Remembering the Golden Age that Preceded Amtrak

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jphjaxfl

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The "Golden Age" is quite subjective. Some might say it ended, when automobiles started proliferating with the Ford Model 'T" in the early 20th century...others might say when the airliner's carried more passenger's around the early sixties or so...
But some railroads maintained quality service right up to the end, such as the Santa Fe, and a few others, that were still investing in new rolling stock as late as 1965, and new locomotives even later. Even the much maligned Penn Central introduced Metroliner's and Turbo Trains...
 

Ziv

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The first train trip I remember is the time my Dad took me from Glasgow MT to Seattle on the Builder in 1973 or 1974. It was an Amtrak train but it still kind of felt like a GN one. I think there were still mountain goats on the inside some of cars.
My Dad was a Burlington Northern brakeman and the Builder crew treated him like a VIP, which this kid was impressed with. And the porter was a very cool, very service oriented black gentleman. My Dad was a UTU member and possibly a shop steward by that time and he told me I was to call the porter Mr. “Smith”. I think this might have been shortly after the black porters union joined the white union but I am not sure.
And the dining car food was delicious!
It was simply a phenomenal trip!

Rising from the Rails. A story of the Pullman and the history of the black men that worked on the railroad sleeping cars is on PBS KCET Television Saturday eve in Los Angeles. I'm looking forward to it. My first trip on a train was in 1942. Sacramento to Seattle. I was 4 1/2 I don't remember a lot, I do remember the porters

Just as well give a shout out to those United D.C. 7s I worked for United back in those days and that was the first plane I ever flew in. A short hop from Burbank to LAX, short but exciting for me.
 
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BCL

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I'd note that passenger operations probably lost money overall for the major railroads, but it was still a prestige operation. And of course they were obligated to provide passenger rail in exchange for a lot of the benefits they got - especially the power of eminent domain.

The major railroads were crucial in developing our national parks. Union Pacific had the Utah Parks Company division that built lodging at Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Cedar Breaks NM.


The Old Faithful Inn was built by the Yellowstone Park Company, that was part of the Northern Pacific Railway. ATSF bought the Grand Canyon Railway and finished the line to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. BNSF even has a page on this since they absorbed the NP and ATSF

Going west: How BNSF predecessors helped shape America’s national parks
 

Willbridge

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I'd note that passenger operations probably lost money overall for the major railroads, but it was still a prestige operation. And of course they were obligated to provide passenger rail in exchange for a lot of the benefits they got - especially the power of eminent domain.

The major railroads were crucial in developing our national parks. Union Pacific had the Utah Parks Company division that built lodging at Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Cedar Breaks NM.


The Old Faithful Inn was built by the Yellowstone Park Company, that was part of the Northern Pacific Railway. ATSF bought the Grand Canyon Railway and finished the line to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. BNSF even has a page on this since they absorbed the NP and ATSF

Going west: How BNSF predecessors helped shape America’s national parks
If you run across them at a book sale, Professor Al Runte has written well about railroads and the national parks.
 

Willbridge

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The first train trip I remember is the time my Dad took me from Glasgow MT to Seattle on the Builder in 1973 or 1974. It was an Amtrak train but it still kind of felt like a GN one. I think there were still mountain goats on the inside some of cars.
My Dad was a Burlington Northern brakeman and the Builder crew treated him like a VIP, which this kid was impressed with. And the porter was a very cool, very service oriented black gentleman. My Dad was a UTU member and possibly a shop steward by that time and he told me I was to call the porter Mr. “Smith”. I think this might have been shortly after the black porters union joined the white union but I am not sure.
And the dining car food was delicious!
It was simply a phenomenal trip!
As I've bragged shamelessly about before, my first "real" train ride -- excluding streetcars and interurbans -- was on the Union Pacific pool trains on a round-trip between Portland and Seattle in 1952 or 1953 with my family. It was raining. Lunch northbound and dinner southbound in the Astra-Dome diner. Permission to have a peak in the galley, where some of my schoolmates' fathers worked culinary miracles. From the family car we had watched Train 457 departing Portland (via the Steel Bridge and Albina Yards in those days) after dropping off my dad for his monthly business trip to Seattle. It was a thrill to finally be on that train and notice how the crew greeted him by name and with respect (probably treated all their regulars with respect, but as a little kid I focused on small things).

