The Santa Fe Redefines Streamliners

While the Union Pacific and Burlington were certainly pioneers in the streamliner movement, other railroads introduced their own versions of streamlined trains. Some, such as Boston & Maine’s/Maine Central’s Flying Yankee, were imitations of the Zephyrs.

Others, such as Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, were imitations of the M-10000 series.

It took the Santa Fe Railway, direct competitor to the Union Pacific on the Chicago-Los Angeles route, to present the real future of streamliners. On May 12, 1936–one day before the Union Pacific began its 39-3/4-hour City of Los Angeles service using the M-10002–the Santa Fe initiated its own 39-3/4-hour train called the Super Chief. The train wasn’t streamlined at all; instead, Santa Fe demonstrated that what made streamlined trains fast was the use of Diesels instead of steam locomotives that had to make frequent and time-consuming stops for water.

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The 1935 City of Portland/1936 City of Los Angeles

The Union Pacific was so confident about the success of the M-10000 that it ordered three more similar, but longer, trains even before the M-10000 was completed. Though the power cars of these trains were outwardly identical to the M-10000, with “turrent-style” cabs, the M-10001 was initially equipped with a 900-HP Diesel instead of the M-10000’s 600-HP distillate engine.

After receiving the M-10001 in the fall of 1934, the Union Pacific sent it from Los Angeles to New York in under 57 hours, a record that stands today. The train’s average speed over this route, however, was just 57 mph, compared with the Zephyr’s 77-mph run from Denver to Chicago and later the Denver Zephyr’s 83-mph run from Chicago to Denver (which, Ralph Budd pointed out, was uphill).

So before putting the M-10001 in revenue service, Union Pacific replaced its 900-HP engine with a massive, V-16, 1,200-HP Diesel. It then put the train to work as the City of Portland, running between Chicago and Omaha on the Chicago & North Western and from Omaha to Portland on the Union Pacific, taking 39-3/4 hours each way. Considering that previous trains took between 54 and 72 hours, this was an incredible schedule. A Chicagoan going to Seattle would have to change trains in Portland and would still arrive in Seattle nearly 20 hours sooner than if they took the Empire Builder, North Coast Limited, or Olympian.

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The 1936 Twin Cities Zephyrs

In November, 1934, after the end of the Chicago fair, the Burlington put its original Zephyr (number 9900) to work between Kansas City and Lincoln, Nebraska via Omaha–something of a spit-in-the-eye to the Union Pacific, which was headquartered in Omaha. After testing the original Zephyr, the Burlington had quickly ordered several more stainless-steel trains. The first two (9901 and 9902), nearly identical to the original, became the Twin Cities Zephyrs, which started running between Chicago and Minneapolis in April, 1935. A similar Mark Twain Zephyr (9903) began operating between St. Louis and Burlington, Iowa in October, 1935.

The little Zephyrs proved far more popular than the railroad anticipated, with every seat booked and sometimes (according to reports) people standing in the aisles (or, more likely, occupying supposedly non-revenue seats in the rear lounges). So the Burlington ordered five more shovel-nosed trains that were far larger than the little three-car prototype. On December 18, 1936, two seven-car trains plus locomotives started service as the new Twin Cities Zephyrs, bumping the previous ones to service as the Ft. Worth-to-Houston Sam Houston Zephyr and the St. Louis-to-Kansas City Ozark State Zephyr.

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Expanding the M-10000

After sending the M-10000 on a tour of the country, the Union Pacific exhibited the train at the Chicago “Century of Progress” fair. For the exhibit, the railroad added one more car, the “Overland Trail,” a Pullman sleeper with 10 sections, a compartment, and a double bedroom.

For those not familiar with Pullman sleeping accommodations, sections are open seats during the day that make into upper and lower curtained-off beds at night. The compartment and double bedroom are private rooms with two beds; the main difference being that in the compartment, the beds are parallel to the tracks while the bedroom beds are perpendicular to the tracks. These are illustrated in the “Progress” brochure, which the railroad distributed to patrons of the fair. As before, parts of the brochure will appear upside down because it was printed to be folded.

Click on the image to download a 7.3-MB PDF of the entire brochure.

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Enter the Zephyr

On paper, the Burlington Zephyr was very similar to the Union Pacific M-10000. Both were lightweight, three-car trains powered by 600-horsepower internal combustion motors; both rode on articulated trucks (meaning adjacent cars shared wheel sets); both were smaller in profile than regular passenger cars.

Click on most images for a larger version.

Yet the differences between the two trains were almost as substantial as the similarities. With its resemblance to the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, the M-10000 certainly had “modern” styling, yet it looks dated today. The Zephyr, however, looks as fresh and modern today as it did in 1934. Indeed, some recent passenger locomotives have similar, if less elegant, shovel noses. The gleaming stainless steel left the brown-nosed M-10000 in the shadows. Technically, the Zephyr’s use of stainless steel and Diesel power put it a generation ahead of the M-10000.

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The M-10000

The Union Pacific Railroad won the race to put the first streamliner in service, introducing the bright yellow M-10000 to the traveling public in 1934. Built by Pullman with aluminum bodies and a distillate (kerosene) engine made by a division of General Motors, the M-10000 was supposed to be the future of passenger rail.

As it turned out, it wasn’t. The Burlington Zephyr, which was completed just weeks after the M-10000, was powered by a Diesel engine (also made by General Motors) and sheathed in stainless steel. The Zephyr, it would turn out, would be much closer to the real future of passenger trains.

Nevertheless, the bright yellow paint of the M-10000 was a refreshing change from Pullman green (though it was really a throwback to the color of many nineteenth-century passenger trains). The Union Pacific painted the roofs of most of its later passenger trains grey instead of the brown used on the M-10000.

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