California Zephyr

In the Oxford dictionary you will find the following explanation for the word Zephyr. West Wind also a soft gentle breeze. All this and more is true about the California Zephyr a transcontinental express train from Chicago westward all the way to San Francisco. A train not made for speed but for the enjoyment of some of Americas most spectacular scenery, including the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Salt Lake Desert and the Feather River Canyon.

History and predecessors

The first known Zephyr was in fact a three car RDC built by Budd for the Burlington and being put into service in the early 1930s. It was simply called Zephyr. On various demonstration runs all over the country it made history for the Rio Grande too, when it opened Dotsero Cutoff and Moffat Tunnel in 1934. It was beat by Union Pacific as being the first streamliner train by a week, as UP commissioned its M-10000 three car integrated unit called City of Salina.
Nevertheless, the concept was a sensational success and soon the Burlington begann to introduce more Zephyrs like the Twin Zephyrs, the Mark Twain Zephyr and the Denver Zephyr. Soon the shovel nosed three car untis proved to be too small and a fourth car was added. Still the demand soared and finally the train concept was handed over to Diesel locomotives in the early 1940s.
But lets go back to 1939, the year of the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. For this occasion a new train was introduced called the Exposition Flier. This train basically followed the routing of the California Zephyr of the years to come. From the start, the train was not meant as a fast connection but rather a scenic one, arranging the schedule so as to not miss out on any of the good spots. The train was a huge success.

The various Zephyrs also continued to evolve. The first Dome cars were added in 1945 - the year which saw the completion of talks between Rio Grande, Western Pacific and Burlington for operating a new Exposition Flier called the California Zephyr.
The same year a massive order went out to Budd to build and furnish the cars - in all six 10 car trains were ordered by the railroads, plus one more car ordered by the Pennsylvania for through service from New York to Oakland.
In 1947 the order was revised to 11 car trains plus additional equipment. After initial success of the train another batch of cars was purchased in 1952. The line up was as follows:
 

 

Chicago Burlington and Quincy

 

 

Car Number

Car Name

Car Type

First batch purchased in 1947:

 

 

193

Silver Cafe

Diner

194

Silver Diner

Diner

195

Silver Restaurant

Diner

250

Silver Club

Vista Dome (Buffet, Lounge, Dormitory)

251

Silver Lounge

Vista Dome (Buffet, Lounge, Dormitory)

252

Silver Roundup

Vista Dome (Buffet, Lounge, Dormitory)

375

Silver Horizon

Vista Dome Observation

376

Silver Penthouse

Vista Dome Observation

377

Silver Solarium

Vista Dome Observation

400

Silver Maple

Sleeper (16 Section)

401

Silver Larch

Sleeper (16 Section)

423

Silver Point

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

424

Silver Shore

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

425

Silver Butte

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

426

Silver Cliff

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

427

Silver Falls

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

428

Silver Valley

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

716

Silver Bridle

Vista Dome Chair Car

717

Silver Lodge

Vista Dome Chair Car

718

Silver Lariat

Vista Dome Chair Car

719

Silver Ranch

Vista Dome Chair Car

720

Silver Rifle

Vista Dome Chair Car

721

Silver Saddle

Vista Dome Chair Car

722

Silver Stirrup

Vista Dome Chair Car

903

Silver Bear

Baggage

904

Silver Buffalo

Baggage

905

SilverCoyote

Baggage

Second batch purchased in 1952:

 

 

378

Silver Lookout

Vista Dome Observation

402

Silver Cedar

Sleeper (16 Section)

429

Silver Craig

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

430

Silver Chasm

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

450

Silver Dove

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 5 Compartment)

451

Silver Quaile

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 5 Compartment)

452

Silver Thrush

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 5 Compartment)

 

Denver & Rio Grande Western

 

 

Car Number

Car Name

Car Type

First batch purchased in 1947:

 

 