As my K-8 grade school was in a neighborhood only a couple of miles from the yards, there were kids who showed us their passes. My friend Paul had a pass good on any UP train out of Portland except for the Streamliner. His dad was a claim agent. Donna's father was an SP brakeman and she had a pass good only on Trains 19/20, the Klamath. I doubt whether their parents approved of them bringing them to show and tell!
 

jpakala

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The C&NW's Dakota 400 was nice, as were the IC's Land O-Corn and the Hawkeye and PRR's The Pittsburgher (all-Pullman to NY overnight). The dome sleepers of the NP's North Coast Limited and the observation car at the rear were great, but one of the best was the Olympian Hiawatha's Skytop Lounge. The parlor version of that you still can enjoy when the Friends of the 261 run it from Chicago to St. Paul on the rear of the Empire Builder.
 

MARC Rider

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It seems amazing now that you could budget $10 for a night at a hotel and $6 for an entire day's meals.
Not if you followed the advice in this book:
Europe on 5 Dollars a Day (Reproduction of Original Printing): Arthur Frommer: 9780470165645: Amazon.com: Books

OK, by the 1970s, I think the book was titled, 'Europe on $10 a day," but you get the idea. Even in 1980 I was staying in motels that were less than $20 a night, admittedly more or less 1-star places, but they were clean and the heat and plumbing worked fine.
 

Bob Dylan

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In Jan of 1982, my Late Wife and I left Vancouver for a Winter Vaction in Puerto Vallarta, intending to spend 3 weeks in the Sun!

The Peso collapsed thanks to the Corrupt Mexican Government,( Lopez Portillo) and all the Banks closed and the President confiscated all the Dollars held in Accounts.

Things were incredibly cheap for Tourists that had US Dollars, including Hotels,Food,Alcohol etc.

We ended up spending 5 Months there and only spent a little over $1,000 including riding Trains in Pullmans all over Mexico, with Fares in the Range of $40 for a Bedroom from Guadalajara to Mexico City.

Our Flights were Charter and already paid for, in those days you could fly from Canada to the Tropics much cheaper than you could fly to Mexico from Texas.

Best deal of my life, including staying in Thailand for several weeks when Asia was still an incredible bargain!🥰
 

Bob Dylan

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Not if you followed the advice in this book:
Europe on 5 Dollars a Day (Reproduction of Original Printing): Arthur Frommer: 9780470165645: Amazon.com: Books

OK, by the 1970s, I think the book was titled, 'Europe on $10 a day," but you get the idea. Even in 1980 I was staying in motels that were less than $20 a night, admittedly more or less 1-star places, but they were clean and the heat and plumbing worked fine.
I used to use those books when I traveled all over Latin America and Asia!
 

Bob Dylan

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I hope you didn't use "Europe on $5 a day" when you were in Latin America or Asia. :)
I read those Europe books and day dreamed of doing Europe on the Cheap,but by the time I could go it had had become Expensive and I had grown too old to back pack it and hitch hike!😄

Except for Ireland,France,the British Isles and and Italy, I have no desire to visit Europe!
 

Willbridge

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I read those Europe books and day dreamed of doing Europe on the Cheap,but by the time I could go it had had become Expensive and I had grown too old to back pack it and hitch hike!😄

Except for Ireland,France,the British Isles and and Italy, I have no desire to visit Europe!
My first trip to Europe was in a C-141 Starlifter flown by New Jersey air reservists. You can't get much cheaper than that 10-abreast seating.

In the U.S. Army I knew some guys who bought those guides because they could meet American and Canadian girls in the places recommended. It WAS pretty funny, being on a train where it seemed that no one spoke English and then picking up a gaggle of Eurailpass travelers chatting away in diverse U.S. accents.
 

Palmland

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Does the present SWC go from CHI-LA in 40 hours?
I always enjoy seeing that video and other old travel films. You wonder who their script writer was with the stilted language. But it’s a bit depressing to compare the features on the Super Chief with Amtrak. About the only thing I can think of that’s improved are the showers in all bedrooms and better visibility from the superliner windows.
 

