Do You Remember?
When Streamliners premiered on PBS in 2000, producers asked visitors to share any memories they had of streamliner trains.
Burlington president Ralph Budd stepped off the Burlington Zephyr after its record-breaking run and proclaimed, "It was a sweet ride." Most Americans agreed. Marjorie Wigton, who worked as a "Zephyrette" hostess on the Burlington from 1936 to 1941, described the impact of the streamliners:
"If you are brought up in a small town, small towns are close to railroad tracks, you are used to steam engines. Here are these beautiful white puffy clouds and panting trains going by and their special whistles. It was just a part of everyday life...a dozen times a day you would see a puffer going by. And then...all of a sudden here is this shiny beautiful thing...The whole town was out...thousands of people. It was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. It was this beautiful...silver train...not dirty...just...whoosh. It was a beautiful thing."
In a 1997 interview, Zephyr engineer Glenn Corniels, who started his career shoveling coal as a steam train fireman, recalled the Zephyr's speedy route from Chicago through Aurora, Illinois to Savannah. "No stops... had to blow the whistle 144 times between Aurora and Savannah... I remember, 144 times!"
Below, read stories from 2000. Do you have memories of streamliner trains?
San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 11, 1952
CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR DERAILED ENROUTE TO S.F.; NONE HURT
The Westbound Pacific's California Zephyr was derailed seventy-two miles west of Grand Junction, Colo. last night.
Early Associated Press reports said none of the 140 passengers bound for San Francisco aboard the sleek streamliner was injured.
The Rio Grand Railroad office in Denver said all cars were derailed. The locomotive did not leave the tracks. A relief train was sent from Grand Junction to take over passengers. The accident was at Vista siding, barely over the Colorado line.
On January 8, 1952, my mother and I boarded a train in Washington D.C. enroute to Chicago to catch the California Zephyr. We were headed for California to visit my older sister who was married and living in San Jose, Calif. I was 3 months short of my 15th birthday and thrilled that I was given special permission to take an extra two weeks off from school, providing I completed all my class assignments, which were provided to me. Little did I know that this trip on the Zephyr would lead to an adventure that would decide my future.
The trip to Chicago was uneventful. We arrived at the Chicago train station a few hours before boarding time on January 9th, after spending the previous night at a nice hotel and some shopping at Marshall Fields. The Zephyr was really beautiful, the service fantastic, the food delicious and the Zephyrettes were so helpful and friendly. Anyone who has ever taken a train trip through the Western part of America can attest to the incredible beauty of the land.
A few hours after we left Chicago, a gentleman in the seat ahead of Mother and I fell to the floor, he was having a seizure; the Zephyrettes went into action to help him, as did a tall young sailor who was seated behind us. They helped the man to a car where he could lay down and they found a doctor aboard. I didn't know what happened to the poor man, but I do know what happened to the tall sailor, he and I would eventually marry; we are close to celebrating our 50th Anniversary soon. The next day in the late afternoon we were sitting in the Dome car talking when we heard a terrible grinding noise and the Dome car started rocking back and forth, we could see behind us some of the cars had turned sideways; the snow outside was heavy and deep. We had been in a train wreck and learned that a section of track had broken. We couldn't move so a long night of waiting for a rescue train began.
There were many servicemen aboard because the Korean War was going on, they were headed to their duty stations. My future husband was enroute to Treasure Island in San Francisco to board a ship for Hawaii; he missed the departure and had to stay at the base to face Captains Mast to explain missing the ship, Luckily all the servicemen received a letter from the Railroad that really helped.
While waiting rescue the passengers all got together, the club and dining car was open for anything we wanted. We played cards, sang, got to know each other and had a lot of laughs. One Army Lt. really stood out, he was quite a character, always making everyone laugh. He also charmed the Zephyrette assigned to our car, we could see the attraction between the two of them. When the rescue train finally arrived the servicemen lined up to help carry the luggage and passengers who couldn't make it thru the snow and ice. We were taken to an old train station a few hours away in the cattle town of Grand Junction, Colorado, where we waited for another train that would take us to Oakland, our destination. We can still remember how terribly cold it was.
While we waited for the other train, the Zephyrette and the Lt. decided to go into Grand Junction to look around for a restaurant, they stayed away too long and ended up being left behind. We heard later that they hired someone to drive them to the next station the train would be stopping at, but they didn't make it on time. We all felt so sorry for them and many wrote letters to the Company on behalf of the Zephyrette. Riding on that beautiful train, wreck or not was a wonderful experience, one we will never forget. If we could do it over again we would do it in a heartbeat.
