The Air-Conditioned North Coast Limited

One-upping the Great Northern, Northern Pacific advertises that its North Coast Limited is not only air-conditioned, but roller-bearinged. This refers primarily to the railroad’s steam locomotives: NP bought the Timken “Four Aces“–locomotive 1111, the first to be fully outfitted with roller bearings–in 1933, renumbering it 2626, and from then on all new locomotives purchased by the NP were built with roller bearings.


Click image to download a 7.6-MB PDF of this 8-page brochure.

By contrast, nearly all of Great Northern’s steam locomotives were purchased with conventional “friction” bearings, which got their name because there was a lot of friction between the axle and the race in which it was set. However, many if not most of GN’s passenger steam locos were eventually converted to roller bearings. The main advantage of roller bearings was that they saved energy; from the passenger’s view, roller bearings did not add to the comfort or speed of the ride.

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Empire Builder Glacier Park Menu

The Winold Reiss Indian menus in my collection, as well as any others I’ve seen, all seem to be for breakfast or lunch. At least from 1940 through 1947, when the streamlined Empire Builder was introduced, Great Northern dinner menus instead featured four-color photos of Glacier National Park. This 1941 menu has Little Chief Mountain and St. Mary Lake, with the park’s distinctive red jammers driving up and down the Going to the Sun Highway.


Click image to download a 0.6-MB PDF of this menu.

This menu offers three versions of “plate dinners” for 50 cents, 75 cents, and $1.25 (about $8, $12, and $20 today). Passengers had a choice of eight different entrées, including broiled or fried fish, ham, dinner steak, and roast chicken (all for $1.25); or broiled or fried fish, Spanish steak, shredded chicken ala king, or ham (all for 50 cents or 75 cents depending on the number of side dishes the patron wanted). The a la carte menu included eight entrées as well as five “specials” which for 50 cents included bread and beverage plus a choice of fish, chicken pot pie, lamb chop, or cold meat platter.

Empire Builder Lunch Menu by Reiss

This undated lunch menu features Riding Black Horse. A photo below shows someone named Bob Riding Black Horses in a 1905 parade in Alberta. Would that have been the man in the Reiss portrait or his son? Other photos show him wearing the same clothing, but a different headdress, than in Reiss’ portrait. Since he is described as a “brave,” it is possible that Riding Black Horse did not actually own the ceremonial headdress shown in the painting.

Click image to download a 1.2-MB PDF of this menu.

This lunch menu is undated but is probably from the late 1930s. A complete meal with any of six entrées is 85 cents, while a sirloin or tenderloin steak is $1. Page 2 has a space for the name of the dining car steward and the dining car itself; the car appears to be “Indiana,” though I thought GN named its dining cars for states actually served by its lines.

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Empire Builder Breakfast Menu by Reiss

In the 1930s, the Great Northern used paintings by its favorite artist, Winold Reiss, on the covers of some of its menus. Reiss had produced more than 50 Indian portraits that were purchased for the railway by Louis Hill, the Empire Builder’s son. Where most of his portraits were busts, the images on the menus, which Reiss had painted in 1927, were taller (the original paintings were 80″x36″) and show standing Indians.


Click image to download a 1.9-MB PDF of this menu.

This portrait features Chief Shot on Both Sides (sometimes called Shot from Both Sides), who became chief of his tribe, the Kainai Blackfeet, in 1913. Blackfeet receive their names at birth, usually based on something one of their parents did, so it was probably the chief’s father, Crop-Eared Wolf, who shot from both sides, perhaps while riding a horse.

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Winnipeg Limited On-Board Stationery

This stationery was made available to first-class passengers in the air-conditioned observation compartment car of the Winnipeg Limited, which operated between the Twin Cities and Winnipeg. As previously noted, only the first-class cars of this train were air conditioned, at least prior to World War II.


Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead. Click here to download a PDF of a matching envelope.

