Historic Dining Cars of the Santa Fe Railroad

In the course of thirty years or less since the first tracks were laid, dining cars appeared on the western frontier railroads.. Thirty years is not necessarily a short time span but the changes that occurred in the American West and it’s railroads during this period were absolutely astounding.

santa fe railroad dining car

Santa Fe Railroad's famous Cochiti Dining Car

The period from about 1850 and the end of the nineteenth century saw some of the most dramatic changes in railroad travel, particularly travel in the western United States. One of those changes was the introduction of the dining car. People today are still able to enjoy railroad dining whether on Amtrak cross country trains or scenic tourist railroads with their one day adventures.  It’s a way to experience a piece of American history from the days of great national expansion when the railroad meant everything for a town to grow and prosper.

The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Dining Cars

Fred Harvey and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad were legendary for their top quality service. Fred Harvey was so successful in managing the AT & SF rail side eateries and hotels that the railroad asked him to put his magic to work on their planned dining cars. To Fred Harvey, this was not ideal. Harvey initially didn’t feel that the same level of quality could be served up on a moving train car.

santa fe railroad dining car kitchen

Santa Fe Railroad Cochiti Dining Car kitchen

Since the 1880’s, dining cars became standard offerings on cross country trains heading west from Chicago. The AT& SF relied on the string of Harvey Houses along it’s route. In fact, these Harvey Houses were strategically located to accommodate passengers during meal hours.

To put this in some perspective, railroads without the Fred Harvey eateries along their route put their passengers through quite an ordeal. At a stop, railroad passengers might have had up to one hour to find the nearest roadhouse to the train tracks and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the best sometimes wasn’t good. The fact that there was enormous room for improvement  is what gave Fred Harvey his early inspiration.

The Fred Harvey customers usually were aware of one trademark of the Harvey dining rooms. Harvey’s meals were served in sumptuous portions that provided a good value for the traveling public. All of a sudden railroad dining reached a new higher level. Top quality food and service and the AT& SF naturally scenic train routes were a winning combination.

santa fe railroad dining car china

AT & SF Railroad dining car china and place settings

Those wanting to get a hold of some of the old Harvey House recipes might look for the book, The Harvey House Cookbook by George H. Foster. The book includes vintage recipes from the various Harvey Houses and the AT & SF railway cars. The book includes over 200 recipes.

Pictured in this article is the 36 seat “Cochiti” dining car of the Achison Topeka& Santa Fe Railroad.

This rail car was a new streamlined stainless steel car that was part of the railroad’s famous “Super Chief” train that offered once a week service between Chicago Illinois and Los Angeles California.

This dining car and seven others were ordered by the railroad in 1936. All of the AT&SF cars were named after Native Indian tribes. The Cochiti was named after the Indian pueblo of Cochiti about thirty miles southwest of Santa Fe New Mexico. This is also a good destination to add to your New Mexico vacation planner.

santa fe railroad mimbres salt and pepper shaker

Mimbres designed salt and pepper shaker from Santa Fe Railroad. Exhibit at frisco Texas Heritage Museum

The Cochiti Dining Car On Display

The Cochiti dining car has been preserved and is on display at the famous California State Railroad Museum located in Old Town Sacramento California. When you explore the interior of this dining car you can view the kitchen area and all the tables have been set with china and silverware. This is one of the most authentic rail car displays you’ll come across. This particular dining car has been set to it’s mid 1940’s condition. If your travels take you to Sacramento California you’ll want to add a stop at Old Town and the California State Railroad Museum to your trip planner.

Railroad dining cars today are quite different than the earlier cars in basic design. The Cochiti dining car was a one level rail car where the kitchen area was on one end of the car with the dining tables occupying the remainder. You might have a kitchen area with bar stools and then the table beyond. On today’s Amtrak bi-level rail cars, you have the dining booths taking up most of the upper level with the kitchen area being on the lower level. Food is sent up via a dumbwaiter.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Legendary Union Pacific Big Boy Locomotive

Historic Steam Locomotive Exhibits

Also, see our Western Trips article and visit to a restored Pullman Rail Car…

The Pullman Car and What It Did For Travel

at & sf railroad mimbres china

Mimbres design cup and saucer at and sf railroad dining car

View Santa Fe Railroad Dining Car Fine China

If your travels take you to the Dallas/Fort Worth Texas region you’ll find an excellent railroad museum with terrific exhibits in Frisco Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas.

