 issues.

The February 1956 ad presents one of the original Zephyrettes, Nellie O’Grady, meeting a variety of enthusiastic passengers on board the train. O’Grady had also been featured in an article in the December 31, 1955 issue of Saturday Evening Post that no doubt was placed by a railroad publicist.

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The Photo Ads

I count nine different photo ads–ads dominated by one large photo, usually with one smaller photo–in various issues of National Geographic. The first two were placed by Western Pacific, and the remainder by all three railroads. Click any image for a larger view.

The first photo ad, from the December 1955 issue of Nat Geo, commemorates the making of Cinerama Holiday, the second (of ten) Cinerama films made to be displayed with three different projectors on a very wide screen. This particular film featured the California Zephyr and included footage shot from a dome car whose tinted glass had been replaced by clear glass, as well as through an open door in the front of the locomotive.

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