1100

Silver Antelope

Baggage Car

1105

Silver Bronco

Vista Dome Chair Car

1106

Silver Colt

Vista Dome Chair Car

1107

Silver Mustang

Vista Dome Chair Car

1108

Silver Pony

Vista Dome Chair Car

1115

Silver Banquet

Diner

1120

Silver Aspen

Sleeper (16 Section)

1121

Silver Pine

Sleeper (16 Section)

1130

Silver Pass

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

1131

Silver Summit

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

1132

Silver Gorge

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

1133

Silver Creek

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

1134

SilverGlacier

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

1140

Silver Shop

Vista Dome Buffet Lounge

1145

Silver Sky

Vista Dome Observation

Second batch purchased in 1952:

 

 

1135

Silver Gull

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 5 Compartment)


 

Pennsylvania RR

 

 

Car Number

Car Name

Car Type

Purchased in 1947:

 

 

8449

Silver Rapids

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)


 

Deli

Western Pacific

 

 

Car Number

Car Name

Car Type

First batch purchased in 1947:

 

 

801

Silver Beaver

Baggage

802

Silver Stag

Baggage

811

Silver Dollar

Vista Dome Chair Car

812

Silver Feather

Vista Dome Chair Car

813

Silver Palace

Vista Dome Chair Car

814

Silver Sage

Vista Dome Chair Car

815

Silver Schooner

Vista Dome Chair Car

816

Silver Scout

Vista Dome Chair Car

817

Silver Thistle

Vista Dome Chair Car

831

Silver Chalet

Vista Dome Buffet Lounge

832

Silver Hostel

Vista Dome Buffet Lounge

841

Silver Plate

Diner

842

Silver Platter

Diner

861

Silver Arroyo

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

862

Silver Canyon

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

863

Silver Mountain

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

864

Silver Palisade

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

865

Silver Range

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

866

Silver Bay

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

867

Silver Surf

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 10 Roomette)

871

Silver Palm

Sleeper (16 Section)

872

Silver Poplar

Sleeper (16 Section)

881

Silver Crescent

Vista Dome Observation

882

Silver Planet

Vista Dome Observation

Second batch purchased in 1952:

 

 

851

Silver Crane

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 5 Compartment)

852

Silver Swallow

Sleeper (6 Double Bedroom, 5 Compartment)

veries of these stainless steel cars begann in 1948. Whilst the cars where arriving one by one, they were placed on the Exposition Flier until the entire fleet would be available for operating the California Zephyr.

Meanwhile preplanning continued to be an important matter, especially as far as schedules was concerned. Great effort was made to arrange passage through the Rocky Mountains and Feather River Canyon during daylight hours. This meant compromise to speed, making the planned duration from Chicago to Oakland 10 hours longer than UP Sp City of San Francisco.

Final passage time on the California Zephyr would be 51 hours. Eastbound departure from Ogden would be late morning putting passage of Feather River at noon and the Rocky Mountains during the next day. Westbound from Chicago would depart 3 in the afternoon and be at Dnver in the early morning for the Rocky Mountains. The Salt Lake Desert would be passed during late night and the early risers would enjoy Feather River.

Operations

The first California Zephyr finally departed Chicago on October 26th 1948. This train was only a test train however, set out to prove the schedule. During the first part of 1949 cars from the train were exhibited to the public. On March 20th 1949 the first California Zephyr departed Oakland for its inaugural run as train number 18. A few hours later train number 17 westbound departed Chicago on its first revenue run.

The Rio Grande had painted a set of Alco PA-PB locomotives in silver and orange, the California Zephyr colors, but the paintscheme aswell as the fact that Alco locomotives would haul the Zephyr on the Rio Grande was short lived. Soon the EMD untis took over again.

F3s were also the power for the Burlington, even though later that was changed to sleek Es.