Robert & Connie Libhart
My father, grand and great grand father all spent their working lives with the Pullman Co. -- operator of sleeping cars on most of the U.S. railroads. Railroad passes (like the free travel available to to airline employees today) enabled our family to spend vacation time most summers riding first class.
Trouble was, (to my mind) the rides were usually on the secondary trains of any given railroad. I never got to ride the CZ until, as a young man with puzzled wife in tow, we parked our camper at Granby and rode the then-still operating Rio Grande Zephyr into Denver and back. The next year we took the Amtrak Zephyr and at least got to ride a bedroom in Silver Solarium, one of classic rounded dome observations. The wife was still puzzled about the attraction of such a journey as it was one of my roughest rides in a life time of riding trains. Later trips on Superliner equipment with our children were much more pleasant.
My favorite recollection is the start of west coast trips out of Union Station Chicago, dinner and the plains in the evening; then raising the window shade from bed the next morning with the Rocky Mountain Front Range in distance. On second thought, there was a real advantage to being relegated to riding the secondary trains. A west coast trip took 3 nights on these "milk runs," so the fun was just beginning.
New Lenox, IL
We lived outside Chicago on the Burlington Northern line when I was a kid. Three parallel pairs of rails bisected our downtown, the way lots of towns are built alongside the banks of a river.
We were accustomed to the commuter trains rumbling through every few minutes all day long, carrying people from Chicago up & down the lines out to all the suburbs. Those trains still run up there today, and I wish we had a similar rapid-transit system where I live now. I recall that even on their reduced overnight schedule, I could hear the commuter trains rev those diesels as they pulled out of the station as I went to sleep. Not that it was loud or bothersome: just a distant rumble.
And back then when that California Zephyr came hauling through on the center pair of rails -- the through line -- by God, it was something to see: as I recall, a great gleaming emerald line of sleek cars, all those dark shining windows and the golden lettering along the sides of the train to let you know that this was something very special, with a name to match, and the way that thing moved through there, man, you could tell that train meant business. It had places to go. And the people on board were moving in style. So all of us kids wanted to be on that train. It was a powerful and utterly beautiful phantom streaking through our lives, calling us out someplace far beyond, day in, day out. A fact of our lives.
So it's hard to imagine that that train is no more.
I grew up in Oakland, CA. As a kid, I was amazed to see the California Zephyr with its observation cars passing by our home.
As time went by, I'd forgotten all about the train and its name, "California Zephyr." Two years ago, I tried to do research of this passenger train. I tried the local model train clubs and the internet. Unknowingly, I got the wrong answer as the the Union Pacific. The colors of this train are orange-red and gold. This is an outstanding colors scheme, and I remembered these colors. So, it troubled me, as I found out, this is not the long silver train as I remembered.
When I watched the last portion of your program, as the last Zephyr to run. It answered my questions and brought back fond memories.
Thank you very much American Experience.
In 1939 the yr I graduated from the Sharon High School in Mass. I left for California in the Fall to visit my grandparents in Altadena CA. When I reached Chicago, I road the "El Capitan" day chair streamliner to Ca. I will always remember the trip. 81 now.
I rode one of the Zephyr trainsets which had been relegated to local service from Chillicothe, MO. to St. Joseph, MO. in 1960. My cousin , working as a helper at the St. Joseph roundhouse, cleaned and stocked the cab of the Zephyr. I recall him showing me the inside of the cab -- pretty heady stuff for a six year old!
St. Joseph, MO
I was a small boy living in Argyle, Minnesota. I remember every Saturday morning a bunch of us kids would go up to the tracks in this small Northwestern community and play like we were Cowboys. The Train crew on this Big Black 4X8 Steam Locomotive would let us play like we were robbing the Train. They would give each of us a dime. We really got a kick out of doing that, but the main thing was seeing that Big Locomotive, it was like a giant machine. I wish they could still run the tracks.
I first rode a streeamliner when I was 3 years old in 1954. My father loved trains and we went from Washington, DC to Los Angeles via the Sante Fe Superchief and others. In 1969, we went the northern route via one of the last Zephyrs. I will never forget waking up at dawn to watch the train go over Donner Pass in the Dome car. It was magnificent!
When I was a little boy, in the late 1940's in England, my grandfather took the National Geographic Magazine.
