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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Chicago-St. Louis Pre-War Streamliners

Four railroads competed for business in the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor: the Illinois Central; Alton; Chicago & Eastern Illinois; and Wabash. At least two of them acquired streamliners before the war. I’ve already mentioned the Illinois Central Green Diamond, which was built by Pullman and somewhat resembled the later M-1000x trains except for being coach-only and painted green.

The Green Diamond was a five-car articulated train with a 1,200-HP Diesel in the first car. The remaining cars were a mail-baggage car; a 56-seat coach; a coach-diner with 44 coach seats and 16 diner seats; and a diner-lounge with 22 parlor seats and 8 diner seats. Like the second-generation City trains which it resembles, the Green Diamond was built by Pullman, but was made of Corten steel rather than aluminum.

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The Rock Island Rockets

The 1938 Report on Streamline Trains discusses several streamlined trains that I haven’t mentioned in previous posts, and while I don’t have a lot of memorabilia for these trains they are worth presenting for the sake of completeness. The first are the Rock Island Rockets, which were transitional trains between the early Burlington Zephyrs and later full-sized streamliners such as the Santa Fe Super Chief.

Inaugurated in 1937, the Rockets consisted of three- and four-car Budd-built articulated trains, similar to the original Zephyr, but without an articulated power car. Instead, the Rockets were powered by a unique (in the sense that no other railroad had one) General Motors Diesel called the TA. The TAs–the T stood for twelve as in 1,200 horsepower–were 60 feet long, compared with General Motors’ E units, which were 70 feet long. While the Es each had two 900-HP, V-12 Diesel engines, the TAs had one 1,200-HP, V-16 engine, the same engine used in some of the Zephyr and City trains. The last, observation car was also non-articulated.

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Report on Streamline Passenger Trains

A consulting firm named Coverdale and Colpitts (now part of URS) once did a variety of economic analyses for the rail industry. In 1935, the firm published a report on the Burlington Zephyrs, followed by reports in 1938, 1939, 1941, and 1950 on “Streamline, Light-Weight, High-Speed Passenger Trains.”

Click to download a 6.1-MB PDF of the full 1938 report.

I found out about these reports when I saw the 1939 and 1950 reports for sale on ebay. No one else had bid on them, so I put in a bid . . . only to have someone snipe them away from me. I found the 1938 report on and bought it. It has a wealth of fascinating information on all of the trains I’ve discussed so far.

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