On Board the Sunset

The on-board stationery I have for the Sunset Limited uses old English lettering, suggesting that it dates from the heavyweight era. The envelope even says “San Francisco-Los Angeles New Orleans,” showing it is either from before 1930 or between 1936 and 1942, the years the route extended as far as San Francisco.

Click to download a PDF of this on-board stationery.

Click to download a PDF of this envelope.

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Advertising the Sunset Limited

As with the Shasta Daylight and Golden State, the Southern Pacific sent out a mailer to travel agents and others in the industry featuring the ad below. The ad itself was placed in Saturday Evening Post, Time, Holiday, and National Geographic magazines. The mailer mentioned SP’s other recent streamliners and bragged that it had “America’s most modern trains.”

Click to download a 3.5-MB PDF of a mailer that Southern Pacific sent to travel agents that featured this ad announcing the streamlined Sunset Limited.

Over the next few years, the railroad placed a steady series of ads in such magazines as National Geographic and Holiday. The later ads tended to be black-and-white and most focused on the SP’s assumption that most of the magazines’ audiences were on the East Coast, and thus encouraged them to go via New Orleans instead of Chicago on their next “Western trip.”

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The Streamlined Sunset Limited

For many years, the Southern Pacific considered the Sunset Limited its premiere transcontinental train, because it followed the only transcontinental route entirely owned by the Southern Pacific. Yet, as Wikipedia notes, it was also “the last among the big American luxury trains to be streamlined. This is probably because, unlike the City of San Francisco and Golden State routes, the Southern Pacific had neither a partner railroad pushing it to streamline nor a competitor that was streamlining its own trains.

The name Sunset Limited goes back to 1894, when the Southern Pacific introduced it as an all-Pullman train–no coaches. Going all the way from San Francisco to New Orleans via Los Angeles, it was the longest distance train in the United States. The train was so near and dear to Southern Pacific’s heart that the railroad adopted a sunset as its logo. Still, it added coaches to the train and cut it back to Los Angeles-New Orleans during the early part of the Depression and again in 1942.

Click image to download an 8.2-MB PDF of a 20-page brochure introducing the streamlined Sunset Limited.

Still, when the Southern Pacific streamlined the train in August, 1950, it went all out. The entire train was built by Budd, and the railroad left it unpainted except for a red stripe above the windows. As built, each of five train sets included one 48-seat coach (partitioned to satisfy Jim Crow laws), three 44-seat coaches, and six all-room sleeping cars, each with 10 roomettes and six double bedrooms. Each of the coaches used a different color scheme: tan & turquoise; pink & blue; rose & beige; and brown & tan for the Jim Crow car–while the sleepers used three different color schemes, described as taupe, bright navy, and delicate green.

Non-revenue space included three full cars: the Audubon dining room, decorated with reproductions of the artist’s bird paintings; the Pride of Texas coffee-shop car with leather on the walls decorated with Texas brands; and the French Quarter lounge car, painted watermelon red and decorated with wrought-iron grillwork reminiscent of old New Orleans.

What the train didn’t have was a round-tailed observation car to give passengers a 180-degree view of the scenery, a tacit admission that there wasn’t much scenery to view along the route. The Southern Pacific used Alco PAs to haul the train east of El Paso and General Motors E7s west, with all locomotives painted in orange-and-red Daylight colors.

Naturally, Railway Age described the new train in detail. Click image to download a 17.4-MB PDF of the magazine’s article about the Sunset Limited.

The Southern Pacific advertised a 42-hour schedule between New Orleans and Los Angeles–not quite the 39-3/4-hour timetables of the City trains and Super Chief/El Capitan, but better than the 45-hour Empire Builder, Olympian Hiawatha, or Golden State.

The Strange Case of the Pendulum Car

The Great Northern owned an unusual passenger car called the pendulum car. Manufactured by the Pacific Railway Equipment Company (which apparently existed solely to make pendulum cars), the car was suspended above its center of gravity so that, when going around a corner, the lower half of the car, rather than the upper half, tilted outward. This was supposed to make it more comfortable for passengers.

Since the 1950s, such tilting trains have become popular in Europe and Japan, especially for high-speed service. Yet the Wikipedia article on these trains fails to mention that three completely operational cars were built for U.S. railroads prior to World War II, and these cars worked for more than two decades before being scrapped.