Compared with British trains of the time [old, dirty steam trains], the stainless steel American streamliners seemed like something from a wonderful future age on some distant planet.
Those images of American streamline trains in the National Geographic left a lifelong impression on me.
Bristol, Great Britain
My first rail trip was from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky when I had been drafted into the U.S. Army. I shared a compartment with another soldier. I remember that the car swayed all night long, and in spite of the mostly gentle rocking, I got no sleep at all. Months later, I rode the Santa Fe from Chicago to Oklahoma City and enjoyed the ride much better.
My most vivid memory was on a ride from Chicago to Beverly Shores, Indiana in the early 1980s. Believe it or not, the South Shore Line was still using potbellied coal stoves to heat some of their passenger cars in regular commuter service!
I was born in 1963, too young to remember mainline steam and almost too young to remember the Zephyrs. I had the privilege though of spending my summers at the family summer home in the Feather River Canyon in California and had the privilege of seeing the California Zephyr twice daily and I rode on it several times too. What a beautiful train it was. I remember being at the local swimming hole and watching the Zephyr come roaring around the corner with its beautiful (Western Pacific) silver and orange locomotives and those stainless steel silver cars! I have vivid memories of being in Portola California and watching the train go through the wash racks. That was a happening in Portola as there was no TV there yet! Everybody came out to watch the train go through the wash racks! My railfan enthusiasm was forever solidified when the train was stopped on the Camp Layman siding in the Feather River Canyon and my grandfather drove me to the crossing and a gracious WP crew lifted me up into the locomotive! WOW what a thrill!
It was my grandfather who later introduced me to steam locomotives and it's steam that is my true love, but it was the Zephyr that was my first love. Today I have a huge HO scale layout that's based on the WP circa 1950 and yes I do have a complete WP CA Zephyr HO scale train that I share with my seven year old daughter. I miss it (and the WP). I had the privilege of seeing the Zephyr train in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and can honestly say that the Zephyrs in all of their forms were truly the most beautiful trains in the world.
My father was a civil engineer for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific R.R., so we took many of our vacations by train, even while the rest of the country was switching to air travel.
Before our journeys started, I remember the vast aura of Union Station in Chicago: the comic books at the newsstand, the animated, colorful Johnny Walker and Kool's cigarette signs, the sound of heels clicking on the tile floor and echoing around the huge station, the Fred Harvey restaurants, the conductors announcing the trains and tracks. (They really did say, "all aboard.")
I remember fondly the coziness of the Pullman berths and then, later, the tiny efficient bedrooms. I remember pulling out of Chicago late at night, falling asleep to the clicking and rolling of the train; in the morning, pulling up the windowshade and seeing the Wisconsin countryside rolling by.
Most memorable was a trip we took to Spokane, Wash., when I was about seven. It was much longer than the usual overnight trips we used to take to the Twin Cities. And I remember the drama of leaving the flat Midwest behind and soaring into the foothills of the Dakotas and then over and through the Rockies: the incredible vistas, the long high trestles, the dark rumblings through the tunnels cut into the mountains, the majesty and depth of the landscape.
My sister and I were allowed to play on the observation deck at the rear of the train, feeling the rolling power of the train around us. The platforms that Harry Truman stood on during his whistlestop tour of 1948 were exactly the platforms my sister and I, and friends we'd acquired during the trip, would stand on, feeling the breeze, smelling the smells, looking for wildlife.
To get to the platform, of course, we had to walk through the club car, with its revolving chairs, windows that climbed up and over the walls of the car, card games, haze of cigarette smoke and the clink of ice cubes against glass.
The other memorable car for me was the dining car, with its white linen and bud vase elegance and white glove service.
I guess I was too young to wonder about the racial mix of the staff; to question why the men who unlocked our berths, served us our meals and carried our luggage were black, while the men who took our tickets and called "all aboard" were always white. The black employees always smiled at us. The white employees never did.
About 1957 (I was nine, 4th grade) my family (we lived in Joliet, IL) traveled on the New York Central streamliners from Chicago to Syracuse, NY, to visit my aunt and uncle: the Pacemaker one way and the Wolverine back. Coach all the way. I loved every minute of those trips.
The most distinct memory was having breakfast in the dining car: Cheerios with real CREAM! We were sitting having breakfast as the train pulled into Cleveland's Union Terminal Station. I can still see in my mind's eye out the windown of the dining car the tall Terminal Tower skyscraper that spanned the many tracks into the station.
