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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City of San Francisco Menus

Union Pacific streamliners had an incredible variety of menus, most of which had a large photo of some sight along the rail line. This photo covered most of the front cover and wrapped around to about half the back cover. Below the photo on the front cover was the name of the train, while the back also had a three- or four-paragraph description of the photo and some small sketches that also evoked sights along the rail route.

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

I have menus with more than 50 different photos, and I’m sure I haven’t exhausted the possibilities. For the City of Portland and City of Los Angeles, the railroad didn’t hesitate to use photos of sights that were on the route of another train in its system. But all of the City of San Francisco menus I’ve collected feature photos of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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City of San Francisco Goes Daily

The Pere Marquette and Empire Builder may have been the first brand-new streamliners after the war, but the Union Pacific already had streamliners throughout its system. Without buying any new equipment, it (with the help of partners Southern Pacific and Chicago & North Western) managed to scrounge together enough cars to increase the frequency of its City of San Francisco from twice a week to three times a week on October 1, 1946.

At least, the above ad, which says “Now! Three Times a Week,” is dated October 1st. Click the image to download a .8-MB PDF of this mailer, which the Southern Pacific sent to travel agents and other people who might be able to promote the train.

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Eating on the Empire Builder

After introducing the streamlined Empire Builder, the train’s menus featured paintings by Charles Russell, the cowboy artist who once lived in Great Falls on the Great Northern line. This is a breakfast menu offering meals from $1.00 to $1.35 (about $9.30 to $12.50 in today’s money).

Click image to download a 1.9-MB PDF of the front and back of this 1948 menu.

The menu cover features a Russell painting called the Buffalo Hunt, and the back of the menu notes that “a larger reproduction of the painting appears in the lounge-observation car of this train.” I have several other Russell menus for the Western Star that I’ll post when I get to that train, and they make the same claim. Since photos indicate that there was only one Russell painting in each observation car, this suggests that the railroad made the effort to supply each dining car with menus that matched the paintings in the observation car that happened to be on the same train.

Great Northern menus of the 1930s featured portraits of Blackfoot Indians that were painted by Winold Reiss specifically for the menus, while some menus from the 1940s featured photos of Glacier National Park. I’ll post some of these menus when I cover the pre-streamlined Empire Builder.

Soap Leaves

Here is a curious item, and not just because “soap leaves” have been replaced in modern life by wet wipes.

Click the image to download a PDF of the front and back of this little packet of soap leaves.

The image of the locomotive on the cover of the soap leaves has obviously been taken from the publicity photo of the locomotive in its as-delivered paint scheme. The angle is exactly the same, and the image of the engineer in the window and the shadows in the top headlight are unmistakable.

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On Board the Empire Builder

Passengers in the observation lounge car were invited to send letters using stationery decorated with this colorful letterhead.

Click to download a PDF showing the entire first page of this four-page stationery. (The other three pages are blank.)

In addition to the postcard shown in a previous post, the railroad also happily gave out other postcards advertising its train.

This one shows the Empire Builder between Seattle and Everett along the Puget Sound.

In this one, the train is further east, probably along the Columbia River in Washington state.

Advertising the Empire Builder

The Great Northern promoted the streamlined Empire Builder by placing ads in Look, Life, Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines. These ads contained many of the graphics found in the Through Your Car Window brochure. None of these ads are in my personal collection, but you can click on any of the images for a larger version.

“Custom-built for pleasant, faster travel,” says this ad, adding that the Empire Builders are “modern trains designed for the modern traveler.”

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Through Your Car Window

This is a colorful, 24-page brochure the Great Northern made available to passengers and potential passengers of its streamlined Empire Builder. This particular one is dated May 1949, but I suspect there were earlier editions.

Click to download an 18.5-MB PDF of this 24-page brochure.

The outside and inside covers are printed in four colors while the remaining pages use two: black and orange. The back cover has a beautiful painting of the streamlined Empire Builder along an imaginary creek or river, perhaps–judging from the ponderosa pines in the background–the Flathead River in Montana or Tumwater Canyon in Washington. The inside covers have color graphics showing train interiors: coaches; duplex-roomettes; the coffee-shop car in Hudson Bay blanket colors; double bedrooms; the dining car; and the observation lounge, decorated with Hudson Bay blanket-colored draperies.

Nine of the remaining pages present enough highlights and photos of the trip, from west to east, to keep people entertained. There are also individual pages for trains from Portland to Seattle; Seattle to Vancouver; Twin Cities to Duluth; Twin Cities to Winnipeg; Twin Cities to Grand Forks (for the Oriental Limited, which used a slightly different route from the Empire Builder); and–strangely, because Great Northern passenger trains did not go there–Portland to Los Angeles.

The Locomotive on This Train Is a Diesel

When the Great Northern introduced the 1947 Empire Builder with much fanfare, General Motors helped with its own orange-and-green brochure advertising the locomotives used on the train. “On America’s crack trains, together with newly developed streamlined passenger cars,” the GM Diesel “brings an entirely new concept of high-speed operation over today’s modern routes of travel,” said the brochure.


Click image to download a PDF of this brochure.

General Motors got into the locomotive business in a fairly roundabout way. It all started when a GM executive, Charles Kettering, needed a motor for his yacht that was larger than anything GM made. He was so impressed by the engines made by a Cleveland company called Winton that he persuaded GM to buy Winton in 1930.

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