Pacific Limited On-Board Stationery

This piece of on-board stationery shows that the Pacific Limited advertised in yesterday’s brochure was an old train even in 1940. The stationery has logos for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915 to celebrate the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal, and the San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition. The stationery also indicates that, in 1915, the Pacific Limited served both the Chicago-San Francisco and Chicago-Los Angeles routes. The premiere Union Pacific train on the latter route, corresponding to the Overland Limited, was the Los Angeles Limited.


Click image to download a PDF of this on-board letterhead.

Instead of operating on the Chicago and North Western to Omaha, the train on which this stationery was used ran over the “Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul,” or the St. Paul Road, as it was known then. That railroad later changed its name to “Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific” and its nickname to the Milwaukee Road after its 1925 bankruptcy. Ironically, that bankruptcy was caused, in part, by the decline in transcontinental traffic that resulted from the opening of the Panama Canal. The other causes were the excessive cost of the railroad’s Pacific extension, which cost more than five times the original estimates; and the 1906 Hepburn Act, which strictly regulated railroad rates and made it impossible for railroads to compete with unregulated steamships for transcontinental traffic.

The Air-Conditioned Pacific Limited

This 1940 brochure notes that the Pacific Limited was “completely air conditioned,” including both coaches and Pullmans. The Pacific Limited was a distinctly secondary train on the Chicago-San Francisco route, a cut above the Challenger but not as luxurious as the all-Pullman Overland Limited nor as fast as the streamlined City of San Francisco or semi-streamlined Forty Niner and Treasure Island Special.


Click image to download a PDF of this 8-panel brochure.

The timetable in this brochure says the train required about 60 hours westbound and 62 hours eastbound. That’s faster than the 72 hours required by trains only a few years before, but nowhere near the 39-3/4-hour timetables of the streamliners. Of course, in 1940 the streamliners only operated every second day in the summers and every third day the rest of the year. The Pacific Limited‘s schedule was probably not a great deal slower than the Overland Limited.

The Partially-Air-Conditioned Winnipeg Limited

This little brochure is undated but is probably from somewhere between 1938, when the Winnipeg Limited began, and World War II. The brochure describes the all-heavyweight version of the train whose streamlined version was previously featured here.

Click image to download a PDF of this brochure.

The train apparently included two air-conditioned first-class cars, a sleeper and a sleeper-lounge-diner. The rest of the train was “comfortable modern coaches,” but note the absence of the words “air conditioned,” indicating that the coaches were not.

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The Air Conditioned Empire Builder

This 1940 brochure prominently mentions that the Great Northern has installed air conditioning in the heavyweight Empire Builder. Air conditioning is not the only new technology featured aboard the train: Page 3 has a photo of young people tuning a radio as eagerly as people today might log into WiFi. Listening to the radio aboard a train required frequent retuning as the train passed from the broadcast area of one radio station to another.


Click image to download a 9.6-MB PDF of this 12-page brochure.

Curiously, the floor plan of the train’s observation car doesn’t show where the radio was located, though it is supposed to be in the “buffet lounge.” It does show men’s and women’s shower baths, a feature that–along with the barber shop–would be dropped from the streamlined Empire Builder, presumably because the railway believed people could go 44 hours without a shower or haircut.

Air Conditioning: The Essential Technology

Today is the first anniversary of this blog. To date, I’ve posted nearly 500 PDFs of various streamliner memorabilia, including more than 100 for the Great Northern, 80 for the Union Pacific, nearly 80 for the Burlington (including the California Zephyr), 45 Santa Fe, 38 Southern Pacific, 28 Northern Pacific, 19 Rock Island, 15 Canadian Pacific, about 35 from various eastern and southern railroads, and about a dozen from General Motors or other manufacturers. This doesn’t count various ads, postcards, and other items found on the web and posted mostly as JPGs rather than PDFs.


Click image for a larger view.

I have lots more streamliner memorabilia to post, but today I’m going to start posting some pre-streamliner memorabilia. When we think of streamliners, we often think of Diesel-powered, stainless steel trains. But the Milwaukee Road proved that streamlined steam locomotives could pull trains just as fast (and attract as many passengers) as Diesel locomotives; and the majority of streamlined trains were made of Cor-Ten steel, not stainless steel.

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