Of course, I never thought then that I would be living in Cleveland as an adult. The best part of this story is that I am on a team that is designing and building a transportation museum. We have purchased and are restoring the same kind of E-8 diesel locomotive that pulled those NYC streamliner passenger trains. This locomotive could easily have been on the front of my breakfast train! Life is great, no?
Days before Amtrak took over passenger rail service, my father purchased tickets for our family to take the train into St. Louis on the Pennsylvania RR. I belive it was the Penn-Texas, I'm not sure, I was only four. The sad thing was, that we were late getting back to the station for the return trip home, and my father was worried that we had missed the train. When we arrived at the station late, he was surprised to see the train still at the station. The conductor calmly replied that he knew we were returning, and we were the only passengers riding the train back. I have never has a chance to thank the conductor. Thanks!
My parents took me on two of the greatest streamliners when I was a kid. In '65 when I was 7, they took me from NY to Chicago on the 20th Century. The main thing I remember about the train was the observation car. The other memory is that they piled up the luggage so high in one of the vestibules that we couldn't get back to our Sleeper coach after breakfast, so we had to wait out in the cold (this was in February) until the car emptied out.
When I was 11 in '68, we took the California Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland. It was the best train I've been on in my life. After reading extensively about trains and traveling in North America, Europe and Japan, I can say that it was the greatest train in the entire history of railroading. Ever since riding the CZ, I've been a huge fan of dome cars.
When we got to the top of the Front Range of the Rockies, from the dome it felt like the train was flying. The scenery along the Colorado River and in Feather River Canyon was incredible. I was also impressed by the Cable Car lounge. I was glad that we got to Oakland 2 hours late because I didn't want to get off.
In '82 I went cross country on Amtrak and made a point of taking the Rio Grande Zephyr from Denver to Salt Lake City. At the time it was the last long distance train in the US running independently of Amtrak and all the cars (except one) were from the original California Zephyr. I rmember having the same feeling of flying at the top of the Front Range.
Fortunately, the classic fifties streamliner is still running in Canada. The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver and the Ocean from Montreal to Halifax have been beautifully restored and still have dome cars. I've been on both. Don't wait too long to ride them, VIA Rail has just purchased some new long distance cars and the classic equipment's days may be numbered.
On 19 April 1980, the air conditioning failed on an ex-Northern Pacific dome coach of eastbound Amtrak no. 6, the San Francisco Zephyr. As remedy, the crew opened the upper half door in the forward vestibule, and then blocked open the aisle door. The effect on temperature was perfect. The combination of weather, time of year, and the rich history of fast silver trains on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad rendered the experience transcendental. Moreover, no. 6, two hours late into Mount Pleasant, Iowa, ran like the winds and made up time until it was only one hour off the card 240 miles later in Chicago Union Station.
We tear up a tiny town at 85. Suddenly it's 1960, and we blow dust on an eight year old boy who sits on a curb by a crossing gate. Did he come to see us ? Here in this faraway time people still hail the trains, even as we overtake their automobiles racing alongside. I breathe fragrant smoke from grass fires, diesels, and brake shoes, but mostly I breathe spring, and understand why I am alive.
My father was a engineer on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. One of his runs was on the ACL "Champion." It ran from Tampa to New York. She had 1 GM A unit and 2 B units. The cars were bright stainless steel and the train was made up of day coaches and pullman cars. I loved to go with him to the Tampa depot because he would let me climb up on the seat box and hang out the window and pretend that I was running the engine. It was really a thrill.
I flagged the crossing at Fairmont Nebraska the day that the Zephyr came roaring through the town. Yes, I am still alive at 94, and going strong, I remember that day very well. I retired in 1972 after serving 46 years with the C.B.&Q.
I was raised in Joliet, Illinois. The Junction of the Rock Island,the GM&O, and the Santa Fe. All those chances to have my heart race and my imagination take me to places I was never able to see growing up poor in the 1950's. But thanks to the streamliners I was on my way to California on the Golden State or to Peoria on a Rocket or Springfield with the Abraham Lincoln. But the best, of course, was the thought of going all the way through the great American Southwest on the SANTA FE. In the early 60's I would get my high school cronies to go to the embankment north of town and watch the parade of those distinctive AT&SF War Bonnet painted streamlined engines thundering down to Joliet's Union Station. The Chief/SuperChief, the San Francisco Chief and the high level El Capitan came through on about 20-minute intervals all about dinner time every evening. How I wanted to be in those silver cars, especially riding in a dome. Watching the passenger cars in the dark of winter was especially effective.
