Coffee Shop Menu

The Western Star’s coffee shop only had 20 seats, which didn’t allow for many customers over the course of a day. But the menu offered almost as many items as the a la carte side of the dining car menu, including fourteen sandwiches, three salads, ten desserts, five kinds of bread (including doughnuts), and coffee, tea, milk, and milkshakes. Curiously, soft drinks are not on the menu.

Click image to download a 0.5-MB PDF of this one-page menu. (The back was blank and so is not included in the PDF.)

This 1957 menu is nicely decorated in three colors with some Indian-like designs at the top, an image of Glacier Park beargrass in the lower half, and the GN and Western Star logos at the bottom. The most expensive thing on the menu, a club sandwich, is $0.95, about $7.75 in today’s money.

Buffalo Hunt

Today’s Western Star menu features Buffalo Hunt on the cover, the same painting that was on the cover of the Empire Builder menu I previously posted. Although this dinner menu dates from 1953, it is different from the 1953 dinner menu I posted two days ago.

Click image to download a 1.8-MB PDF of this menu.

While the previous menu offered five table d’hote selections, this one actually has eleven: one, described simply as “steak,” at $4.25; four (fish, fried chicken, prime rib, or ham) priced at $2.75; four (fish, lamb stew, omelet, cold meats) priced at $1.80; and two (broiled chicken or fish) priced at $2.00. The a la carte side is roughly similar to, but not exactly the same as, the previous dinner menu.

In today’s world of tilapia, orange roughy, swordfish, five varieties of salmon, and numerous other species available in fine restaurants and supermarkets, it is interesting that all these menus just refer to fish. Broiled fish, fried fish, fillet of fresh fish, but just fish.

Desperate Stand

Along with the observation cars with Charles Russell paintings, the Western Star apparently inherited the Empire Builder’s Charles Russell menus. There were originally five observation cars in the series, with one more added for the Western Star, so there must have been six paintings and six menus, but I’ve so far only identified four: Desperate Stand, Buffalo Hunt, Intercepted Wagon Train, and Indian Warfare. Evidence in the Minnesota Historical Society suggests that the fifth was Indian Women Moving, but I have no idea about the sixth.

Click image to download a 2.8-MB PDF of this menu.

Here, Desperate Stand is on the cover of a 1954 lunch menu that features “G.N. Chicken Pie,” fried fish, beef pot roast, “sliced cold fowl,” and “chef’s suggestion” on the table d’hote side. For $1.75 to $2.00 (about $14 to $16 in today’s dollars), these meals come with potatoes, corn, bread, dessert, and coffee, tea, milk, or buttermilk.

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Advertising the Western Star

Because the Western Star was the Great Northern’s premiere train that stopped at Glacier Park, advertising for the train was directly connected with advertising for the park. The Great Northern had built and, until 1960, operated many of the hotels in the park, so people who took the train to the park and stayed in its hotels ended up patronizing the railroad’s facilities twice.

Click to download a 0.5-MB PDF of this ad from the February 1954 issue of National Geographic.

Here are two ads from the February and March, 1954 issues of National Geographic. The February, 1955 issue also had an ad identical to February, 1954’s issue.

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The Western Star

When the Great Northern purchased equipment for a second transcontinental streamliner, it decided to retire the name Oriental Limited. This had been the railway’s premiere train from 1905 to 1929 and its secondary transcontinental from 1929 to 1931, when it was cut due to the Depression, and from 1946 to 1951. To name the new secondary streamliner, the railway held a “name-the-train” contest in 1950.

And the winning entry in the contest was . . . the Evergreen! That name was good enough to earn the contestant a prize, but apparently not good enough to actually use, as the GN instead named the “new” train the Western Star. Note that the train’s logo uses a five-pointed star with two points hollowed out so that it does dual-service as an arrowhead.

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Rio Grande Prospector

In November, 1941, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad inaugurated the Prospector, a pair of Budd-built two-car trains that went overnight between Denver and Salt Lake City via the Moffat Tunnel. Unfortunately, the trains proved inadequate for the job: with only 44 seats and 18 beds, demand exceeded capacity; while the little 192-HP Hercules Diesels were insufficient for getting the trains over the mountains. Within eight months the Rio Grande returned the trains to Budd and they were scrapped.

Click image to see a larger view.

After the war, the Rio Grande reintroduced the Prospector name using General Motors Diesel locomotives pulling heavyweight passenger cars painted yellow with four black pinstripes. In 1950, the train was fully streamlined, though photos of the train show that heavyweights were still used from time to time.

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Aboard the 1951 Empire Builder

When in service, the tables on the Empire Builder’s dining car were covered with beautiful white tablecloths into which was stitched a delicate pattern representing sheaves of wheat and the railroad’s initials. I’ll show one of these here if ever I figure out how to scan it. In the meantime, no tablecloths were used in the more plebeian Ranch Car; instead, patrons made do with these colorful placemats showing the kinds of foods grown along the route of the Great Northern many of which were served aboard the train.

Click image to download a 1.4-MB PDF of this placemat used in the Ranch Car.

While the 1947 Empire Builder had very colorful menus, by 1954, when this menu was issued, the Great Northern had adopted a more sedate menu cover for the Empire Builder. The back of the menu had a photo of the railway’s founder, James J. Hill, a smaller version of the same photo which glared at the dining car’s staff from one end of the diner.

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The Ranch Car

Easily the equal of Union Pacific’s pre-war Little Nugget or Frontier Shack cars, the Ranch car was the most distinctive car on the 1951 Empire Builder, which made it (in the early 1950s at least) the most distinctive car on any Northwest train. The Great Northern published this 16-page booklet just to describe all of the features and decorations in the car.

Click image to download a 5.6-MB PDF of this 16-page brochure about the Ranch car.

One prominent feature was the branding irons in the partition between the dining tables and lunch counter and the images of those brands on the walls of the car. The brochure notes that the Great Northern applied for and received its own registered G-bar-N brand, which was given special prominence in the car.

Click image to view a larger version of this ad.

The car also featured wall murals by noted western artist Nick Eggenhoffer. Other intriguing decorations could be found in every nook and corner of the car.

Click image to download a 0.8-MB PDF of this article from American Car & Foundry’s company magazine, Wheels.

ACF was so proud of this car that it featured it on the cover and in more than half of a six-page article in its company magazine. The article also discusses the diners, observation car, and short-distance coaches.

Click image to view a larger version of this ad.

The Mid-Century Empire Builder

Having streamlined the Empire Builder in 1947, the Great Northern Railway demonstrated an optimistic view of passenger traffic when it completely re-equpped it in 1951. This allowed the railroad to use the 1947 trains as a secondary train along the same Chicago-Seattle route.

Click image for a larger view.

The 1947 train was twelve cars long, consisting of a baggage-post office car, four coaches, four sleepers, and three “feature” cars–diners and lounges. The 1951 train added three cars to this consist: a baggage-crew dormitory car and two sleepers. In 1949, shortly before ordering the 1951 Empire Builder, the Great Northern had ordered additional sleeping cars for the 1947 version, so both trains were nominally the same length except for the additional baggage-dorm on the 1951 edition.

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