Needless to say, that riding on the train was a true luxury. All imaginable comforts were present:
A lounge observation at the end of the train, a dining car, dome cars and a buffet lounge. More than 32 persons worked on board the train and often times the train was referred to as a rolling city. There were cooks, cleaners, mechanics and stewardesses which were called Zephyrettes.

To top things off, when the train deprated the Salt Lake desert westbound it slowed to a crawl and rolled through a high pressure train wash, so that the windows (of the dome cars) would be clean to enjoy the Feather River Canyon and the train would arrive at Oakland looking nice and clean.

The scenery to be seen was breathtaking: Byers Canyon, Gore Canyon, Glenwood Canyon, Ruby Canyon and Feather River. The train also passed over the famous Keddie Wye, a bridge high above a canyon, where two main lines meet on the bridge.

Evolution

By 1957 the railroad companies were giving serious thought to revamping the entire setup and making it more modern. Several options were considered:
Updating the interior, arranging for a cheaper way of night accomodation (slumber cars) and converting Section Sleeper Cars to Compartment Sleeper Cars.

Western Pacific by the time was facing serious financial problems and was not ready to spend a lot of money. Ridership also decreased, as the airplane was taking away many passengers.

All that finally happened was, that the interiour got restyled in parts, and that the Section Sleeper Cars disappeared to later on reemerge as Coach Cars.
The Buffet cars got equipped with facilities to serve hot meals as the Dining cars were often overcrowded.

In the 1960s things started to decline for the Zephyr financially. Still there were no major cutbacks as far as service was concerned until the very end. By 1965 financially hard pressed Western Pacific was seeking to abandon the train, whilst the Burlington was fighting hard to keep it alive. To keep WP from killing off the train, more money from the fares was given to the railroad.

From 1966 onward the train became a loss maker despite reasonably high ridership.

Western Pacific was not convinced in the future of the train and filed a request with the ICC for discontinuing the California Zephyr in 1967. The ICC ordered to continue the train for at least one year and to try and salvage the train, by carrying U.S. mail for revenue, seeking State aid e.t.c..

In 1968 the WP again filed for discontinuance. By now the Burlington was also opting to discontinue as the competition by aircraft was strong and the cost of operation for the train was high. The same year there were two accidents involving the California Zephyr, one derailment at Tabernash and a rockslide at Glenwood Canyon also resulting in a derailment.

Again the ICC ordered another year of operations as none of the suggestions that had been made to make the train profitable again had been seriously followed.

1969 again saw application for discontinuance by Western Pacific and the Rio Grande, ironically the same year that Southern Pacific applied to discontinue the City of San Francisco.
Finally permission was granted for Western Pacific to discontinue its leg and for the Rio Grande to cut service to tri wekly.
The last through California Zephyr was run in March 1970. From then on the triweekly service went from Chicago to Salt Lake City and then Ogden where passengers would change onto the City of San Francisco, which was still operating.

Service was on the decline as baggage was not checked through anymore, connections were poor and riding time was increased by 6 hours. Some cars were taken off the train. The name of the train was changed, the Burlington called it California Service from now on and the Rio Grandes name was Rio Grande Zephyr.

Finally in 1971 Amtrak appeared on the scene and was very interested in providing a Chicago - San Francisco service using the Burlington, Rio Grande and Southern Pacific routes. But the Rio Grande declined. They had passenger trains of their own and they were not thrilled at the idea of paying 1.6 million dollars entry fee for Amtrak.

The Rio Grande Zephyr was continued but it was no transcontinental train. In the end, the Rio Grande Zephyr ended at Salt Lake City and the only connection to Ogden would be by bus.

 

 

It would be years until after the Rio Grande merged with Southern Pacific and Amtrak appeared on the tracks of the Moffat Route with two trains: The Desert Wind and . . . the California Zephyr. Whilst the Desert Wind is history by now, the California Zephyr lives on.

 

 

Last Update: Mar 1st 2008

Animated Flags by 3D Flags.com

BuiltWithNOF

California Zephyr