Written by: Gary Dolzall
The fabulous California Zephyr is coming to Train Simulator, and Gary Dolzall tells the story of this iconic passenger train
She was called the “Silver Lady” by those who admired her, and she was the ultimate stainless steel expression of America’s post-World War II “streamliner era.” On a journey of 2,532 miles, she crossed the great American west, from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area, for more than two decades, bearing the train numbers “17” and “18” over each of her three owner railroads. Her journey carried travellers, riding in sparkling dome cars and comfortable sleepers, across the plains of America’s Heartland on the Burlington Route, through the magnificent Rockies on the Rio Grande, and over the Sierra Nevada on Western Pacific’s Feather River Canyon rails.
She was the California Zephyr.
The legendary vista-dome-equipped California Zephyr, built by the Budd Company, inaugurated in 1949, and destined to become a cherished fixture of the American railroad scene through 1970, is soon coming to Train Simulator – and with it will come the experience of taking the throttle of one of America’s greatest, most stylish, and most iconic passenger trains.
The concept for 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) at the close of World War II. As joint operators of the traditional heavyweight Exposition Flyer operating between Chicago, Illinois and Oakland, California, the three roads set their sight on creating a magnificent new streamlined, diesel-powered dome-liner quite unlike any other. In fact, the anticipated passenger appeal of dome cars – or as they would be called on the new train, “vista-domes” – was deemed so high considering the train’s remarkably scenic route, that construction specifications called for five dome cars per train set. Given the new train’s 2,532-mile route, which would be covered in something over 50 hours, to provide daily service in each direction, six full train sets would be required for the new train, to be called the “California Zephyr” Each of the three owning railroads would purchase cars for operating pool. Cost: $12 million.
Construction of the train sets, built at the Budd Company’s Red Lion (Pennsylvania) car shops, began in 1946 and each set originally included a 72-foot, 8-inch-long streamlined baggage car; vista-dome coaches (three per train); a vista-dome buffet-lounge car; 10-roomette, 6-bedroom sleepers; 48-seat diner; 16-section sleeper (these were rebuilt in the late 1950s/early1960s into standard coaches), and the train’s signature vista-dome bedroom-lounge-observation. All the cars were named with the prefix “Silver” and each lived up to that image, being constructed of shimmering fluted stainless steel. In original form, the consist of the California Zephyr ran to 11 cars and over the years it would vary only slightly (in 1952, a 6-double bedroom, 5-compartment sleeper would be added, and the train also often carried a transcontinental New York-California sleeper). Delivery of the California Zephyr train sets from Budd 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 to be employed over their individual sections of the western route. In the case of the CB&Q (operating the Chicago-Denver leg), this was initially EMD F3 sets (A-B-A), but the F-units would soon be replaced by pairs of Burlington EMD E-units (E7s, E8s, and/or E9s), which became the standard CB&Q power for the train. Rio Grande (operating Denver-Salt Lake City) originally purchased and assigned flashy Alco PA1 diesels to the train, but these were found unsuitable for heavy hauling in the mountains and were replaced by sets of EMD F-units (F3s, F7s, and F9s). Western Pacific (operating the Salt Lake City-Oakland leg) originally powered the California Zephyr with “Zephyr silver and orange” EMD F3s operating in A-B-B sets, then supplemented those diesels in 1950 with FP7 and F7B power.
At 9:30 a.m., March 20, 1949, at Oakland Pier, California, the engineer of Western Pacific Train 18 – the inaugural eastbound California Zephyr – opened the throttle of WP F3A 803, and thus began the era of the Silver Lady. That era would extend for two glorious decades, until the impacts of jets and interstate highways changed the travel habits of the American populace and the operating costs of the California Zephyr become untenable for the Western Pacific, which discontinued its leg of the train’s passage on March 22, 1970. But gone and forgotten are, indeed, two very different things and the Silver Lady had most assuredly taken her place in railroad history, never to let it go.
Dovetail Games will soon be bringing the complete California Zephyr to Train Simulator, where it will be a perfect complement to the upcoming Western Pacific Feather River Canyon route – and indeed very suitable for service on the popular Train Simulator D&RGW Soldier Summit route as well. So keep an eye on Train-Simulator.com and we’ll be presenting additional articles – and, of course, some sneak previews – of the majestic train called the Silver Lady. – Gary Dolzall