Sugar Land, TX
In my younger days, I would travel with my mom every summer across the USA to visit relatives in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans. We would travel on the Southern Pacific/Union Pacific's City of San Francisco, or the Challenger Domeliner, or after taking the Daylight to Los Angeles, the Sunset Limited or, the Santa Fe's El Capitan. With its double-decker cars (the ancesters of todays Superliner cars), I would view the country and talk to the coach attendants and make new friends on the train. Back East, we would go on the Illinois Central's City of New Orleans from Chicago to New Orleans... I'll never forget passing through Mississippi on a hot summer in 1963. I must also mention the Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha trains, 4 per day from Chicago to Minneapolis-St Paul, and the Empire Builder, too! These were trains that fired this young boy's imagination... "the fun was truly in the going!" Today me and my wife are enjoying more vacations in by train: the San Diegans from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
My fascination with Streamliners began in the summer of '69.
My sister's girlfriend, 13 years my senior, rode me double on a bicycle to the train depot at Appleton Jct. We sat and waited for a short while, when suddenly in the distance, we could hear the faint sound of a train horn...It was Chicago and Northwestern's "Streamliner 400." As it approached, I could see its oscilating headlight bouncing off the telegraph poles and surrounding buildings...I was an awestruck little boy!!
I can remember the conductor's dark uniform and hat; a soldier returning home from service being reunited with his family. After the conductor gave the "hiball," the engineer gave two shorts blasts of the horn, and the train continued out of town for Green Bay.
It is a scene that has remined etched in my mind forever. My only wish, is that I could have been born earlier to experience the Streamliners when they were at their mecca.
T.J. Van Handel
I was so charmed by the broadcast that I had to call my daughter who had just had an awful Amtrak trip from Missouri to Denver (24 hrs. enroute). I rode the "other" Burlington Zephyr, I guess, when I was a kid; and always was completely awed when we changed trains deep inside a station in St. Paul or Chicago, and left the pretty darn special Northern Pacific North Coast Limited Vista Cruiser to sometimes board the SILVER trains waiting there in the mists!
The classic streamliner has survived here in Canada. Via Rail Canada uses substantially refurbished Budd-built streamliner equipment from the 1950s on the transcontinental "Canadian" between Toronto and Vancouver and also on the "Ocean" between Montreal and Halifax. These trains include dining cars, mid-train dome cars and the rear-end dome-lounge car, very similar to the original "California Zephyr." Some other routes operate with shorter trains, such as the overnight Toronto-Montreal service.
Watched your story on Budd's Streamliners. However I was very dissapointed that the B&M's Flying Yankee (1935) was not included in the story. Out of all the Zephyrs it is the only one that will be running and not a static display. Visit their site at www.flyingyankee.com.
You can still ride classic 1950s Budd-built Streamliners in Canada. 'VIA Rail Canada' operates the "Canadian" between Toronto and Vancouver, and the "Ocean" from Montreal to Halifax (as well as other service). Both these trains still have stainless-steel coaches, dome cars, sleeping cars, diners, and bringing up the rear is a Dome-Observation-Lounge car (just like the one that was on the California Zephyr).
There's nothing like viewing North America from a Dome Car on a Streamliner!
When I was a boy I lived in Chicago. My grandparents lived next to the Burlington tracks going out from Union Station. When we visited, I would frequently go to wave at the passenger trains as they went by. My favorite was the California Zephyr with all its dome cars. Once I got the chance to ride the California Zephyr from Chicago to Iowa. I was so excited to be able to ride up in the dome car. I never wanted that train ride to end.
I recall the Milwaulkee Road Hiawatha streamliners. My grandparents used to take me on the Morning Hiawatha from Chicago to the Wisconsin Dells on a day trip during the summer (taking the Evening Hiawatha back to Chicago).
I remember the parlor car and the end of the train, which was glassed-in like a greenhouse, and the dome car, where you could sit above the train and see the countryside, and the comfortable seats (sort of like the reclining seat on airplanes, but much more room between seats, and they had footrests, too!), and also there was a lounge at the ends of the coaches next to the restroom. The train was in an orange and yellow color scheme. The whole experience was real special.