The founding of Frisco Texas, it’s strong connection with the Misouiri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, the MKT, and life in an early frontier environment is all presented in fine detail at the Frisco Heritage Museum. You’ll also see a good collection of railroad dining car china including china from the Santa Fe Railroad. The original railroad china was made available to the public in two sales held in 1971.

Among their collections is china that was used on the Santa Fe Railroad’s “Super Chief ” dining cars. During railroad’s golden years, most railroads had their own distinctive designs used on everything from plates, cups, towels, playing cards and just about anything the passenger would regularly use. The Pullman cars which usually operated as a franchise managed by the Pullman Palace Car Company also had their names and logos on many items.

pullman car dinner plate

Original Pullman Car Dinner Plate

The Santa Fe Railroad adopted the southwest and Indian cultures as a major way the rest of the country would view their railroad. This was also included on the designs for their dining car china.

This type of china was used on AT & SF Railroad dining cars right up until passenger service was discontinued in 1971.The china featured in this article was produced exclusively for the AT & SF Railroad from 1936 to 1970 by the Onandaga Pottery Company. Today, authentic pieces like the ones displayed here are considered quite rare.

Original railroad dining car china is a popular artifact for collectors. Today, reproductions which claim the same high quality are offered by several companies. Collectors would want to verify production methods, etc before purchasing any reproduction china.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Texas Railroads and Historic U.S. Train Depots

When the American railroads were expanding during the latter part of the nineteenth century, Texas was in an ideal position. It was also growing rapidly and had plenty of available land. The last half of our article lists several historic train depots in Texas and the west that make excellent trip stops.

waxahachie texas katy depot

Waxahachie Texas train depot

Historic Texas Train Depots

When you research the golden days of railroading you’ll come to recognize that the state of Texas might of had the largest number of different railroads crossing it’s borders.

Texas railroads were numerous as were the train depots servicing them. Just as with the case of railroad towns all across the country, railroads came and went and many merged together. Fortunately, a good number of these historic train stations still exist in Texas as they do around the entire country.

The Katy Flyer

One of the historic railroads that came down from the north into Texas was the MKT, commonly referred to as the Katy. This was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. In fact the Katy was the first railroad to come down into Texas from the north. Waxahachie Texas was on the main line of the Katy Flyer, a very popular named rail route which ran from St. Louis Missouri to Galveston Texas. The entire journey was made in thirty-seven hours.

mkt caboose

M-K-T Caboose

The Katy Flyer offered buffet sleeper cars for those passengers who chose to have meals aboard the train. The other option was to take meals at the MKT eateries located in some select stops such as Dallas. In some ways this mirrored the arrangement Fred Harvey had with the Santa Fe Railroad. The MKT Katy Flyer operated over this route for decades lasting all the way to 1961.

The Rock Island

The last of the Rock Island passenger trains to travel through Waxahachie and utilize the depot was the Sam Houston Zephyr. This was the BRI route connecting Fort Worth Texas and Houston which started service in 1936. The year 1936 also saw the large Texas Centennial celebrations throughout the state. Travel time on the new streamlined Sam Houston Zephyr was originally five hours with only four stops along the way, Waxahachie being one of them. Because of declining profits and competition from automobiles and airlines the Sam Houston Zephyr discontinued service in 1966.

gallup train depot interior

Gallup train depot interior

Texas Railroading Heading West

Anyone who has spent time researching the history of specific railroads will understand that mergers and acquisitions were commonplace. There were a great number of situations where very small lines were chartered to build rail lines over perhaps a few hundred miles. Over the years and in some cases in only a few years these lines merged with other larger railroads and these as well were acquired by even larger railroads. The southern branch of the Katy Railroad was primarily made up of several of these smaller lines being acquired.

