Sun Valley by the Willmarths

Seeking to boost winter tourist travel, the Union Pacific Railroad opened Sun Valley, the nation’s first destination winter resort, in 1936. This was just two years after the Travel by Train poster campaign, and the Union Pacific decided to use posters to help publicize Sun Valley as well.

A Union Pacific ad featuring the image on this poster dates it to 1936. Click image to view a 999×1,500 JPG.

Many of the Sun Valley posters were done by the Willmarths. I can’t find much information about the Willmarths on line except that William was a watercolorist, while Kenneth specialized in oils. William was born in 1898 and died in Arizona in 1984. While the Travel by Train posters were signed “The Willmarths,” later posters and paintings were just signed “Willmarth,” and many look like watercolors, suggesting they were done by William Willmarth.

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Travel by Train

Page 109 of a 2002 book on rail posters, Travel by Train, says,

Out West, a coalition of nearly thirty railroads pooled their resources against the auto and introduced the “Travel by Train” campaign. Their cooperative effort produced nearly a dozen posters portraying a rand of national destinations. Most notable were New York’s Fifth Avenue by Fred Mizen and western landscapes by Denver artist H. M. Veenstra and Oscar Bryn.

This poster is not signed and the artist has not been identified. It is the only one of the seven that has a train in it. Click image to view a 1,323×2,017 JPG.

It is curious that a book named after this campaign says nothing more about the posters and, despite having mostly color portraits of 164 different rail posters, includes not a single one from this campaign. I don’t own any of these posters, but I’ve been able to track down images of seven of the series of “nearly a dozen.”

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Chicago-Florida Streamliners

The success of the Silver Meteor and Champion inspired several railroads to join with the Altantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast in providing coach streamliner service between Chicago and Miami in December, 1940. Such service was complicated by the facts that the closest the Atlantic Coast Line got to Chicago was Montgomery, Alabama; there was no single railroad that connected the Atlantic Coast Line to Chicago; and there was no obvious single route that had significant advantages over any other.

The South Wind was nearly identical to the original Champion and Henry Flagler (now Dixie Flagler) on the inside, but–as shown in this Leslie Ragan painting commissioned by Budd–painted Tuscan red on the outside. Click image for a slightly larger view.

Working with a total of seven different railroads to the north, three different trains began operating on three different routes, each going once every third day. The Dixie Flagler, using equipment identical to the Champion, traversed four different railroads north of Waycross, Georgia: Chicago & Eastern Illinois; Louisville & Nashville; Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis; and Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast.

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The Champion

Although Seaboard Airline was the first to offer a New York-Florida streamliner, Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) was the larger and healthier of the two competitors–Seaboard had gone bankrupt in 1907 and again in 1930. ACL was initially skeptical about streamliners, saying they might make sense “out West” but not in the east where frequent stops negated the advantage of the trains’ faster top speeds. But after the success of the Silver Meteor, the railroad ordered its own Budd-built streamliners to compete.

This postcard must be from 1941, as it mentions the west coast (Tampa) section of the Champion. Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

The Champion went into daily service on December 1, 1939, ten months after the Silver Meteor began once-every-third-day service and the same day the Silver Meteor went daily. Unlike Seaboard, Atlantic Coast Line did not own its own tracks to Miami, so it relied on the Florida East Coast to bring its trains from Jacksonville down the east coast of the state.

The Champion and Henry Flagler side-by-side in the Miami train station. “Melbourne” was a coach built for the Henry Flagler, so that train must be the one on the left. Click image for a larger view.

As a result, one of the three Champions required to provide daily service was owned by Florida East Coast while the other two were Atlantic Coast Line’s. (Although Pennsylvania and Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac operated the train north of Richmond, they didn’t contribute any equipment.) Atlantic Coast Line painted a purple stripe above the windows of its cars; Florida East Coast left its cars bare except for lettering.

A Budd advertisement in the January 4, 1941 Railway Age focuses on the coaches purchased by Seaboard and Atlantic Coast Line to supplement the original Silver Meteor and Champion all-coach trains. Click image to download a 0.8-MB PDF of this four-page ad.

Regardless of owner, all three trains were pulled by E-3 locomotives and consisted of a baggage-coach with 22 revenue seats; three 60-seat coaches; one 52-seat coaches that included a room for the stewardess; a 48-seat diner; and a lounge-observation car. Unlike the Seaboard observations, which included 30 revenue coach seats, the Chamption‘s observations were all non-revenue seats.

To provide twice-daily service between Jacksonville and Miami, the Florida East Coast bought a fourth identical train which it ran under the name Henry Flagler, the railroad’s founder. In 1940 this became the Dixie Flagler, Florida East Coast’s contribution to daily Chicago-Miami service offered by several other railroads north of Jacksonville.

The Champion was so popular that, like the Silver Meteor, its capacity was increased in 1941 to include heavyweight sleeping cars painted silver to match the coaches. In fact, Atlantic Coast Line began running two Champions, one down the east coast to Miami and one over its own tracks to Tampa. The trains left New York a few hours apart from one another and–despite the fact that the Miami route was 150 miles longer–both required 24-1/2 hours to make the south-bound trip. To provide enough power to haul the newly expanded trains, Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast bought E-6 locomotives.

One reason why the railroads did not purchase streamlined sleepers from Budd is that Pullman refused to manage sleeping car operations on cars that it did not build itself. In 1940, the federal government filed an antitrust lawsuit over this policy, leading the court to order in 1944 that Pullman be broken up into a manufacturing company and an operating company. Although some railroads bought streamlined sleeping cars from Pullman, neither Seaboard nor Atlantic Coast Line did.