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The Red River

The Great Northern inaugurated the streamlined Red River between St. Paul and Grand Forks on June 25, 1950–one week after the Internationals began service. The single train made one round-trip per day on the 320-mile route (supplementing the Empire Builder, Oriental Limited, and Winnipeg Limited over much or all of the route), taking 6-1/2 hours to get from St. Paul to Grand Forks.

Click image to download a 0.9-MB PDF of this 12-panel brochure describing the “completely modern” Great Northern Streamlined Internationals.

Like the Internationals, the Red River was built by American Car & Foundry and consisted of a mail-baggage car, three 60-seat coaches, and a cafe-parlor observation car. This last car, unimaginatively called “Red River,” had 12 seats in a small dining room at the front, nine seats in a coffee shop, a small kitchen, and 20 parlor seats in the back. The Red River’s 180 coach seats and 20 parlor seats contrasted with the Internationals’ 148 coach seats and 29 parlor seats; the Great Northern apparently believed that the Midwest train would attract a lower ratio of first-class passengers than the Internationals.

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The Streamlined Internationals

In addition to its transcontinental Empire Builder, the Great Northern Railway operated local passenger trains in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington. In June, 1950, the railway replaced its heavyweight International, which connected Seattle with Vancouver, BC, with two five-car trains built by American Car & Foundry. The two trains were enough to provide three daily round trips over the 155 miles between the Northwest cities, each taking under 4 hours, or about a half-hour less than the heavyweight trains that preceded them.

Click image to download a 3.9-MB PDF of this 12-panel brochure describing the “completely modern” Great Northern Streamlined Internationals.

The trains included a mail/baggage car, two sixty-seat coaches, a combination coach-cafe that included 28 revenue seats and 24 non-revenue seats, and a parlor-observation car with seats for 29 first-class passengers. The observation cars were named “Port of Seattle” and “Port of Vancouver.” The parlor cars also had a one-person bedroom for passengers seeking (and willing to pay for) privacy plus an office for customs inspectors.

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Southern Pacific On-Board Stationery

Although my collection includes at least ten different kinds of Southern Pacific on-board stationery, none of them are specifically marked for the Shasta Daylight. At least in its later years, it is likely that passengers aboard the train would use generic SP stationery.

Here is a piece of stationery from the Shasta Limited, which operated in the same corridor from about 1895 until it was replaced by the Daylight.

Click image to download a PDF of this piece of stationery.

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Shasta Daylight Postcards

The Southern Pacific distributed lots of postcards of the Shasta Daylight. Here is an artist’s impression of the train led by Alco PAs going by Odell Lake in the Oregon Cascades.

Click on image to download a PDF of the front and back of this postcard.

Here is a more realistic view: General Motors E7s instead of Alco PAs, and the hill behind the lake isn’t a glacially carved peak.

Click on image to download a PDF of the front and back of this postcard.

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Advertising the Shasta Daylight

When it introduced the Shasta Daylight, the Southern Pacific did its usual flurry of advertising for the new train. However, the SP had a monopoly on passenger-rail service in the Shasta-Daylight corridor, where it competed with the Western Pacific in the City of San Francisco corridor and both the Santa Fe and Union Pacific in the Golden State corridor. So it is likely that the railroad made less effort to advertise the Daylight than some of its other trains.

Click image to download a 1.4-MB PDF of a brochure that SP mailed to travel agents highlighting this ad that appeared in several magazines.

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Shasta Daylight

On July 10, 1949, the Southern Pacific inaugurated the Shasta Daylight, which covered the 714 miles between Portland and Oakland in 15-1/2 mostly daylight hours. The train featured extra-large “skyview” windows to allow passengers to get better looks at the awesome mountain scenery, which was mostly between Eugene, Oregon and Redding, California.

This photo shows the extra-large windows–taller than on any other Silver-Age train–on the Shasta Daylight as it passes its namesake mountain. Click image for a larger view; click here to download a PDF of the front and back of this postcard.

The early advertising for the train pictured 2,000-HP Alco PA locomotives, which was the American Locomotive Company’s answer to the General Motors E series. Like the Es, the PAs had six-wheel trucks, only four of which were powered. Unlike the Es, which were powered by two V-12 Diesels, the PAs had only one V-16 Diesel. In this respect, the PA was similar to the Fairbanks-Morse Erie-built locomotives.

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