Geographically, Texas, by reason of it’s size, was a crossroads for railroads for two main reasons. The state was growing steadily and passenger service was in demand to cities such as Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The second reason was that efforts were made from Texas to build a southern transcontinental route to either Los Angeles or San Diego. Such an effort was begun by the old Texas Pacific Railroad which ultimately ended with the Southern Pacific route from Los Angeles to New Orleans via El Paso, San Antonio and Houston.

train depot lamy new mexico

Lamy New Mexico train depot serving Santa Fe

As you travel around Texas you’ll have the opportunity to explore many historic train stations from railroad’s golden age.

While the Denver and Fort Worth Railroad put Amarillo on the map,other railroads were building into Amarillo Texas. Mergers and acquisitions took place and eventually the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad was completed.

By 1910, a rail line was built from Amarillo west to the New Mexico border. The Rock Island would eventually run to Tucumcari New Mexico where it would join up with a Southern Pacific line and offer through service from Chicago to the west coast. This line would be in direct competition with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad at that time.

santa fe railroad amarillo train depot

Old Santa Fe Railroad depot, Amarillo Texas

Eventually the transcontinental routes to the west coast comprised the southern route with the Southern Pacific Railroad at the helm, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe (Santa Fe Railroad) with it’s general southwest route from Chicago through New Mexico and northern Arizona into Los Angeles. The Union Pacific route from Chicago through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada ending in the San Francisco Bay area and the northern route which ran out of Minneapolis/St. Paul to Seattle and built by the Northern Pacific Railway.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

Railroads in Texas / The Frisco

A Tour of an Historic Pullman Car

The Famous U. P. Big Boy Steam Locomotive

Visit Luling Texas / Railroads, Oil and Watermelons

Surviving Historic Trail Depots Around the U.S.

Many of the old train depots today that have survived have been taken over by historical societies and cities and towns themselves. Some serve as excellent museums with artifacts and photos of the old passenger trains that visited. Some others are a combination of both, serving as museums and trains stations served by Amtrak.

tucson arizona train depot

Old Southern Pacific train station, Tucson Arizona

Below is just a small sample of historic train stations that have survived the decades since the days when passenger railroading was in it’s golden years. They make good additions to trip planners and most are filled with large historic collections.

Amarillo Texas

Amarillo was put on the map thanks to the railroad and ranching. The Texas Panhandle was a natural crossroads to the west and Amarillo benefited. Although there is no passenger service today and hasn’t been since 1970 the Amarillo rail yard is very busy with BNSF freight traffic. The old Santa Fe Amarillo train depot, built in 1910, and the surrounding six acres are now owned by the City of Amarillo. The train station is located just east of the downtown area.

Waxahachie Texas

The Waxahachie Texas old passenger train station built in 1886 served the Katy Railroad, also known as the M-K-T. The station is located just south of the town square and today. Waxahachie itself is known to many as the Gigerbread City because of the historic homes still standing built prior to 1900. The train depot closed when the Katy merged with the Union Pacific. Today Waxahachie sees a good amount of Union Pacific freight traffic. The old Katy depot is also across the street from the old Santa Fe Railroad depot which gives you a good comparison of the different architecture. Waxahachie Texas is located off Interstate 35 about 30 miles south of Dallas.

Temple Texas

The Temple Texas train depot is a museum and a working passenger train station. It is the third stop heading south from Fort Worth on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle which operates between Chicago and San Antonio Texas. Temple Texas is located along Interstate 35 about 35 miles south of Waco and about 65 miles north of Austin.

Lamy New Mexico

The Lamy New Mexico train depot serves Santa Fe which is about 15 miles to the north. The Lamy train depot was built in 1909 by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. At one time the railroad ran a spur line to Santa Fe where passengers would connect to. Today the depot is an active Amtrak stop for the Southwest Chief which runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. Lamy is an old historic spot outside Santa Fe and definitely worth a visit.

harvey house belen new mexico

Old Harvey House at Belen New Mexico

Flagstaff Arizona

Today’s Flagstaff Arizona train depot is an active passenger station for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. The current depot was built in 1926 by the AT & SF. It is just to the south side of Flagstaff’s historic district and serves as a Visitor Center as well as a passenger station.