The heavyweight Florida Special behind Atlantic Coast Line E-6 locomotives in St. Petersburg. Click image to download a PDF of this postcard. Unlike Seaboard, which never streamlined its all-Pullman Orange Blossom Special, Atlantic Coast Line streamlined the Florida Special in 1949. Click image for a larger view.

This is probably less because they weren’t interested in supporting Pullman’s monopolistic behavior than because they wanted to take advantage of the Pullman sleeping car pool that ran on northern routes in the summer and southern routes in the winter. Trains like the Orange Blossom Special and Atlantic Coast Line’s competing Florida Special were winter only, so having to own and maintain cars year round rather than just lease them when there was demand placed an extra burden on the railroads. As it turned out, the cost of winning the lawsuit was losing the Pullman pool of sleeping cars.

More equipment was ordered, including sleepers, in 1946, and this time Pennsylvania and RF&P contributed to the order. The cars were delivered in 1947 and 1948, including blunt-end observation cars that could be used in mid-train operation.

The Atlantic Coast Line bragged that the Champions regularly exceeded 100 mph on its tracks from Richmond to Jacksonville. But the average speed over this route was only 60 mph. The ICC order limiting most trains to 79 mph after 1951 cost the southbound Champions and Silver Meteor about an hour. For some reason, the northbound trains had been an hour longer from the start, so their schedules weren’t altered.

The Streamliner Way to Florida

This 1962 brochure advertises several Seaboard streamliners: the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, and Palmland from New York to Florida; the Silver Comet from New York to Atlanta and Birmingham; and the Gulf Wind from Jacksonville to Chattahoochee, Florida on the Seaboard and onto New Orleans on the Louisville & Nashville. While the Silver Star left New York in the morning and the Silver Meteor left mid-afternoon, the Palmland left in the evening, allowing a full business day in New York but arriving in southern Florida in the middle of the night.

Click image to download a 6.2-MB PDF of this brochure.

The inside of the brochure advertises “Seaboard’s Famous Florida Package Vacations: Under $100 from New York.” The package includes round-trip coach on one of Seaboard’s trains plus six nights in an ocean front in Miami Beach (two persons to hotel room; price good from May 1 to November 15).

The Silver Meteor

On February 2, 1939, shortly after Dieselizing the Orange Blossom Special, Seaboard inaugurated the Silver Meteor, a Budd-built coach train between New York and Florida pulled by an E-4 locomotive. Initially, Seaboard purchased a single, seven-car train set, allowing service every three days, with the train alternating between Miami on Florida’s east coast and St. Petersburg on Florida’s west coast. The train was so successful that in July Seaboard ordered two more trainsets to make the train daily in December, 1939.

Did the Silver Meteor really go by a wetland featuring pink flamingos? Maybe not, but that wouldn’t keep the illustrator from adding flamingos to this postcard. Click image for a larger view.

The Silver Meteor was not quite as fast as the Orange Blossom Special mainly because it made more stops. Between Richmond and Wildwood, Florida (where the Special and, starting in June, the Meteor were split into Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg sections), the Special made just one stop (probably for servicing and crew change), while the Meteor made nine. The Meteor also made three extra stops between Wildwood and Miami. Yet the Meteor required only 30 extra minutes to go from New York to Miami.

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E-4s for the Orange Blossom Special

The Orange Blossom Special was an all-Pullman, winter-only train between New York and Florida that the Seaboard Air Line began running in 1925. By 1941, the average speed of the New York-Miami trains was a respectable 57 mph. Like New York-Florida trains on rival Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard’s trains went over the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington and on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac between Washington and Richmond.

Postcards of the E-4 locomotives from the 1930s all show a bright green color. Color photos from the 1950s suggest that the actual green was much darker, almost black. It is difficult to tell today whether Seaboard changed its colors or the postcards were simply brightened up by the illustrators. Click image for a larger view.

The train was never streamlined, but in 1938 Seaboard purchased a fleet of eighteen E-4 locomotives from General Motors. Fourteen were A units (with cabs) and four were B units. Curiously, the E-4s were built before the E-3s, which came out in 1939.

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Our American Riviera

This Burlington brochure encourages people to take the Texas Zephyr and connecting Sam Houston Zephyr to “Our American Riviera,” meaning the Gulf Coast. The brochure describes Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Houston, New Orleans, and San Antonio, even though none of these but Houston are served by the zephyrs and none but Houston and Galveston are even on the Ft. Worth & Denver Railway.

Click image to download a 4.6-MB PDF of this brochure.

A map in the brochure shows Burlington lines extending north from Denver to Billings, connecting there to Great Northern and Northern Pacific lines to Seattle and Portland. The Southern Pacific/Union Pacific line from San Francisco to Cheyenne is also on the map, but–oddly–the map fails to emphasize the California Zephyr route.

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The 1956 Texas Zephyr

When the Burlington replaced the original Denver Zephyr with the vista-dome version, it transferred the old Denver Zephyr train to the Texas Zephyr route. The 1936 DZ was actually older than the 2937 TZ coaches and 2940 observation car, but the Denver train included streamlined sleeping cars in place of the heavyweights the Texas train had been using.

Click image to download a PDF of this postcard.

The above postcard claims to show the new Texas Zephyr, but it is actually the same photo that Burlington had used to advertise the post-war, pre-vista-dome Denver Zephyr. Although the postcard below is black-and-white, some Burlington Denver Zephyr postcards were sepia-toned, just like the above Texas Zephyr card.

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