The Silver Lady

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 and we’ll be presenting additional articles – and, of course, some sneak previews – of the majestic train called the Silver Lady. – Gary Dolzall

CZ02 CZ03 CZ05 CZ06

Gary Dolzall


  • Looks fantastic. I’m hoping in the future to see the Super Chief as a complete train set. When I bought TS2015 several F7 locomotives were included and one of the F7’s A and B units wear the iconic Warbonnet paint scheme but, there are currently no rolling stock to match. It would be amazing to see the Super Chief make it to TS2016 with a full makeover and upgrade.

  • I think this has made my mind up to buy Feather River when it’s released

  • Excellent article, Gary. I’m looking forward to the release of the California Zephyr content more than usual. A while back, the folks at Dovetail Games wanted to know what we, the customers and users, would like to see added to the game. One of the suggestions I had was that we could use some complete train sets, along the lines of the Flying Scotsman, to show off some of the signature vintage varnish from yesteryear. Names like the California Zephyr, The Broadway Limited, The Crescent, and The Twentieth Century Limited are at most a distant memory to some of us who were born prior to Amtrak’s birth and are completely lost on the most recent generations of railfans. Designing and selling such content would be a boost to the game’s popularity and a way to give a glimpse into the past for the younger crowd. I hope this becomes a trend that continues within the game!

    • I agree. We desperately need more North American trains and routes from the 1950s. For such a significant time and place for railroading, there really isn’t much for us to buy.

  • OMG YES PLZ!!!!

  • Outstanding! I can’t wait to get hands to this add-on…

  • How were you able to add photos to the article? I’m still trying to figure out how to add photos, as they are an important part of what I would like to propose 🙂

    • Easiest way currently to add photos to articles is to upload your photos to somewhere like Flickr, then put the links in your article and we’ll sort them out at this end for you.

  • As always, your articles are fantastic. Thank you.

  • I have been on the calafornia Zephyr in real life from Chicago to Denver by Amtrak but it still had a steel silver car on the back. It was called Babbling Brook.

    • The Babbling Brook is a former New York Central passenger car that was used on the New York Central’s Chicago-to-Boston passenger train, the “New England States”. I saw that car in person before when it was on display at New York’s Grand Central Terminal for the Parade of Trains event in 2013, it’s a nice car. It’s cool that you got to see it being used in the California Zephyr you rode.

  • Even though I’m not thrilled about the Feather River Canyon being made too short, I have to say, I’m glad the classic California Zephyr is coming. The article didn’t mention what locomotive(s) will be included, my guess is that it will be either a Western Pacific EMD F7 or Western Pacific EMD F3 and in my opinion, I think it should be the F3 because we have several F7s at this time. Another great thing about the classic California Zephyr is that we can use some of its passenger cars for modern excursion consists.

    • It’d be cool if we could get some heavyweight coaches to come with this pack, so we could re-create older WP commuter trains, instead of only the California Zephyr

    • As mentioned in the article, the Western Pacific’s original power for the CZ was A-B-B sets of F3s, then in 1950, WP purchased FP7s for the train (and also equipped some of its new F7B units with steam generators). Thereafter, it was most typical for the FP7s to lead the train, working with either F3B or F7B boosters. WP’s F7 cab units were assigned to freight service.

      • Oh I’m sorry Gary, I meant in the last paragraph mentioning the “complete California Zephyr coming to Train Simulator”, it didn’t say specifically what locomotive(s) is/are coming with it for the DLC. I did see you mention the F3s and FP7s in the real history part of the article. Sorry for the confusion.

    • I agree! Great for Private cars!

  • YES!!!!

  • What a great addition to Train Simulator! I for one, am very excited for the Ca. Zephyr. I have a question though; will the Ca. Zephyr come with Western Pacific F7s and/or FP7s, which usually powered the Ca. Zephyr on WP trackage? If so, then we would have the train consist and suitable power for the Feather River Canyon and Soldier Summit routes and, if DTG were to make a CB&Q add-on for the Racetrack that would include F7s, then we would 3 routes of the post-war Ca. Zephyr’s journey to run it on. I look forward to the Feather River Canyon, the Ca. Zephyr, and the many scenario possibilities they will bring!

    • Personally, I don’t think that there should be simply a CB&Q loco for the modern racetrack route. Instead, I suggest they make a Chicago route set in the 1950s. That way, we could use PRR, CB&Q, ATSF, UP as well as other railroads.

  • Should be a wonderful addition to TS! If we had more CB&Q stock, it would be awesome for the Racetrack as well! Fun fact: the train’s 50 hour schedule was designed for passengers to see scenery in daylight, and the boring parts at night (Feather River Canyon by day, Nevada desert by night; Rockies by day, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois plains by night).

  • We need more post-war passenger trains! Beautiful streamlined cars, or perhaps even older heavyweights. Whichever you like the most, both are incredible parts of history

  • Yes yes yes yes YES YES!


  • Lovely addition to add to Train Simulator!

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