Tucson Arizona

Tucson Arizona was on the old route of the Southern Pacific Railroad which offered service from the west coast east to Louisiana. Today the depot, built in 1907, is active as a passenger stop for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Service and the it’s Texas Eagle. The depot today has a restaurant, grocery and a fascinating museum with one of a kind railroad exhibits. Also an old Southern Pacific steam locomotive is on display outside as well as interesting sculptures. The depot is located to the east of the downtown area and quite close to a few historic hotels. If your trip takes you to Tucson it’s a worthwhile visit.

flagstaff arizona train depot

Train depot in Flagstaff Arizona

Belen New Mexico

Belen New Mexico has a beautifully restored Harvey House adjacent to the old train depot. The old Harvey House is now a fascinating museum featuring many artifacts and photos of both the AT & SF Railroad and the workings of a Harvey House eatery. There is also a three room model train exhibit which may be one of the largest. Belen is located along Interstate 25 about 35 miles south of Albuquerque.

Gallup New Mexico

The Gallup New Mexico train depot was constructed on what later became old Route 66. The depot building was built in 1918 as the El Navajo Hotel. This was one of the many Mary Colter AT & SF designed depots and hotels. This was also one of the Fred Harvey hotels serving the AT & SF Railroad. The hotel also adjoined a structure that was used as an area headquarters for the railroad. Renovations took place in 1996 and the Gallup Cultural Center opened inside the building at the same time. The depot is located at 201 East Highway 66.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)



The Legendary Union Pacific Big Boy

There was a time when the large steam locomotives pulled people and freight all over the great expanses of the American West. Some of these great locomotives found a place in history and there is perhaps no better one than the “Big Boy” series of 4-8-8-4 steam engine.

The Big Boy locomotives represent some of the largest ever manufactured. The Union Pacific Railroad has done an excellent job in working to preserve their old equipment for historical purposes.

Old Union Pacific Locomotive 4018

The ALCO 4000 Locomotives Built for the Union Pacific Railroad

The Union Pacific Railroad acquired twenty-five of these massive six hundred ton locomotives and today several are on display around the U.S.

The locomotives were 132 feet in length from the front of the cowcatcher to the end of the tender car. They were built to pull a 3,600 ton train and pull it over steep mountain grades. The National Defense Act during the early 1940’s encouraged the building of ever more powerful locomotives.  When you stand next to a 4000 series locomotive it will look larger than you may ever had imagined.

Reportedly there are eight of these steam engines that have survived to this date. A side note is that the Union Pacific was the only railroad purchasing these coal fired steam engines which were manufactured between 1941 and 1944 by the American Locomotive Company commonly referred to as ALCO. ALCO, established in 1901, also got into the automobile building business in 1906 but exited in 1913.

Another interesting side note about the American Locomotive Company was while they acquired a lot of fame for their powerful steam locomotives such as with the 4000 Series, the company produced the first commercial diesel-electric locomotive in 1924.

One set of Big Boy Locomotive drive wheels

ALCO 4-8-8-4 Classification Locomotive

The 4-8-8-4 is a classification regarding wheel arrangement. In this instance, there are four leading wheels, two sets of eight driving wheels and a set of four trailing wheels. The 4000 series of ALCO locomotives could keep a speed of some 70 MPH which was obviously considered quite fast and they were steady riders.

The speed and traction power made these 4000 locomotives important especially during the war years when cargo and troop transportation was crucial. The role of the 4-8-8-4 locomotives was simply to haul more gross tonnage at a higher speed and without helper engines. This role they accomplished.

Where To See the Big Boy Locomotives Today

Big Boy Locomotive 4018 is now at the new location of the Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. The 4018 locomotive made the trip from near downtown Dallas to Frisco over August 18th and 19th, 2013. For years this locomotive was at the museum in Dallas before being moved to Frisco which will offer a much larger space for the railroad exhibits.

4018 Big Boy cab and tender car

Locomotive 4023 is on display at Kenefick Park in Omaha Nebraska.

Locomotive 4004 is displayed at Holliday Park in Cheyenne Wyoming.

Locomotive 4005 is at the Forney Transportation Museum in Denver Colorado. This museum is fascinating displaying everything from vintage cars and tractors to steam locomotives.

Locomotive 4006 is now at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis Missouri. This is a comprehensive transportation museum featuring everything on wheels and more. Locomotive 4006 has more mileage than any of the other surviving steam engines.

Locomotive 4012 is displayed at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton Pennsylvania. Administered by the National Park Service, this venue comprises forty acres of the Scranton railroad yard of the old Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Train rides are available.

