Dome-Dining Aboard the City of Portland

This 1958 dinner menu from the City of Portland is unusual for a Union Pacific menu in that it has a second fold, solely for the purpose of repeating the Union Pacific logo. It is also unusual for a dining car menu in that it only offers table d’hôte meals, with no a la carte side. Apparently, passengers wanting a la carte meals were directed to the cafe car.

Click image to download a 1.6-MB PDF of this menu.

Patrons have a choice of charcoal broiled steak ($5.00), brook trout ($3.60), chicken ($3.75), Spanish omelet ($3.25), and prime rib ($4.00), all prices including beverage, salad, potatoes, bread, and dessert. Five dollars for a steak with all the trimmings may sound inexpensive, but in today’s dollars that’s almost $40.

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Dining in the Dome

It is hard to imagine any nicer place to eat than in a dome-diner. As shown below, the dome portions of the COP and COLA diners were nearly identical.

The back of this postcard says it is from the City of Los Angeles, while the postcard below says it is from the City of Portland, but the only differences are that one is painted a rose color and the other a pastel green. Click either image to download a PDF of the postcards.

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The Domeliner City of Los Angeles

In the early 1950s, the City of Los Angeles was Union Pacific’s all-Pullman equivalent of the Santa Fe Super Chief. Since it didn’t have coaches, it gained only two domes in 1955: a dome-diner and a dome-observation. This meant passengers had only 24 dome seats, plus 18 more in the diner during dinner hours. Still, that was more than the 16 dome seats in the Super Chief‘s Pleasure Dome.

Click image to download a 4.9-MB PDF of this brochure about the City of Los Angeles.

Like the City of Portland, the City of Los Angeles‘s dome-diner had a private room called the Gold Room, in this case decorated with Hollywood-themed wallpaper and yellow privacy curtains. In the photo below, the camera is facing towards the front of the train; another table is right behind the photographer. Two extra chairs are available to allow a fifth person to sit on the ends of each table.

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The Challenger Domeliner

The Challenger was Union Pacific’s answer to the Santa Fe’s El Capitan: an all-coach train on the same timetable as the all-Pullman City of Los Angeles. When UP added dome cars to its trains in 1955, the Challenger received a dome-coach and a dome-observation car. According to the ad below, the dome-coaches were added “on or about January 9, 1955,” while the dome-observations were “coming soon.”

Click image for a larger view.

UP partner Chicago and North Western was particularly reluctant to support dome-car purchases and services. Under agreements for “equalization” of passenger car traffic, the North Western already owed UP $1.1 million in December, 1954, before domes were added to the City trains. The C&NW also had to spend $50,000 modifying the train sheds on its Chicago station so that they did not scrape the domes. Based on the C&NW’s lack of enthusiasm for passenger trains, in late 1955, the Union Pacific made the momentous decision to route its City trains over the Milwaukee Road instead.

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The Domeliner City of Portland

The City of Portland was initially the only Union Pacific domeliner to have all three kinds of UP domes, including a dome-coach, dome-diner, and dome-observation cars. This gave passengers 66 dome seats for viewing scenery, although at least during dinner hours 18 of those seats were only available to lucky dining car patrons.

Click to download a 4.6-MB PDF of this 16-panel brochure about the domeliner City of Portland.

As near as I can tell, all of the dome-coaches used on the City trains were fairly identical, and the dome-lounges varied only in a few places. There were a couple of significant differences between the dome-diners. The biggest was in the private dining room beneath the dome. On both trains, the room was known as the Gold Room for the gold-plated tableware, but the rooms were decorated very differently.

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Domes for the Cities Fleet

The Union Pacific competed with the Santa Fe between Chicago and Los Angeles and with the Northern Pacific between Chicago and Portland, so when those two railroads added domes to their streamliners, the UP reluctantly followed. Domes were expensive–the UP paid an average of $285,000 per car (about $2.4 million in today’s dollars) for its domes, as much as $100,000 more than the cost of flat-topped cars at the time. Not only did the dome seats not earn any revenue, but they often reduced the number of revenue seats in the lower part of the car.

This Saturday Evening Post ad promises that the first domes will appear on the City of Portland, City of Los Angeles, and Challenger trains in December, 1954. Click image for a larger view.

Nevertheless, UP ordered 35 domes from American Car & Foundry (ACF), including 10 dome-coaches for the City of Portland and Challenger, 10 dome-diners for the City of Portland and City of Los Angeles, and 15 blunt-ended dome-observation cars, five for all three trains. The railroad inserted the cars into the trains as they were delivered, so there was no formal inauguration date, but the first cars (probably coaches) arrived in December, 1954, and the last ones (probably diners) in May, 1955.

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Writing Home from the North Coast Limited

If Stephen Brown had written a letter to friends during his trip aboard the North Coast Limited, he might have used the stationery below. It is simple, tasteful, but frankly boring.

Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead. Click here to download a PDF of the matching envelope.

If he had been old enough to ride the North Coast Limited in the 1950s, he might have had access to the stationery below. It is a bit more informal, but not as boring as the later version. It also indicates the names of Northern Pacific’s partner railroads (both which were also half owned–or in the case of the Burlington about 49.3 percent owned–by the NP).

Click image to download a PDF of this letterhead. Click here to download a PDF of the matching envelope.

The North Coast Limited Slumbercoach

In 1958, the Budd Company’s continuing quest to one-up the Pullman Company resulted in the development of the Slumbercoach, a sleeping car with 40 beds. Though one was used by the porter, this was still far more than the 22 beds found in most typical sleeping cars at the time. Budd persuaded the ever-innovative Burlington Route to try Slumbercoaches on the Denver Zephyr, and the Northern Pacific (which owned nearly half the Burlington) soon agreed to lease four Slumbercoaches that, starting in January, 1959, would be a part of a pool of cars used on both the North Coast Limited and Denver Zephyr.

The Loch Long, one of several Slumbercoaches that the Northern Pacific purchased from the Baltimore & Ohio in 1964. To underscore the thrifty nature of Slumbercoaches, the NP and Burlington named theirs after lakes in Scotland. Photo by Jim Sands; click image for a larger view.

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Aboard the North Coast Limited

This isn’t primarily a photo blog, but Stephen Brown has posted such an extraordinary set of photos of his two trips aboard the North Coast Limited that I am reposting many of them here with his permission. These photos give the flavor of riding the train and show that, even in its final years, it remained one of the world’s finest trains. (Click any photo for a larger view.)

Between Chicago and St. Paul, the North Coast Limited and Empire Builder operated over the Burlington Route (which was jointly owned by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific). In the late 1960s, the Burlington combined the two trains with the Afternoon Zephyr to create a massive train with potentially 13 dome cars. Here in the second NP dome is a view of the four GN domes in three different color schemes: orange-and-green, big-sky blue, and Cascade green.

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Northern Pacific Hats

The Northern Pacific no doubt printed hundreds of paper hats for its dining staff to wear. Click image to download a PDF showing both sides of the hat.

This paper hat was probably printed in the thousands as it was given away to children riding the train. With a modest amount of folding it could be worn like an engineer’s hat. Click to download a 7.9-MB PDF of this hat.