The General Motors Train of Tomorrow

To promote its new E7 passenger locomotive, General Motors took the unusual–for a locomotive manufacturer–step of ordering four dome cars from Pullman: a dome coach, dome diner, dome sleeper, and dome lounge. Completed in May, 1947, the cars and matching locomotive were painted an unusual shade of blue, with stainless steel fluted panels bolted on to give the train an added taste of modernity. General Motors called it the Train of Tomorrow and sent it on a tour throughout the nation.

General Motors staged this photo of the Train of Tomorrow near Lake Orion, Michigan.

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Publicizing the First Dome Car

In addition to the brochure presented yesterday, the Burlington distributed thousands of copies of this postcard showing the new Silver Dome car. “In this new type of car,” says the back of the card, “24 passengers are seated in the Vista Dome, a laminated, heat and ray-resisting glass penthouse.”

Click image to download a PDF of the front and back of this postcard advertising the Silver Dome.

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The First Dome Car

In 1944, Cyrus Osborn, a General Motors vice president in charge of its Electro-Motive Division that built Diesel locomotives, rode in the cab of a Rio Grande Diesel through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. “If the traveling public only knew what they could see from the operating cab of a Diesel locomotive or caboose of a freight train,” he remarked afterwards, “the railroads could sell seats in these two places at $500 apiece and always keep them full.” That night, on stationery from the Hotel Utah, he sketched an idea for the first modern dome car that would offer a view even better than from a locomotive cab: a car with a bubble on top giving passengers 360-degree views of the landscape.

“A monument to an idea.” The Rio Grande Railroad erected this memorial in Glenwood Canyon, where Osborn first conceived the modern dome car, in 1950. When Interstate 70 was expanded in this location, the monument was moved to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, where it can still be seen today. Click image for a larger view of this postcard, which shows the Alco PA-powered California Zephyr, with its five dome cars, in the background.

Osborn shared his idea with other railway executives, and Ralph Budd of the Burlington immediately told his mechanical chief to cut a hole in the top of the next Budd-built coach to go through the railroad’s shops and put a dome in it. The car happened to be called “Silver Alchemy,” but after the dome was installed, it was renamed “Silver Dome.” The railroad introduced it to the public in 1945.

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The Feds Put the Brakes on High-Speed Trains

Streamlining meant several things to railroad passengers. It meant newer, flashier trains, either stainless steel or painted in bright colors, inside and out. It meant more comfortable trains, with Heywood-Wakefield seats, air conditioning, and large windows for viewing scenery. And, perhaps most important of all, it meant higher speeds, because railroads pushed top speeds to more than 100 mph and/or because Diesel locomotives did not need to make frequent stops for water.

Despite the fact that railroads rapidly introduced new streamlined trains after World War II, revenue passenger miles declined in every year but one between 1944 and 1972. (The one exception, 1951, was probably due to wage and price controls imposed during the Korean War.)

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The 1950 Report on Streamline Trains

I recently scanned a library copy of of the 1950 update to the 1938 Report on Streamline Trains. The report is something of a disappointment, mainly because most railroads had stopped keeping track of (or at least releasing) data for individual trains, so the report only includes data for 66 of the 260 streamlined trains operating in 1949.

Click image to download an 8.6-MB PDF of this 89-page report.

We can no longer compare, for example, the Denver Zephyr with the City of Denver, as neither train is in the report. While the Twin Zephyrs and Twin Cities Hiawathas are both in the report, the C&NW 400 is not.

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Advertising Santa Fe Streamliners

From 1948 through 1954, the Santa Fe offered an incredible five daily trains between Chicago and Los Angeles, compared with just two each on the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific routes. The Super Chief and El Capitan, of course, were streamliners, and the Chief was mostly streamlined as well (only its baggage cars were sometimes heavyweights). The Grand Canyon Limited was a mix of streamlined and heavyweight equipment, while the California Limited was entirely heavyweight.

Click any image for a larger view.

These 1947 and 1948 ads from the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers show that the railroad used a variety of approaches to promote these trains after the war. The above ad, for example, focuses on the Heywood-Wakefield seats and other comforts in the railroad’s streamlined coaches.

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On Board the Rock Island Rockets

While the Pere Marquette and Empire Builder were the first post-war trains, the Rock Island holds the honor of being the only railroad allowed to introduce a new passenger train during the war. In January, 1945, the Twin Star Rocket began service from Minneapolis (Minnesota being the “North Star” state) to Houston (Texas being the “Lone Star” state). At 1,370 miles, the route also holds the distinction of being the longest north-south passenger route over the rails of one railroad in the U.S.

Inaugurated in January 1945, the Houston-Minneapolis Twin Star Rocket was the only new passenger train to go into service during World War II. Initially hauled by General Motors E6 locomotives, in this 1951 photo, it is being pulled by two E7s and consists of a heavyweight baggage car and eight streamlined cars.

The Twin Star Rocket was only moderately fast, requiring just over 25 hours (later increased to nearly 27 hours) for an average speed of about 54 mph (later reduced to 51 mph). This meant the railroad had to maintain three sets of equipment, one of which would be idle (after being cleaned and serviced) for most of a day.

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On Dress Parade

Roomette. Section. Double bedroom. Compartment. Drawing room. All these sleeping car accommodations sound alike. The 1948 brochure from the Pullman Company attempts to explain through cutaway drawings how they all differ.

Click image to download this 16.5-MB PDF of this 36-page brochure.

One accommodation missing from the booklet is the master room, which was found only on the Broadway Limited, Southern Crescent, and perhaps one or two other trains. A master room was the size of two double bedrooms and, as near as I can determine, was the only streamlined sleeping room in the U.S. that had a shower.

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Wonderful Ways West

“Wonderful Ways West” continues with the Southern Pacific’s theme that it has four routes into California, and travelers from the East to California can take different routes to and from the state “for little or no additional rail fare.” This brochure dates from 1953, so it has all the post-war SP streamliners: CIty of San Francisco, Golden State, Shasta Daylight, Sunset Limited, and more.

Click image to download an 18-MB PDF of this 24-page brochure.

This brochure dedicates four pages each to the Sunset and Golden State routes, just three pages to the Overland route, and five pages to the “coast routes,” including the Shasta Daylight, Coast Daylight, and even the Lark, which was an all-Pullman train between LA and San Francisco. The Starlight, the Lark’s short-lived all-coach overnight companion train, and the San Joaquin Daylight are both briefly mentioned as well.

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See Twice as Much of America

Many railroads had a theme they used–year after year, sometimes decade after decade–in their passenger advertising. The Santa Fe’s theme was “all the way,” meaning that only the Santa Fe could get you all the way from Chicago to the West Coast without changing railroads (which wasn’t really an issue when many trains ran seamlessly across two or more railroads). The Southern Pacific’s theme was that it had “four scenic routes” to California, allowing Eastern or Midwestern residents to see one part of the U.S. on their journey west and another part when returning east.

Click image to download a 30-MB PDF of this 36-page full-color booklet.

That’s the theme of this undated booklet that the SP probably published just before the war. The color photos are lavish and picture the streamlined City of San Francisco and Coast Daylight, but other trains are heavyweights. A photo of Timberline Lodge, completed in 1938, and a sketch of Shasta Dam “now under construction”–construction took from 1937 to 1945–helps to date the booklet to about 1939 to 1941, after which war restrictions would have prevented SP from issuing such an expensive advertisement.

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