My streamliner story goes back to the late 1940s when my family rode the C&O "Pere Marquettes" between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Actually we left Monroe, Michigan very early, either on the PRR "Red Arrow" (ending its run from NYC) or "The Sportsman," coming up from Newport, News,Virginia. At Detroit, or often Plymouth, Michigan we would change to the newest equipment in the country. After WWII, the C&O/PM Division was the first to start up new streamliner service... and Detroit-Grand Rapids went into service even before Chicago-Grand Rapids. As a child, having grown up near the railroad all my young life, this in a sense was not special, it was just the way it was... and of course trains were wonderful. Trains just "were" and always would be. After all, dad worked for the C&O... and the train was our favoured way to get to Grand Rapids. Even though over 50 years ago I can still remember the smooth glide of the Pere Marquettes..and off and on through 1967 I used the service.
I remember well the newness of the coaches, the comfort of the seats and the trips to the dining car. In 1951, in Lansing, one of my strongest memories at the depot (now Clara's Restaurant) was seeing a flag-draped casket being taken off the baggage car on a luggage truck... and I was told that a soldier had "come home" from Korea. It was winter... a record snow storm had hit Michigan... and we were "flying" on a bed of rails... west to Grand Rapids and my grandparents... snow was flying up from the speed of our streamliner... and all was well. "Streamliner" for this writer will always mean... The Pere Marquettes as Chessie's Railroad ran them.
James A. Oliver
I am a third-generation railroader, having worked for the Delaware and Hudson Railroad for the past 33 years.
I had the pleasure of riding the Rio Grande Zephyr in its waning years. Service was top-notch to the end of service, and the ride through the Rockies was probably the most colorful in the United States.
My fondest recollections are of the Lackawanna "Phoebe Snow" and "Lake Cities" trains and their beautiful maroon,grey and yellow equipment. The DL&W, and later the Erie Lackawanna were always the "Friendly Service Route," and were staffed with good people.
And the D&H "Laurentian" and later "Adirondack" with their classic ALCO PA locomotives, styled by the great Raymond Loewy were a short-lived but well-remembered return to the great days of the streamliners.
It's an era we will not see again. Passenger trains were land-cruise ships and their elegant way of transportation is too slow for today's get-there-now generation. A shame, for we lost so much.
All my grandparents lived in Mendota, IL. I grew up in a Chicago suburb where we had no train service. As I child, I couldn't wait to go to Mendota because every day, my grandfather(s) would take me to the depot to see the Zephyrs arrive. How glorious! I was a bit too young to see the articulated trains, but I have many a fond memory of the Denver & California Zephyrs. I especially remember the anticipation of awaiting the eastbound trains. It seemed you could hear the whistle forever as they approached. Passengers waiting to depart would hastily gather their belongings and move to the platform, while those awaiting their loved ones darted back and forth anticipating where to stand to greet their arrivals. Finally, the glistening silver vessel would appear around the curve approaching the depot. In several minutes, she was gone and I couldn't wait until next time!
Poplar Grove, IL
In the summer of 1962, our family drove from Philadelphia to Denver and back. While on that trip, we saw several Denver Zephyrs and California Zephyrs that were traveling westward and eastward. I believe that it was these images that inspired my father to take the family to California and back by train the very next summer. My grandfather, who had ridden these trains, spoke very highly of them. Thus in July, 1963, my father, mother, sister, and I boarded the Broadway Limited for Chicago, and the next day excitedly boarded the Denver Zephyr for Denver. After several days in Denver with relatives, we continued our journey to California on the California Zephyr. The most memorable part of the trip was the dome cars, where I spent most of my time. The views were spectacular, both day and night. I also remember the terrific food and the way the gentle motion of the train rocked me to sleep. In the process of crossing the country and back, we must have traveled on seven or eight different trains.
I was a boy of about 8 years, I had a silver Lionel train of engine and 3 cars, it was very streamlined for those days and it was my pride and joy. I would spend hours enjoying this treasure. I am now 71 years old. I forgot to mention it was an electric train.
Farmington Hills, MI
When I was five years old, my parents gave me my own vacation, away from older sister and new brother. I rode, by myself, from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg to visit my grandmother. My mother had prepared a small box with snacks and "busy stuff" for the trip. I used this when I wasn't looking out the window, which was quite exciting. My mother had asked a nice African-American couple to keep an eye on me.What an adventure! I believe I rode the train known as the Silver Meteor.
