Writing from a Domeliner

When the City of St. Louis was a mere streamliner, it had its own on-board stationery.

By the mid-1960s, however, after the Norfolk & Western had taken over the Wabash, the Union Pacific printed just one set of stationery for all of its domeliners. The letterhead used the familiar winged streamliner logo illustrating the second-generation streamliner locomotives that had been scrapped more than a decade earlier.

Click image to download a PDF of the on-board letterhead. Click here to download a PDF of the matching envelope.

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Dining Aboard the City of St. Louis

Union Pacific menu covers often displayed spectacular photos of parks and other scenic areas that could be reached by taking a Union Pacific train. But this City of St. Louis menu has a prosaic photo of the train station for Kansas City, where Union Pacific tracks from the West met the Wabash’s tracks to St. Louis.

The 1958 menu features charcoal broiled sirloin steak, halibut, fried chicken, roast pork, and a “Chef’s Special Plate Dinner (Your Steward or Waiter will advise items the Chef has prepared for you.)” For $2.35 (about $18 in today’s money), the Chef’s special is the lowest-priced item on the table d’hôte side of the menu, but unlike the other table d’hôte items it doesn’t appear to come with a salad. At $4.50 ($35 in today’s money), the steak dinner is the most-expensive meal.

The Domeliner City of St. Louis

On June 2, 1946, the Union Pacific and Wabash railroads began operating the City of St. Louis from St. Louis to Cheyenne. The train went over Wabash rails from St. Louis to Kansas City and UP rails from Kansas City west. At Cheyenne, the train was broken up and parts joined the City of Los Angeles and parts the City of San Francisco. But starting in 1951, the train operated as a unit from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

Dated August, 1958, this brochure indicates that the City of St. Louis has both a dome-coach and a dome-lounge. Click image to download a 1.7-MB PDF of this four-page (eight-panel) brochure.

The train became a domeliner in 1956 when the Union Pacific combined the all-coach Challenger with the all-Pullman City of Los Angeles, at least in the off-season. Since both trains had a dome-lounge, Union Pacific transferred the Challenger‘s dome-lounges to the City of St. Louis for the use of sleeping-car passengers. Soon after this, Union Pacific modified its dome-lounges for mid-train operation by adding a diaphragm and blocking the rear windows.

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Great Dome Posters

Here are a couple of posters using Hedrich photographs, one of which we’ve already seen on a postcard. I’m not certain whether these posters were distributed to members of the public, Great Northern customers, or just used in GN offices and train stations, but there is at least one more in the series featuring a GN freight train.

Each poster is about 14 inches by 17.5 inches and includes a white border around the 11″x14″ image. Click the images to download a full-sized image (at 300 dpi).

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Advertising the Great Dome Empire Builder

Although domes were first added to the Empire Builder in May 1955, the Great Northern didn’t place this two-page spread in National Geographic until October. This is probably because the ad featured the full-length dome which wasn’t included in the train until the end of the summer. The fact that the magnificent mountainous background was largely in the artist’s imagination, however, didn’t stop the railway from using the ad.

Click any image to download a larger view.

In response to the Northern Pacific’s speed-up of the North Coast Limited, the Great Northern cut an hour from the westbound Empire Builder schedule on the day the domes were added. This allowed it to say it had the “fastest train Chicago to Seattle.” The eastbound schedule remained as it was.

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Incomparable Stationery

With the addition of the Great Domes, the GN issued new on-board stationery. It was much like the previous stationery except with the addition of the words “The Incomparable.”

Click to download a PDF of this letterhead.

According to the dictionary, one definition of “incomparable” is “Unable to be compared.” But the Empire Builder could be compared with other trains. The GN was using the other definition of the word, “Without an equal in quality or extent,” and it was true, at least in terms of the number of dome seats, that the Empire Builder was without equal.

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Great Dome Postcards

The Great Northern relied on Hedrich-Blessing, a Chicago company specializing in architectural photography, to provide many photographs of its trains. Click any image to download a PDF of the postcard.

The eastbound Empire Builder is currently heading north along Washington’s Puget Sound to Everett, where it will turn east and head into the Cascade Mountains. Since it traverses those mountains at night, the Great Northern issued few postcards of the train in the Cascades. This is an official GN postcard and says, “Color photo by Hedrich.”

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Great Dome Art

“An impressive feature of the Great Domes is the dramatic use of color and art in the interiors,” says this little brochure about the Great Domes. “Developed by Philip Will Jr., nationally known Chicago architect, the decor was inspired by the art forms of the Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia. The brilliant colors and striking designs of the Haida sculpture, painting and weaving are faithfully translated in the basic decorative schemes of the Empire Builder‘s Great Domes.”

Click image to download a PDF of this brochure.

We know the actual artworks were done by Pierre Bourdelle and Pearson Berlinghof, who were selected to do the work by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson (successor to Paul Cret‘s firm). So all that Philip Will must have done is suggest that Haida Indian art be used as the inspiration for the interior decor. Wherever the suggestion came from, it was an inspired choice.

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The Incomparable Empire Builder

With the addition of nearly 150 non-revenue seats in the Great Domes (a term the railway used to refer to both short and full-length domes), the Empire Builder had become “incomparable” in Great Northern advertising. This oddly-folded brochure has interior photos showing bright red seats in both the domes and the coach portions of the domes–a bold color choice in an age when most train upholstery was some shade of brown to disguise stains.

Click image to download a 3.9-MB PDF of this brochure.

Our friend Stephen Brown has posted four photos of Empire Builder interiors. He doesn’t say when he took them, but I suspect it was on his trip on the North Coast Limited during the Chicago-Minneapolis portion when the two trains were merged. Click any of the images for a larger view.

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Great Domes for the Great Northern

On May 29 1955–barely a month after the inauguration of the Canadian–the Great Northern added domes to the Empire Builder. Like the Union Pacific, the GN was a reluctant dome-car buyer, but was forced to do so to meet competition from the Milwaukee and Northern Pacific.

Click image to download a 1.5-MB PDF of this brochure.

The Olympian Hiawatha had a single full-length dome while the North Coast Limited had four short domes. The Great Northern had to do better than either, so it asked Budd to build enough domes to have three short dome-coaches and one full-length dome similar to the Santa Fe Big Dome for each Empire Builder train set. With 147 dome seats, the Big G advertised, “More Dome Seats — More Scenic Miles.” Northern Pacific and Milwaukee aficionados contest the more-scenic-miles claim, but no one could argue with the fact that an Empire Builder had far more dome seats than any other scheduled train. The next highest were Burlington’s five-dome Twin Zephyr and the California Zephyr, each of which had 120 dome seats.

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