Pine Tree Stationery

Where the Empire Builder’s on-board stationery had a bright letterhead on creamy paper, the streamlined North Coast Limited took a more subtle approach. The paper itself was light green, almost transparent, with a rough surface.

The logo on the letterhead, which was also used on the envelopes, said “North Coast Limited” in gold script, and the same gold was used to stand-in for the yellow pine tree on the locomotive nose. Tiny letters credited the Northern Pacific Railway, Burlington Route, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle Ry.

Click each image to download PDFs of the stationery.

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An Uninspiring Paint Scheme

The streamlined North Coast Limited’s boring interior was matched by an uninspiring exterior paint scheme. While the Milwaukee Hiawatha trains were flamboyantly decorated in maroon and orange, and the Empire Builder was Pullman green and orange, the Northern Pacific elected to paint its new streamliner two tones of fairly dark green relieved only by thin yellow pinstripes.

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

The NP paint scheme was derived from the colors used on the first NP FT Diesels. General Motors painted the Diesels black with yellow stripes, in what became known as the “pine-tree” scheme because of the shape of the stripes on the nose.

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The Streamlined North Coast Limited

Coming in a distant third after the streamlined Empire Builder and Olympian Hiawatha, the Northern Pacific’s streamlined North Coast Limited appeared in stages in 1948 when heavyweight cars were replaced by new streamlined cars as they were delivered by Pullman. Not only was the train later than its competitors, it was relatively uninspiring.

Click image to download a 5.2-MB PDF of this eight-page brochure.

For one thing, the Northern Pacific did not immediately speed up its premiere train to a 45-hour Chicago-Seattle schedule adopted by the Empire Builder and Olympian Hiawatha, instead leaving it at the older, 59-hour timetable until 1952. This put it at a huge disadvantage to both of its competitors.

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City Trains Go Daily

The Union Pacific managed to scrounge up enough streamlined cars to put the City of Portland on a daily basis on February 15, 1947. The City of Los Angeles went daily on May 14, and, as previously noted, the City of San Francisco went daily on September 1, 1947.

The City of Portland led by an E6 locomotive; looks like Utah or Idaho between Ogden and Pocotello.

Going daily allowed the Union Pacific to send out a new flurry of advertising. This newspaper ad from 1950 subtly points out that passengers can take the City of Portland from Chicago and take a connecting train to Seattle in about the same time as it would take to go direct from Chicago to Seattle on one of the Northwest trains.

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Aboard the Hiawathas

Here are a few items passengers might encounter on board one of the Olympian Hiawathas. First is a sticker that someone might apply to their luggage, more as a souvenir than as an identifier.

Here’s a postcard of the Olympian Hiawatha in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Click the image to download a PDF showing the front and back of this postcard.

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Brooks Stevens’ Distinctive Sky Top Cars

The SkyTop observation cars for the Olympian Hiawatha have been fittingly described as among “the most distinctive cars ever built.” I say “among” because, at first glance, the six Olympian cars resemble four observation cars built for the Twin Cities Hiawatha.

This image, which one photo caption says is from 1959, shows the interior of a Twin Cities SkyTop car. The interior of an Olympian SkyTop car would have similar, though a little larger. The man in the center resembles, and may have been, Brooks Stevens.

The main difference (aside from the fact that the Twin Cities cars were built in the Milwaukee shops and the Oly cars were built by Pullman) is that the Olympian cars contain eight double bedrooms while the Twin Cities cars have one drawing room and 24 parlor seats.


Top: The SkyTop car for the Twin Cities Hiawatha. Bottom: The SkyTop car for the Olympian Hiawatha. Click either image for a larger view.

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Erie-Builts Haul the Olympian Hi

Rather than buy E units from General Motors or similar PAs from Alco, the Milwaukee elected to pull the Olympian Hiawatha with locomotives made by Fairbanks-Morse, a newcomer to the locomotive business. Fairbanks-Morse dated back to the early nineteenth century, when it made windmills and other industrial products. But its staple was scales, which it exported all over the world. By 1900, Fairbanks-Morse was considered the best-known brand name in the world for the widespread use of its scales.

Click image for a larger view.

In the 1890s, the company started experimenting with internal combustion engines, and by the 1930s it was making some of the most reliable Diesels in the world. Many of its engines had opposed pistons, which means each cylinder had two pistons in it, each turning separate crank shafts. As a result, a single, 10-cylinder (20 piston) engine could be more powerful than a General Motors V-16 engine. The United States Navy, which had purchased a number of General Motors’ 201-A engines for its submarines in the 1930s, ended up replacing them with more reliable Fairbanks-Morse engines during the war years.

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The Olympian Hiawatha

On the heels of the streamlined Empire Builder, the Milwaukee Road introduced the Olympian Hiawatha to its Seattle-Chicago run on June 29, 1947. Yet only some of the cars were streamlined on that date, as the Milwaukee had not yet taken delivery of the entire train. Unusually, for the railroad, it had elected to have the train built by Pullman instead of in its own shops as was the case for the pre-war Hiawathas.

Click to download an 18.6-MB PDF of this 20-page brochure about the Olympian Hiawatha.

This brochure, which is dated May, 1947, is filled with images of what the train would be like when it was finally delivered in full, which would not be until January, 1949. Unlike the Great Northern, the Milwaukee splurged on full four-color pictures of its train. Yet, after seeing the bright, Hudson-Bay-blanket colors of the Empire Builder lounges, the wood-tones and institutional greens illustrated in the Olympian Hiawatha brochure seem dated.

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The City of San Francisco Goes Via Milwaukee

On October 30, 1955, the Union Pacific abruptly shifted its passenger trains from the Chicago & North Western to the Milwaukee Road for the portion of the trip between Omaha and Chicago. According to Rank & Kratville’s heavy tome on Union Pacific Streamliners, at the end of 1954, the North Western owed Union Pacific more than $1 million due to equalization agreements for the use of cars on the various City trains. When the UP asked the C&NW to pay up, the latter railroad indicated a reluctance to pay and less-than-enthusiastic feelings about continuing the partnership.

Click to download a 2.5-MB PDF of this four-page brochure.

So the Union Pacific switched to the Milwaukee Road, and agreed to forgive the debt owed to it by the C&NW. This brochure, dated November, 1955, was obviously issued to recognize this change. Note that the nose of the E6 locomotive (SF-4), which (as shown below) was previously marked with the logos of all three railroads that operated the train (C&NW, UP, SP), is blank, probably airbrushed out by a graphics artist. Naturally, the photo shows the train on the causeway across the Great Salt Lake.

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Train of Destiny

The City of San Francisco was in national headlines twice, once just before the war and once a few years after. Both events took place on Southern Pacific tracks. In the first instance, the train was in a spectacular wreck that killed 24 people, most of them dining car workers who were preparing the car for breakfast the next morning.

The official report on the August 12, 1939 disaster concluded it resulted from sabotage, which set a war-jittery nation’s nerves on edge. However, some people insisted that it was simply a case of the train going too fast, implying that the railroad made up the sabotage claim in order to absolve itself of liability. In any case, no saboteurs were ever found and the railroad’s offer of a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the vandals apparently still stands.

Click image to download a PDF of a two-page article from the August 28, 1939 Life magazine about the 1939 wreck.

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