Martha J. Armstrong
St. Petersburg, FL
In 1975, I was driving southbound on US-66 in Illnois, just south of Dwight, when I saw the Amtrak Abraham Lincoln speed northbound, its dome car (originally used on the 1956 Denver Zephyr) right behind the locomotive. The speed and sleek stainless steel of the Abraham Lincoln made an unforgettable impression on me.
Mark E. Soper
I was on the Zephyr going from Lincoln, NE to McCook, NE when it was struck from the rear by a diesel freight. Killed 13 I think. My friend and I were lucky, but shook up. 12 hours late getting home. Rolled the observation car up like a sardine can.
I loved riding the California Zephyr! There were many memories of trips on that wonderful train but one of the best was arriving the first morning westbound in Denver at about 7:00 am. The train would be washed before pulling into Denver Union Station. During the stop there, fresh Rocky Mountain trout would be put aboard the diner for that evening's dinner. YUM! And then up into the Rockies you would go. Dinner that night was the delicious FRESH Rocky Mountain trout on a table covered with sparkling white linen cloth, served on beautiful china with heavy silver place settings...and a red carnation on each table. A wonderful memory that still makes me smile...and yearn for the days of elegant travel on the California Zephyr.
San Antonio, TX
About the same time the Burlington purchased its Zephyrs, the Boston and Maine bought one. It ran between Boston and Bangor, ME, Troy, NY, and White River Jct, VT. My father, a telegraph operator for B&M deadheaded on it many times. It was numbered 6000, and is currently being fully restored to its original operating condition, plus Amtrak Specs, at the Claremont Concord Railroad in Claremont, New Hampshire. Should be running again this summer/fall.
1965, my first train ride with my parents, I was 5 years old. We traveled to Glennwood Springs, CO from Chariton, IA. How exciting it was! I remember making new friends of other families traveling. We children were able to roam the train without fear or reprimand from our parents. We were safe. The dining car with the heavy silver and white table cloth and napkins. Wonderful food. The Moffat tunnel and the train wash in Denver. The train trip turned out to be an annual vacation for another 10 years. I still love to see trains to this day. I miss traveling by rail. We are planning a train journey this coming fall. I can hardly contain my excitement for the trip. The streamliner episode brought back many happy memories of train travel, but made me sad at the same time for things lost by the wayside. I hope train travel becomes popular again. We can not afford to lose the option of train travel.
I rode the streamlined "Sunset Limited" from Louisiana to Colton, California in 1957. A beautiful fifteen car Budd train powered by Alco Diesels, the Sunset operated from New Orleans to L.A. and was one of the great postwar streamliners. I remember eating in the Audubon Dining Car with my mom. She complained because we spent ten dollars for three meals in the course of a day. The Sunset had a French Quarter Lounge car for Pullman passengers. We were riding coach so we had to use the Pride of Texas coffee shop car instead. The cars on our train had fluted siding and the Southern Pacific took pride in making sure the cars were a matched set. By the late sixties,when we returned to California on the Sunset, the train had been reduced to a five car mixture of coaches and an automat car with mediocre food. The streamliner was gone.
Thad H. Carter
I grew up riding the trains, most often on my Mother's pass, and when the pass wasn't good enough, on the good graces of kindly Conductors. (In the fifties, a male employee of the railroad received a pass for himself and his family, while a woman employee received a pass for herself only.) My Mother, who in later years, would often say, "Now I'm not a Feminist, but I just want to get equal treatment with the men," often and loudly objected to the policy, and most often, the conductor would wink and let the whole family go.
In the waning days of the great passenger trains which you documented, I was now in college, and commuting daily from New Haven to Fairfield, CT via the remnants of the old NYNH&H. More often than not, I was riding on one of the old, WWII era cars, painted khaki, with no air conditioning, and with ceiling fans that hadn't worked in decades. My classmates and I used to joke that we should check the outside of the car for arrowheads. More often than I care to remember, the train died before getting to the station, and we walked the rest of the way, down the tracks.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
I rode the California Zephyr when I was 14 in 1968. Our family took the Santa Fe to Chicago to catch the Zephyr. Being Texans with little experience of snow and a family connection with trains this provided a wonderful chance to ride the best of them and experience the beauty of winter.
I remember the end of the streamliner era. As a small child in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I remember the Hiawathas and the Twin Cities 400, which in those days offered well-matched cars and fast running (for the record, 75 minutes to downtown Chicago). We also had an electric streamliner called the Electroliner which ran on city streets in Milwaukee and on the elevated Loop in Chicago.