Big Boy Locomotive and bell

Locomotive 4014 is on display at Fairplex in Pomona California.

Locomotive 4017 is displayed at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay Wisconsin. This is one of the oldest railroad museums in the U.S. with a large display of locomotives and rolling stock.

Four of the eight 4000 Series locomotives are displayed along the old historic Union Pacific route. These are the exhibits in Cheyenne, Denver, Pomona and Omaha.

The link below is to the permanent display in Amarillo Texas of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s historic steam locomotive 5000, referred to as a “Texas Type”, a 2-10-4 configuration on our Western Trips site…

The Santa Fe 5000 Locomotive

On our Trips Into History site see our article and photos on the 1911 Baldwin 2-8-0 Locomotive.

Union Pacific Railroad 4018 tender

A Step Further Than the 4-6-6-4 Locomotives

ALCO built the 4-6-6-4 steam locomotives beginning in 1936. These they named the Challenger series. These really were the precursors to the 4000 Series featured above.

The challenge so to speak of the Challenger locomotive was to pull tonnage over mountain ranges. No easy task to say the least. Helper engines were often utilized to get this done. The need was such that the Union Pacific Railroad purchased 105 of these 4-6-6-4 Challenger engines. Other railroads would buy the 147 additional Challengers produced. Out of this total of 252 4-6-6-4- steam engines manufactured, the American Locomotive Company built 227 Challengers and the Baldwin Locomotive Works 25.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)


Railroads in Texas / The Frisco

During the golden age of railroads Texas had it’s share. One of the busier and more historic railroads in Texas was referred to as “The Frisco“. To learn more about the Frisco Railroad we visited one of the best places on the subject, the Frisco Heritage Museum located in Frisco Texas.

A Town and a Railroad

frisco diesel locomotive

Frisco EMD Locomotive

Frisco is a northern suburb of the Dallas metropolitan area. What is now the city of Frisco Texas was at one time named Emerson and then renamed Frisco City before just being named Frisco.

The one time town of Emerson Texas benefited greatly by being connected to the outside world by a railroad. Railroads were connected to most aspects of community and economic life. Railroads could literally make or break a new town. As it turned out, the present city of Frisco was not only named after the railroad but also uses the old railroad’s logo as the city’s official logo.

The Routes of The Frisco Railroad and the Texas Special

The Frisco Railroad was also the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad. The Frisco took it’s new name in 1896 when it emerged from bankruptcy. Many railroad history buffs may recall that railroads suffered greatly during the financial depression on the 1890’s. Mergers were common. The old Frisco operated for over 100 years from 1876 to 1980. In 1980 it merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad.

frisco texas train station

Frisco Train Station in Frisco TX

An interesting note is that the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad never ran to San Francisco California. Texas was it’s most western state.

For many years the Frisco operated in conjunction with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, commonly referred to as the Katy, operating the “Texas Special“. The Texas Special was considered quite luxurious and ran from St. Louis Missouri to San Antonio Texas via Dallas and Fort Worth. Passengers could also join this route in St. Louis connecting from the Pennsylvania Railroad‘s train from New York City with through sleeper car service. Through sleeper service between St. Louis and Washington D.C. was also available via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Texas Special was a key route into Texas. The train connected the important eastern cities with Texas markets.

The Texas Special Streamliners

The age of the Streamliner Trains was from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. If you were to define the new Streamliners you would say they were light, fast and luxurious. They were quite different from what was before them. They were sleek looking.

1910 steam locomotive

Frisco 1910 steam locomotive

The Streamliner was created to help improve railroad market share. By the 1930’s, long highways were being built and connected together for the automobile. Route 66 was a good example of this. The Streamliner concept for the most part was to make the railroad experience more than just getting between two points. Speed, luxury and adventure was what the railroad intended to offer the traveling public. It was an innovative effort to bring people back to the railroad.

One example of success in the Streamliner effort was certainly the Santa Fe Railroad’s Super Chief train running between Chicago and Los Angeles. Americans were fascinated  with the American Southwest and the new AT & SF streamliners offered them a luxurious unique adventure.

