Like the Western Star, which brought many tourists to Glacier Park in tour cars from other railroads, the NP used the Mainstreeter to bring tour cars to Livingston, where they would board buses to Yellowstone Park. By the mid-1960s, however, sleeping car passengers other than tours were growing thin: through the summer of 1964, the Mainstreeter carried only two Northern Pacific sleeping cars.
In 1964, after using Budd-built slumbercoaches for five years on the North Coast Limited, Northern Pacific bought eight more used slumbercoaches for the Mainstreeter. While welcomed by budget-minded passengers, the NP used one 40-bed slumbercoach to completely replace the two 22-bed Pullmans that had been running on the Mainstreeter. While slumbercoaches were inexpensive, they were also less comfortable than Pullmans, with significantly narrower beds.
The Mainstreeter was really little more than the Northern Pacific’s previous secondary train, the Alaskan, but with Diesel power and a somewhat faster schedule. Yet the schedule was still slower than the Western Star, requiring almost ten more hours to go from St. Paul to Seattle.
Click image to download a PDF of this on-board stationery.
Initially, NP tried to make the Mainstreeter appear to be a first-class operation, at least for sleeping car passengers. This on-board stationery matches that of the North Coast Limited of the same era.
If the Western Star was downgraded after 1967, its rival the Mainstreeter was never really upgraded. While the Star began in 1951 as a completely streamlined train, the Mainstreeter was inaugurated on November 16, 1952 with Diesels and streamlined coaches, but all other cars–diner, lounge-observation, and sleepers–were heavyweights.
Click to download a PDF of this postcard.
Even the streamlined coaches were a step down from the Star as the Mainstreeter coaches had 56 seats, meaning either less legroom or smaller dressing rooms than the Star‘s 48-seat coaches. The Star also had coffee shop and streamlined lounge-observation cars in addition to its diners, while the Mainstreeter only had a diner and heavyweight lounge car.
As we have seen, during the 1950s the Great Northern endeavored to make the Western Star the match of the Empire Builder in every way except for not providing dome cars (and even then added one dome coach to the Star in winters when the Builder needed only two). This can be seen from the Star‘s menus, which featured such meals as broiled lobster tail, prime rib, pike, and trout.
The front cover used on all Western Star menus after 1966. Click image to download a 1.2-MB PDF of this 1966 dinner menu.
When patronage declined after the Seattle World’s Fair, however, the Great Northern simplified the Western Star‘s menus even as it simplified its paint schemes. According to volume 5 of John Strauss’ series of Great Northern operations books, during summer seasons in the mid-1960s, the Star would often have two diners in addition to a coffee shop car and lounge observation car to handle all of the Glacier Park tour traffic.
This menu features a photo of Portland’s Memorial Coliseum on the front and a drawing of it on the back. Portland completed this coliseum in 1961 at a cost of $8 million ($62 million today). For about a decade, it hosted a minor league hockey team, various rock concerts (I sat in the front row listening to Frank Zappa in the only rock concert I ever attended), and auto, boat, and home shows. Eventually, the Portland Trailblazer basketball team made its home there, but its owner, Paul Allen, built a another arena a few blocks away that had some 60 percent more seats. Today, the Memorial Coliseum still exists mainly because the city doesn’t have the political will to tear it down.
Click image to download a 2.3-MB PDF of this menu.
The menu is pretty elaborate for a railroad that actually had few opportunities to serve people dinner. In 1965, it had two major passenger trains a day between Portland and Spokane, one of which connected with the North Coast Limited at Pasco and the Empire Builder in Spokane, while the other connected with the Mainstreeter in Pasco and the Western Star in Spokane. Of these, the only train that operated during the dinner hour was the eastbound connection with the North Coast Limited/Empire Builder. To serve this train, in 1947 the SP&S bought just one streamlined diner that shuttled back and forth between Portland and Spokane. It supplemented this in 1966 when it bought a former MKT diner.
Today we take a break from menus to present this eight-page brochure about the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. It doesn’t have a date, but a map on page 7 shows the railroad as it appeared before 1963, when the Rio Grande built a line to Potash, Utah, so I would guess around 1960.
Click image to download a 5.9-MB PDF of this brochure.
Two pages of the brochure are dedicated to Colorado scenery–which isn’t enough–and two pages to Utah scenery–which was evidently too much. Utah has lots of scenic areas, but this brochure only has small photos of a strip mine, the Mormon Temple, and Utah Lake, plus a lot of white space. What about Dinosaur; Arches; Canyonlands; or Wasatch Mountain ski areas, none of which were very far from Rio Grande trains?
Today’s menu features a winter scene of the Colorado Rockies–possibly Pike’s Peak–on the cover. Where the 1941 menu had a lengthy description of the cover scene, and the 1956 menu had a brief description, this one has none at all.
Click image to download a 2.1-MB PDF of this menu.
Inside, the table d’hôte menu offers just three entrées–trout; fried chicken; and pork chops–with soup; salad; hashed browned potatoes; green beans; rolls; one of four desserts; and a beverage. The menu also features a “Prospector Plate Dinner” (suggesting this was used on the Prospector train) of a salisbury steak; mashed potatoes; salad; rolls; beverage; and choice of one dessert (which, curiously, is not one of the ones on the table d’hôte menu). The Prospector dinner was $2.85 (about $20 today), while the others were $3.35 to $3.50 (about $24 today).
The beautiful Maroon Bells appear on the cover of this menu, which was used for New York Kiwanis Clubs heading to a San Francisco convention. They were probably on the Prospector or Royal Gorge, as if they had been on the California Zephyr the menu would have been labeled for that train.
Click image to download a 1.3-MB PDF of this menu.
Since this menu was especially for this tour, it has no prices and its range of fares isn’t necessarily typical of what ordinary passengers would see. It simply has three table d’hôte entrées: trout, of course; lamb chops; and prime rib. These come with soup or tomato juice; one of two kinds of potatoes; one of two kinds of vegetables; biscuits; one of five desserts; and a beverage.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library, here is a dinner menu featuring Mesa Verde National Park on the cover. Compared with many postwar menus, this menu offers an incredible number of items.
Click image to download a 0.9-MB PDF of this menu.
The table d’hôte side offered seven different entrées: trout; salmon; minute steak; chicken; prime rib; and lamb chops, any of which were $1.25 (about $20 today); or sirloin steak for $1.75 (about $28 today). These all came with soup or fruit cup; a choice of two kinds of potatoes; a choice of two vegetables; biscuit; salad; a choice of four desserts; and beverage. On top of these meals, an insert offered lamb chops with soup or salad; potatoes and vegetable; bread; dessert; and beverage for just 90 cents (less than $15 today).
This menu is dated January 10, less than four months before Amtrak took over, yet it shows the attention to detail and quality that would be expected for what was by then unquestionably the nation’s premiere train. The color cover shows the same Arrow Maker painting that had been in sepia tone on a Texas Chief menu from ten years before.
Click image to download a 1.8-MB PDF of this menu.
This menu has not two, not three, but four classes of service. First, on the far right, are a la carte items, including appetizers, salads, desserts, and beverages–but no entrées. On the far left are several meals: calf’s liver; chicken salad sandwich; sirloin steak sandwich; and chef’s salad, all served with rolls, dessert, and beverage.