All gone. The Electroliner stopped running early in 1963. The Twin Cities 400 quit in the middle of that year. The Hiawathas survived to Amtrak, but the running times got slower and the fancy observation cars disappeared. Today there is still train service between Milwaukee and Chicago, but the trains are neither as well-matched nor as fast as those streamliners.
I remember taking a ride on the California Zephyr between Glenwood Springs and Denver. Even after Amtrak came into existence the Denver & Rio Grande Western still operated the train between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah. The portion of the route I rode on is one of the most scenic wonders. It was in Glenwood Canyon that the inspiration for the Vista Dome car came into being.
Other canyons along the route were Gore Canyon, between State Bridge and Kremling, and Byers Canyon, between Parshall and Hot Sulphur Springs. There was also the openness of Middle Park where the mighty Colorado River begins. Then you come upon the Moffat Tunnel that goes under the Continental Divide. After 6 miles of darkness you come out on the headwaters of South Boulder Creek with more water added from a diversion tunnel that parallels the Moffat Tunnel. Between East Portal and Rollinsville, you travel across meadows and see summer cabins for people who want to get away from the city. After Pinecliffe, you are in another canyon. As South Boulder Creek cuts deeper, you are riding high above the canyon. You see a reservoir and a dam. Then the most spectacular view awaits. As the train rounds the corner out of the canyon, you get good views of the plains. If it is at night, you will see the lights of Boulder, then of Denver.
The last time I rode that train was in the Spring of 1978 on a class trip. I have ridden this route only once after that on an Amtrak Superliner. The Superliner does not convey the essence of the experience as did the Vista Dome cars of the original California Zephyr.
I rode the "Rio Grande Zephyr" several times in the 1970s. It ran from Salt Lake City to Denver and continued to operate for several years after the "California Zephyr" was discontinued. It used the same equipment as the CZ. Riding in a dome car across the Rockies is something that will stay in my memory for a long time. It's a fantastic way to see the country. What a tragedy that we allowed the great trains with their dome cars, sections, roomettes, dining cars and other "perks" to slip into oblivion. Modern day America is a dream-come-true for the auto, highway, oil, and airline lobbyists! They couldn't have manipulated public policy into their favor any better. Excellent show, by the way!
I remember paying the ticket tax 10%! Which was added to the general tax fund. Then along with trust funds was spent on highways and airports! Billions and billions on highways and just about nothing for Amtrak (and it shows) makes me sick!We've got to change this! Yes, I liked the show, but you should have explained the California Zephyr is changed, but still runs. I ride it often! Often it's sold out, and I'm turned away! It's been that way for twenty plus years now.
My Mother nicknamed me "The Train Lady" for even as a babe in arms each and every summer starting in 1947, we would board the train in Sidney, Ohio, and embark on our yearly adventure to visit my parents nearest family - the closest in Atlanta, GA stopping to visit in various cities. Reboarding we would migrate to Jacksonville, FL eventually returning to Sidney. Each year as I matured, the "Train Ride" offered new life lessons...When I was three sleep overtook me, I snuggled up to the armrest and my head promptly became wedged underneath. My saviour was an Army soldier returning home from post war duty in Germany -- his first visit home to meet "his" 3-year old daughter. During the ensuing years I practiced my best Emily Post manners while eating in the dining car -- hand in your lap, please and thank you all while the train went throught long, dark tunnels or around curves.
I came in the tail end of the streamliners, being born in the mid-fifties. My streamliner was the Hiawatha, a swath of yellow. I took a short ride on it when I was about 7 with my grandmother. Since then I have been in love with them -- the ride, the relaxation, the dining car, seeing the country glide by. My grandmother exposed me somewhat to the Santa Fe Streamliners: the Super Chief, Chief, El Capitan. They were the cream of the crop from everything I hear. I never had a chance to ride them. We have lost something in losing the streamliners -- they give us a sense of what is best in us as well as giving us a connection to our world, something airlines can NEVER do!
I remember the stories my father used to tell me about the route of the 400. He would tell my brothers and me about working summers on the Milwaukee Road and how he would place torpedoes on the track so he could catch a ride to the cities on the weekends to see my mother. I remember the Depot, the smell and the announcement to board as a little boy. I remember being called to dinner in the dining car. It's too bad it had to end! Are we better off without them? I should think not.