CPR Posters: Heavyweight to Domeliner

The Canadian Pacific liked to bill itself as the world’s greatest travel system as it had, besides the railroads, hotels, steamships, and, for a few years, an airline. It advertised all of these with numerous travel posters. Click any image for a larger view.

The Trans-Canada Limited was an all-Pullman train, summer-only train that operated between 1919 and 1931. Some of its elegant cars have been fully restored and are displayed at the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, BC. This 1924 poster is by George Y. Kauffman (1868-1940), an American artist who also did magazine covers and even speculative science illustrations.

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The Canadian Introduces Domes to Canada

Canada was late to the streamliner revolution. Canadian National was still using steam locomotives to pull its premiere heavyweight trains as late as 1954. Canadian Pacific had at least Dieselized its trains, but continued to use a mix of heavyweight and streamlined cars in Tuscan red paint for its premiere train, the Dominion.

Click to download a 6.8-MB PDF of this brochure introducing the Canadian.

That changed on April 24, 1955, when Canadian Pacific introduced the Canadian, a (mostly) Budd-built stainless steel train with two dome cars. The new train traveled from Montreal and Toronto to Vancouver about 16 hours faster than the Dominion, which CPR kept on its old schedule to serve small towns where the Canadian would not stop. Even on the faster timetable, the Canadian averaged only about 40 mph.

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Postcards from a Domeliner

Since Union Pacific domeliners only had two or three domes per train, most of the passengers would be elsewhere. Here are some postcards the UP used to advertise the coaches and sleeping cars on its domeliners. Click any image to download a PDF of the front and back of the postcard.

This little girl is intently reading a booklet about the Union Pacific while her mother gazes out the window at another Union Pacific train.

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City of Los Angeles Dinner Menu

This 1955 dinner menu features Olvera Street, a Mexican-style marketplace that still operates today in Los Angeles, on the front cover. Like a previous lunch menu, the inside of this menu appears to have been edited in preparation for another printing, although the edits are fairly minor.

Click image to download a 2.0-MB PDF of this dinner menu.

Unlike the City of Portland dinner menus, this one includes both an a la carte and a table d’hôte section. The City of Portland had a cafe car with “moderately priced meals for coach passengers,” while the all-Pullman City of Los Angeles did not, at least not until the Union Pacific combined it with the Challenger train in the late 1950s.

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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