The two railroads which operated the Texas Special  were considered mid-sized Class I systems that operated in the Midwest and down through southern Texas. The Texas Special locomotives were some of the most flashiest looking in the country.

hudson steam locomotive

1938 J3 Hudson steam locomotive, 1938

The Frisco Locomotives and Railcars

The Texas Special streamliner locomotive was of the EMD- E Series diesels. The streamliner diesel service began in 1947 with the EMD’s and in 1949 two Alco PA-1 diesels were added.

The locomotive was painted with a yellow nose and a large centered “Lone Star”.

Both railroads spent a lot of money on equipment and design. Red Pullman Standard cars with stainless steel sheathing were ordered and carried names of Texas locations and notable people. Rail cars included sleepers, diners, a coach buffet lounge, and a unique sleeper lounge observation. A full train would have seven sleeper cars. Interiors of the Texas Special also included red colors and reclining coach seats. This was about as first class a train you could offer the traveling public.

The Beginning of the End

Railroads in general faced an uphill battle when the Interstate Highway system became a reality. What eventually happened with the Frisco Texas Special was no different than what happened to non-transcontinental railroads all over the U.S. In addition to the Interstate highways, airports and air passenger traffic was increasing each year. In other words, the railroads faced competition like never before.

frisco passenger train schedule

Frisco schedule when later service ran only between Kansas City MO and Ft. Worth TX

The major change regarding the Texas Special was when the Katy was taken over by a new ownership group and began to focus more on the growing freight business.

With Katy’s new  lack of interest in both supporting the passenger business and with funding it adequately, Frisco decided to simply pull out of the partnership. This necessitated the Katy to make the northern terminus Kansas City rather than St. Louis. This change of course had negative traffic implications.  In 1964 the Texas Special passenger service ended south of Dallas and the Texas Special ceased operations entirely in 1966.

The economics of offering passenger rail service had changed dramatically. Railroad passengers were only five years away from the introduction of Amtrak in 1971.

You’ll also enjoy our photo articles on the Historic Pullman Cars and the Passenger Rocket Trains of the Rock Island Railroad. On our Western Trips site see the photo article on the Katy Railroad.

frisco heritage museum

Frisco Heritage Museum

Visiting the Frisco Heritage Museum

The Frisco Heritage Museum is an excellent addition to your Texas trip planner. The Frisco Heritage Museum is comprised on a modern museum building with a great collection of railroad artifacts, vintage automobiles, model trains, vintage printing equipment, oil industry artifacts and many other interesting items and murals. Outside the museum are a collection of historic homes and structures from Frisco’s past along with a 1910 steam locomotive and caboose. The museum address is 6455 Page Street, Frisco TX. The museum area is easily reached from Dallas via the Dallas North Tollway.

The year 2013 will bring about big changes to the Frisco Heritage Museum and surrounding grounds. The Museum of the American Railroad located in Dallas Texas will be relocating their entire collection to Frisco TX during 2013. The Museum of the American Railroad is a not-for-profit Texas corporation dedicated to celebrating the heritage and exploring the future of railroads through historic preservation, research, and educational programming.

For information and the status of the museum’s opening in Frisco TX, check out website  www.museumoftheamericanrailroad.org.

(Photos from author’s private collection. Frisco timetable schedule courtesy of Frisco Heritage Museum)


Pullman Cars

Trips Into History visits two of the famous Pullman Cars, the railroad cars that revolutionized passenger train travel in the late 1800’s.

pullman car

Pullman Business Car dining area

In the 1800’s, comfortable travel was a relative term. As opposed to the covered wagon, a stage coach could be called comfortable although that can be argued. When the iron rails spread throughout the western U.S., the train was certainly a step up from both of these modes of transportation.

The two biggest improvements in passenger comfort offered by the railroads would most certainly have been the Fred Harvey Houses and later the Fred Harvey AT & SF Railroad dining cars. The other beyond a doubt were the Pullman Cars. The Pullman train cars offered a whole new way to travel.

