Written by: Gary Dolzall
The California Zephyr is coming soon – and Gary Dolzall takes a look at the “Silver Lady’s” magnificent passenger equipment
The vista-dome-equipped California Zephyr, built by the Budd Company, inaugurated in 1949, and destined to become an iconic and beloved fixture of the American railroad scene for two decades, is soon coming to Train Simulator in all its silver splendor.
The concept for the train that would be nicknamed the “Silver Lady” was born of discussions among executives of three railroads: The Burlington Route (CB&Q), Rio Grande (D&RGW), and Western Pacific (WP) as World War II neared its close. As joint operators of the traditional luxury heavyweight Exposition Flyer operating between Chicago, Illinois and Oakland, California, the three roads set their sight on creating a magnificent new streamlined, diesel-powered domeliner. The anticipated passenger appeal of dome cars – or as they would be called on the new train, “vista-domes” – was deemed so high, especially considering the train’s remarkably scenic route, that construction specifications called for five dome cars per train set. Given the new streamliner’s 2,532-mile-long route, which would be covered in something over 50 hours, to provide daily service in each direction, six full California Zephyr train sets, at a cost of $12 million, would be required, with each of the three owning railroads purchasing cars for the joint operating pool.
Construction of the California Zephyr train sets, built at the Budd Company’s Red Lion (Pennsylvania) car shops, began in 1946. Each of this six sets of equipment would include 11 cars: a 72-foot, 8-inch-long streamlined baggage car; three vista-dome coaches; a vista-dome buffet-lounge-dormitory car; a trio of 10-roomette, 6-bedroom sleepers; a 48-seat diner; a 16-section sleeper, and the train’s signature vista-dome bedroom-lounge-observation (which at a cost of $172,412 per car was the most expensive car in each set). One of the 10/6 sleepers in each consist was earmarked for transcontinental (New York-California) service operated in cooperation with both the New York Central and Pennsylvania, and the PRR, in fact, purchased one sleeper for the operating pool. All the California Zephyr cars were named with the prefix “Silver” and each lived up to that shimmering image, being constructed of fluted stainless steel. Delivery of the California Zephyr train sets from the Budd Company began in early 1948, with testing and public exhibition tours to follow throughout the remainder of that year.
Each of the three owning and operating railroads provided motive power for the California Zephyr (a topic we’ll be covering in a forthcoming article, and also see the earlier Train-Simulator.com article The Silver Lady) and the honor of formally inaugurating the “CZ” was given to the Western Pacific, when, on March 20, 1949 at 9:30 a.m., Western Pacific Train 18 – the first eastbound California Zephyr – made a ceremonious departure from Oakland Pier. The career of the California Zephyr would extend for two glorious decades, until the impacts of jets and interstate highways changed the travel habits of the American populace and operating costs of the service became untenable for the Western Pacific, which discontinued its leg of the train’s passage on March 22, 1970. Unlike many trains, though, which suffered the ignominy of seeing equipment and services slowly rationalized, the California Zephyr, virtually from the beginning to the end of its tenure, represented luxury rail-bound cruise travel.
During the California Zephyr’s two decades of operation, only a modest number of changes were made to its consists, and, for the most part, those changes enhanced rather than detracted from its quality of service. In 1952, responding to the immediate popularity of the Silver Lady, a set of six 5-compartment, 6-double bedroom sleepers (e.g., one for each train set) were acquired by the owning railroads. At the same time, the Burlington Route also purchased four additional cars built to California Zephyr specifications – one lounge-observation, one 16-section sleeper, and a pair of 10/6 sleepers – which would effectively serve as back-up stock for the CZ and were also used regularly on the Burlington’s Chicago-Lincoln (Nebraska) Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr. The other most significant change, which occurred in the early 1960s, was the rebuilding of the CZ’s 16-section sleepers (for which there proved diminishing demand) into standard coaches, which were used during peak travel seasons. Indeed, the California Zephyr’s consists, like that of most long-distance trains, would be adjusted based upon seasonal demands and the like, but its luxury standards remained largely inviolate.
Dovetail Games will soon be bringing the complete consist of the California Zephyr, along with the train’s authentic Western Pacific and Rio Grande motive power, to Train Simulator, where “the Silver Lady” will be a perfect complement to the Western Pacific Feather River Canyon route – and indeed be very suitable for service on the popular Train Simulator D&RGW Soldier Summit route as well. So let’s take this opportunity, in the following advance screenshots, to take a closer look at the “silver splendor” of Train Simulator’s upcoming California Zephyr. – Gary Dolzall ■