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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The New Empire Builder

The Great Northern produced this brightly colored four-page brochure to advertise its new Empire Builder and no doubt handed out thousands of copies to people visiting the train when it was on display in cities throughout the Northwest. Unlike some railroads, which substituted post-war streamlined cars for heavyweights as they arrived, the Great Northern waited until it had all five entire trainsets in hand before it replaced the heavyweight Empire Builder with the streamlined version. (The exceptions were the locomotives, which were used to haul passenger trains when they arrived two years before rest of the train.)

Click to download a PDF of this four-page brochure.

The inside pages of this brochure have drawings of some of the features of the new train: reclining seat coaches, colorful lounges, and Diesel power. Some of these drawings will appear in four-color versions of later brochures as well, which raises a question: Since the GN had to use three colors to print this brochure (green, orange, and black), why didn’t it spring for a fourth color so it could have a full range of colors? Perhaps four-color printing in 1947 was a lot more expensive, relative to three-color printing, than it is today.

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The Post-War Empire Builder

The first overnight streamliner after the war was the Great Northern Empire Builder, which started service on February 7, 1947. The train’s bright orange and green colors have come to be known as the Empire Builder color scheme, yet it was actually developed by General Motors for the Great Northern’s first Diesel freight locomotives, which the GN purchased in 1941.

Click to download a PDF of this postcard.

The goal was not to have an award-winning color scheme for passenger trains but to maximize safety and visibility. Orange happens to be the most visible color of the spectrum in a wide variety of weather conditions, which is why it played a prominent role in the streamlined colors of so many railroads: Milwaukee Road, Rio Grande, Southern Pacific Daylights, and Western Pacific, to name a few. For even more visibility, the green and orange stripes were separated by thin gold (later Scotchlite) bands, and the lowest stripe of each carbody was a thin, silvery-white band.

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The First Post-War Streamliner

The first railroad to introduce a new streamliner after the war was the Pere Marquette, a Michigan railroad affiliated with the Chesapeake & Ohio. Starting in 1946, the Pere Marquettes–the only streamliner I know named after the railroad that owned it–ran several times a day between Detroit and Grand Rapids.

The train was led by a General Motors E7 locomotive, the 2,000-HP successor to the 1,800-HP Santa Fe E1 and later E locomotives. The E7 noses were not slanted as much as some of their predecessors, and in fact were virtually identical to General Motors’ F locomotives, which were originally intended mainly for freight but which some railroads later used for passenger service.

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Streamlined Steam

Out of the 120,000 or so steam locomotives built and used in the United States, only about 220 were streamlined–or, as the Chicago & North Western called it, steamlined–for passenger service. Railroads went to the trouble to streamline steam locomotives for three reasons.

First, some railroads, such as the Burlington, wanted steam locomotives as a back up in case the Diesels that were powering most of their streamliners broke down.

Second, many railroads, such as the Milwaukee Road, didn’t believe Diesels were powerful enough to reliably pull a full-sized train, and travel demand in their markets required more than the little three- and four-car streamliners pioneered by Union Pacific and Burlington. The Santa Fe proved Diesels could pull a full-sized train in 1937, but some railroads stuck with tried-and-true steam technology for as much as a decade after that.

Third, some railroads decided it would far less expensive to put a shroud on an old steamer, making it look fast and new, than to buy new, expensive, and uncertain Diesels. Even the Union Pacific operated a supposedly streamlined (but actually mostly heavyweight) train with shrouded steam locomotives, counting the train among its fleet of streamliners.

Warning: This is a long post with more than two dozen pictures and may take some time to load. Clicking on most images will bring up a larger version–in some cases, particularly the posters, much larger. It is also unusual for this blog in that it doesn’t include any scans from my memorabilia collection.

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The Rebels

In hindsight, Budd-built stainless steel cars hauled by General Motors Diesel engines–such as the Burlington Zephyrs or Santa Fe Super Chief–seem to be the epitome of streamlined trains. But in the mid-1930s, Budd and General Motors were both upstarts in the railroad world. Few “real” railroaders believed that Diesels could ever do more than work as switch engines or move tiny trains of the Zephyr-variety.

At that time, the “General Motors of rail locomotives” was the American Locomotive Company, or Alco. Like General Motors, Alco was a merger of several different locomotive manufacturers–eight, in fact–in 1901. While Baldwin (which, arguably, was the Ford of locomotive manufacturers) was a stiff competitor, few would bet against the quality and quantity of Alco steam locomotives.

So when Alco teamed up with Pullman rival American Car and Foundry (ACF) to build streamlined passenger trains, many in the rail industry might assume that the trains produced by this partnership would easily dominate over those new-fangled Budd-built trains. Yet the only major trains to result from this partnership were the Rebels, several trainsets owned by the relatively minor Gulf, Mobile & Northern Railroad.

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