The Pullman Passenger Cars were built by the Pullman Palace Car Company established in 1867 in Chicago Illinois. Prior to establishing this firm, George Pullman had worked as a cabinet maker and contractor. George Pullman’s company built rail cars from the mid 1800’s into the early 1900’s.

pullman business car

Business Car stateroom


The Pullman Company was of such a size that there was even a town built for it’s workers in 1880 south of Chicago and west of Lake Calumet. The town was given the obvious name of “Pullman“. This town would also become ground zero during the violent Pullman Strike during the 1890’s financial depression. This was a strike that ended only with the introduction of federal troops under the command of famous Indian War General Nelson Miles and with the arrest of Eugene Debs.

Two Pullman Cars featured int this article are the Pullman Business Car and the Pullman Sleeper. The sleeper car is what most people think of when they refer to the Pullman cars.

pullman car interior photo

Full bath in Pullman Business Car

The Pullman Business Rail Car

Shown here is the 1924 Pullman Business Car Number 404. The car served on the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The rail car was used by the Eastern Division Superintendent of the AT & SF who was stationed in Emporia Kansas.

The Pullman 404 is very impressive. The train car is 60 feet long and weighs 60 tons. It was one of seventeen similar rail cars built by the  Pullman Company. The Pullman Business Car was also referred to as a “private car” which it was. In addition to it’s use as a perk for the railroad superintendents, the business or private car was also the calling card of the wealthy. Many if not most of the well known millionaires of the late 1800’s had there very own Pullman Car. Often the private car would be attached to a regularly scheduled train. During that era, it was THE way to travel by train.

pullman sleeper

Lower and upper berth arrangement in Pullman Sleeper Car

The 1924 Pullman Business Car was essentially a combination office and residence. This Pullman car had a dining room, meeting room, two staterooms, a bathroom with a shower. It could take the superintendent anywhere along the AT & SF route with the comforts he would have had in Kansas. The rail car also provided a room for a porter which was standard during that era.

The Pullman Sleeper

When these Pullman cars were introduced they were an instant hit. The Pullman Sleepers helped civilize rail travel, especially long distance rail travel. There were actually rail cars that were referred to be sleeper cars as early as the 1830’s. These were however very primitive and are not of the same quality and comfort that one associates with the famous Pullmans.

pullman sleeper car interior photo

Daytime arrangement in Pullman Sleeper

The Pullman Sleeper Car featured in this article is the 1924 “McKeever” Pullman Sleeper. The McKeever is a twelve section, fifty-five passenger car. Measuring 80 feet, 11 inches long, the rail car was built and operated by the Pullman Company. Similar to the Amtrak Sleeper Cars today, this Pullman had both upper and lower sleeping births. The porter would rearrange the compartment when the passengers were either dining or socializing. The rail car had bathrooms on both ends of the car, one for males and one for females. The mens room also had an added area used as a smoking room.

This car had air conditioning installed in 1935 and remained in service until 1964. The McKeever was a regular on the New York to San Antonio route. The car was so popular with travelers that many planned their trips to New York when the McKeever was going to be on the run. Interestingly enough, the way railroads were operated during the early to mid 1900’s, a passenger might travel on several lines during a long trip. When the McKeever car was in transit to New York from Texas it would be hooked onto other rail lines however the car kept it’s same staff during the entire journey. This alone would make it popular for rail travelers.

pullman rail car

Pullman Sleeper aisle in daytime arrangement

An interesting story about George Pullman and his early success manufacturing luxury rail cars actually had a lot to do with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. George Pullman offered the use of his Pioneer car to Lincoln’s widow during her trip to Springfield Illinois for her husband’s burial. Mrs. Lincoln’s trip in the Pioneer made Pullman and his cars known throughout the U.S. This publicity even encouraged industrialist Andrew Carnegie to invest in Pullman’s business.

A  related photo article on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy is the Fred Harvey AT & SF Cochiti Dining Car...Also on Trips Into History see our photo article on the Railroad Post Office Car.

The Pullman Cars on Display

Both of these restored Pullman Cars and much more are on display at the Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio Texas. The museum also has on display a vintage 911 Baldwin steam locomotive and excellent exhibits of a 1924 Buffalo Fire Engine, horse drawn carriages, a model railroad setup and vintage classic automobiles. If your Texas trip takes you to the San Antonio area a visit to this museum would be a fun stop for the entire family. Train rides are available with admission Saturday and Sundays. The museum is located at 11731 Wetmore Road, San Antonio.

(Photos from author’s collection)