I’ve found more Bern Hill passenger train posters in moderately large size. These include a couple that I’ve previously shown as covers of Railway Age.
This Great Northern painting presciently views the locomotives from the perspective of someone sitting in a dome car, yet the Empire Builder would not have dome cars for several more years. The semaphore signal looks to be on the immediate right side of the train, yet there is another track on the right side, and the semaphore should be to the right of it. A slightly modified version of this painting (converting the E units into F units) was used on the cover of a Mid-Century Empire Builder brochure.
In addition to glamour trains such as the Super Chief, California Zephyr, and Empire Builder, Bern Hill’s paintings for General Motors included a number of freight trains. In 1951, when his paintings began to appear, only a few were of freights; but by 1954, when the market for passenger locomotives had dramatically declined, almost all were freights.
As was the case for his portraits of passenger trains such as the Rockets, Hill didn’t hesitate to depict freight cars bending themselves to go around corners, as seen in the above picture of a Lehigh Valley freight train. This picture also appears to show three E units–which in the early 50s were used mainly for passenger service–pulling a 17-car freight train. Such pictures led some to complain that Hill cared more about his birds-eye-views than accurate depictions of the trains he was helping to advertise.
Here’s a 1966 dinner menu that might have been used on the same train as yesterday’s lunch menu. Unlike the lunch menu, this is a folder but made of the same glossy paper stock.
Click image to download a 1.3-MB PDF of this menu.
Two of the “chef’s selections” on the dinner menu–sugar-cured ham & eggs and hot roast beef sandwich–are also on the lunch menu, and for the same prices. The a la carte section has a hamburger that is also on the lunch menu, but–though the descriptions are identical–the lunch menu prices it at $1.40 while the dinner is $1.75 (about $12.50 today–ouch!).
Not on the lunch menu are three entrees: halibut, chicken tetrazzini, and roast sirloin of beef. At $3.75 (about $26 today), the latter is the most expensive thing on the menu. Though the meal includes including salad, bread, “snowflake potatoes,” green beans, and beverage, it doesn’t include dessert, and “snowflake potatoes” sound suspiciously like instant.
Here’s a Texas Zephyr lunch menu from 1966, the last year the train was in operation. The menu is only a card instead of a folder, reflecting declining patronage, and it is made of glossy paper, which sounds fancy but also makes it easier to re-use, thus saving printing costs.
Click image to download a PDF of the front of this lunch menu. (The back is blank.)
The bottom of the menu shows E-5 locomotives pulling an all-streamlined train, which is accurate for the train at the time. However, by this date the train attracted so few passengers that it operated with as few as five cars instead of the ten shown in the picture.
The Northern Pacific gave children aboard the North Coast Limited a paper engineer’s hat, while the Great Northern incorporated a Rocky Mountain goat mask into its children’s menu.
Click image to download a 1.9-MB PDF of this menu.
The railway probably began using this menu some time in the 1950s, but a logo on the back reveals that this particular one is from the Big Sky Blue era. Complete meals range from 70 cents to $1.10 (about $4 to $7 today).
After the GN had painted one set of Empire Builder equipment Big Sky Blue, it ran a publicity train from Chicago to Seattle. After that, the newly painted cars were mixed in with the orange-and-green cars and it is difficult if not impossible to find any photos of an all-blue Builder or Western Star that are not from that publicity trip. All orange-and-green trains also soon became rare as the GN entered the “rainbow era.”
Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.
Just as disturbing, at least to streamliner aficionados, are those boxy SDP-45 locomotives. Not only are they not streamlined, they are much taller than the passenger cars, so they don’t even present a smooth profile. In fact, at 15′-7″, the locomotives are taller than the dome cars, so passengers are lucky that three or four cars usually separate the locomotives from the domes.
Even as the Seattle World’s Fair started up, the Great Northern was simplifying the paint scheme of its Diesel locomotives. Since the railroad had first purchased FT Diesels in 1941, it painted them Pullman green with two large orange stripes, three yellow pin stripes, and a white reflective stripe. The 1947 streamlined Empire Builder color scheme was actually based on what was originally the colors of a freight locomotive.
The simplified scheme applied to an E-7. This is a far cry from the beautiful scheme with forward-facing goats and “Great Northern” in script on the nose in which these units were first delivered.
In May, 1962, however, the Great Northern began painting its Diesels in a simplified scheme that was Pullman green with just one orange stripe and no pinstripes. At the time, the GN estimated that this change saved $27.50 in materials (more than $200 in today’s money) and 16 hours of labor per locomotive. Fortunately, this simplified scheme wasn’t applied to the passenger cars, and the railway must have recognized that it made the locomotives uglier as that scheme is not pictured in any advertisement or brochure that I can find.
The Seattle World’s Fair gave passenger service on the Great Northern, and presumably the Northern Pacific, a reprieve not granted to many other railroads. It didn’t hurt that the Milwaukee Road–afraid that its money-losing Olympian Hiawatha would actually make money in 1962 and thereby make it more difficult to gain approval to discontinue the train after that–abandoned passenger service in the Pacific Northwest in 1961.
Notice that the early vision of what the Seattle Monorail would look like was far from the final reality. Click to download a 3.3-MB PDF of this Great Northern brochure advertising the 1962 World’s Fair.
In the winter of 1959-1960, passenger demand on the Empire Builder had fallen so much that the railroad, for the first time, dropped the train’s observation car (which was mostly a sleeping car as it had only eight seats in the observation compartment). While the summer train had four coaches and five sleepers (including the observation car), the winter train had just three each plus, of course, the Ranch car, diner, and full-length dome.
During the 1950s, Southern Pacific passenger trains featured at least six paint schemes, more than any other western railroad, and possibly more than any in the country. These included the orange-and-yellow Daylights; yellow-and-grey City of San Francisco; orange-and-silver Golden State; two-toned grey Lark, Cascade, and San Francisco Overland; stainless steel with red-striped Sunset Limited; and of course Pullman green for various heavyweight trains.
In this case, SP stands for Souvenir Portfolio. Click image to download a 20-MB PDF of this 24-page booklet.
This booklet is undated, but the “bloody nose” paint scheme on the locomotives in the lower left corner of the cover indicates that it was published in or after 1958, when that scheme first replaced both the Black Widow and Daylight colors on SP locomotives. This was the first hint of radical simplification that the railroad was about to undertake.
The failure of the 1956 super lightweight trains left the rail industry discouraged about the future of passenger rail service. While the Burlington, Santa Fe, and a few other railroads persevered, most rail officials felt that it was only a matter of time before railroads would become solely dedicated to freight service.
The April, 1959 issue of Trains magazine contained an incisive, 38-page report titled, “Who Shot the Passenger Train?” Written by the magazine’s pithy editor, David P. Morgan, the report was the longest and arguably most important article in the publication’s 50-plus-year history. Unfortunately, the report isn’t available on line, but here is a summary of Morgan’s conclusions.