Larry H.

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My Grandfather and I were on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago the week they announced they were turning over the passenger business to Amtrak. The train it self was in wonderful condition with striking paintings on the walls representing the west. The diner with its etched glass panels between some parts of the car was a wonder to see. The food was still fine, the on board service as well. However even though it still ran with five pullmans, first class lounges, coach lounge, ect. the train had a pretty small amount of customers. It might have been due to the fact they were claiming sold out rooms or seats when the train was near empty..All to make it look like passengers didn't want to ride it any longer. That isn't speculation it was confirmed by the officer for the railroad who's wife told us they were told no rooms either but finally got got one the day of the departure. We had called down from Vancouver after going from Toronto there and decided to return in the States after three days on the CN.. The ticket agent in Vacouver tried three times to get us a reservation with room and was told it was sold out every time.. Finally he told us to go on down to A town I forget the name of now, and that the train would come though shortly after we arrived there. He said if we ask the conductor he would most likely get is a room on the train which is how we finally got on it. I think the best part of a trip in those days was that the trains were there own distinctive interiors and exterior paint jobs that made you really feel like it was a special event. Now no matter the name its the same basically boring interiors so the names mean nothing much.
 
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Palmland

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I do remember sitting in the front of the dome car and watching the trees roll by and spotting one slightly startled moose look up at the locomotive and slowly trot off into the woods.
While the SSL cars are great for viewing both sides of the tracks, I do miss the forward views described here. On a trip on the Canadian a few years ago I spent too much time in the dome watching the signals change and meeting other trains. Even at night it was mesmerizing to see the headlight piercing the darkness and small towns coming into view.

Perhaps if Amtrak orders new sleepers using the single level Siemens design, they’ll make a few ‘real’ dome cars too, at least for the scenic western routes. Although I suspect ADA rules would make it difficult.
 
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Willbridge

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While the SSL cars are great for viewing both sides of the tracks, I do miss the forward views described here. On a trip on the Canadian a few years ago I spent too much time in the dome watching the signals change and meeting other trains. Even at night it was mesmerizing to see the headlight piercing the darkness and small towns coming into view.

Perhaps if Amtrak orders new sleepers using the single level Siemens design, they’ll make a few ‘real’ dome cars too, at least for the scenic western routes. Although I suspect ADA rules would make it difficult.
As I've mentioned, I'm old enough to have enjoyed numerous dome rides (UP, SP&S, NP, GN, CP) but the most memorable was from Staples to Minneapolis on the North Coast Limited. I had awoken to watch the connecting RDC for Duluth and decided to stay awake on the run into the Twin Cities. We had been half an hour late at Jamestown as farewells were said for the last RPO run eastbound. Now we were on double track with CTC making up time.

There was one other passenger in the dome, also watching the signals flashing as we overtook freights. I knew him from the street in downtown Portland, where he sold newspapers. We talked a bit and I learned that he had been saving to make a life-long dream trip "back East" -- I think it was to Chicago. Like me, he was too excited to sleep. It was my first trip to Chicago, too. We arrived in Minneapolis on time.

I was off at Minneapolis to watch Milwaukee Road Train 16 come in and to get some photos of the innovative Tyrone Guthrie Theater before catching the Morning Zephyr. As it turned out, I never saw my acquaintance again and I realized that I had not asked him if he had a round-trip ticket. And I never saw NP Train 25 or 26 again.
 

alanh

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This last weekend I hiked the abandoned AT&SF grade between Williams and Ash Fork, AZ. This is the original 1882 line that was abandoned in 1960 after the mainline was rerouted to the north. It has a maximum grade of 2.6%. After the line was double-tracked it was used for westbound (downhill) trains. The eastbound track took a different route with an easier grade. That track is still in service to connect Phoenix to the mainline at Williams Jct.

The main sight on the hike is the Johnson Canyon tunnel. It's still in great shape. The steel roof was installed in 1898 after a fire destroyed the timber roof.

20211120_123148.jpg 20211120_124238.jpg

This was the WB route of the Super Chief for almost all of its existence. I also found a film by Morrison-Knudson about the construction of the 1960 reroute.
 
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