The 1936 Twin Cities Zephyrs

In November, 1934, after the end of the Chicago fair, the Burlington put its original Zephyr (number 9900) to work between Kansas City and Lincoln, Nebraska via Omaha–something of a spit-in-the-eye to the Union Pacific, which was headquartered in Omaha. After testing the original Zephyr, the Burlington had quickly ordered several more stainless-steel trains. The first two (9901 and 9902), nearly identical to the original, became the Twin Cities Zephyrs, which started running between Chicago and Minneapolis in April, 1935. A similar Mark Twain Zephyr (9903) began operating between St. Louis and Burlington, Iowa in October, 1935.

The little Zephyrs proved far more popular than the railroad anticipated, with every seat booked and sometimes (according to reports) people standing in the aisles (or, more likely, occupying supposedly non-revenue seats in the rear lounges). So the Burlington ordered five more shovel-nosed trains that were far larger than the little three-car prototype. On December 18, 1936, two seven-car trains plus locomotives started service as the new Twin Cities Zephyrs, bumping the previous ones to service as the Ft. Worth-to-Houston Sam Houston Zephyr and the St. Louis-to-Kansas City Ozark State Zephyr.

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Expanding the M-10000

After sending the M-10000 on a tour of the country, the Union Pacific exhibited the train at the Chicago “Century of Progress” fair. For the exhibit, the railroad added one more car, the “Overland Trail,” a Pullman sleeper with 10 sections, a compartment, and a double bedroom.

For those not familiar with Pullman sleeping accommodations, sections are open seats during the day that make into upper and lower curtained-off beds at night. The compartment and double bedroom are private rooms with two beds; the main difference being that in the compartment, the beds are parallel to the tracks while the bedroom beds are perpendicular to the tracks. These are illustrated in the “Progress” brochure, which the railroad distributed to patrons of the fair. As before, parts of the brochure will appear upside down because it was printed to be folded.

Click on the image to download a 7.3-MB PDF of the entire brochure.

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Enter the Zephyr

On paper, the Burlington Zephyr was very similar to the Union Pacific M-10000. Both were lightweight, three-car trains powered by 600-horsepower internal combustion motors; both rode on articulated trucks (meaning adjacent cars shared wheel sets); both were smaller in profile than regular passenger cars.

Click on most images for a larger version.

Yet the differences between the two trains were almost as substantial as the similarities. With its resemblance to the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, the M-10000 certainly had “modern” styling, yet it looks dated today. The Zephyr, however, looks as fresh and modern today as it did in 1934. Indeed, some recent passenger locomotives have similar, if less elegant, shovel noses. The gleaming stainless steel left the brown-nosed M-10000 in the shadows. Technically, the Zephyr’s use of stainless steel and Diesel power put it a generation ahead of the M-10000.

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The M-10000

The Union Pacific Railroad won the race to put the first streamliner in service, introducing the bright yellow M-10000 to the traveling public in 1934. Built by Pullman with aluminum bodies and a distillate (kerosene) engine made by a division of General Motors, the M-10000 was supposed to be the future of passenger rail.

As it turned out, it wasn’t. The Burlington Zephyr, which was completed just weeks after the M-10000, was powered by a Diesel engine (also made by General Motors) and sheathed in stainless steel. The Zephyr, it would turn out, would be much closer to the real future of passenger trains.

Nevertheless, the bright yellow paint of the M-10000 was a refreshing change from Pullman green (though it was really a throwback to the color of many nineteenth-century passenger trains). The Union Pacific painted the roofs of most of its later passenger trains grey instead of the brown used on the M-10000.

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