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Silver Streamliner CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR Served mid-Century America.

Silver Streamliner CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR Served mid-Century America.

From 1949 until 1970, the California Zephyr operated daily during the 1950s and 1960s between Chicago and San Francisco.

  • Over two days and nights, across prairies, through canyons, over (and through) mountains, on a timetable that maximized the impact of the scenery for tourists rather than meeting the schedule of business passengers, to California and the Pacific, still the destination of dreamers the world over.
  • Still, many business passengers, from Northern California – San Francisco, Bay Area, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento preferred the California Zephyr.
  • The train was also a destination.
  • Great historic travelogue video at the end of story!


America’s number one scenery packed train.

The California Zephyr had up to fifteen aluminum and stainless steel cars oozing luxury and exclusivity, sprinkled generously with domes and an observation car at the rear, hauled by the colorful EMD diesels of the Burlington and its partners the Denver and Rio Grande Western and the Western Pacific (WP), making a shining silver snake through the landscape.


Great trains have long lives.

  • The Broadway Ltd lasted over 80. The 20th Century Limited, 65. Canada’s Canadian is still going strong at 71. But in its original incarnation, before Amtrak took over, the California Zephyr lasted only 21 from 1949 until 1970 when Amtrak took over rail service in the USA.

CW: Zephry Streamliners meeting; Cable Car bar and snack show; Cable Car Room menu cover.

Yet the California Zephyr was one of the most popular trains in America. Possibly the number one attraction for passengers was the spectacular scenery.

At Denver, the mile-high city at the foot of the Rockies, the Burlington linked to the Denver and Rio Grande Western, the ‘Mainline through the Rockies’.

  • Through the Rockies means ten tunnels in 20 miles as the line heads out of Denver and up to the 6.2 miles long Moffat Tunnel at 9,200ft above sea level.

CW: The Zephyr Route; Winter in the Rockies; Pullman Observation Lounge; Streamliner enjoying the scenery.

  • This made possible a direct mainline through Colorado into Utah to Salt Lake City, and a junction with both the Southern Pacific (the western half of the original Overland Route from Omaha to Sacramento) and later rival Western Pacific, operating on an alternative route to San Francisco via the spectacular Feather River Canyon.


The California Zephyr had 5 dome cars providing a great view of the scenery for chair car and Pullman sleeping car passengers.

CW: Businessman working in his Pullman Roomette; CZ stewardess called Zephyrette pointing out scenery; Pullman observation Dome Car; Dome Car seating.

CW: Chair Car seating; Pullman Porter, passengers, and various private room accommodations.


There was light meal service in the Cable Car Room along with a first-class meal service – breakfast, luncheon, and dinner – in the Dining Car (reservations required).

CW: Dining Car and passengers enjoying first-class meals; Pullman observation Lounge.

Dining Car Dinner Menu late 1960s.

All meals were prepared onboard the train in the dining car kitchen.

CW: Dining Car; Steward in the Kitchen; Chefs in the Dining Car Kitchen.

Chef’s Daily Special in the late 1960s.

Train Menu and Chef’s Selections. Whatever happened to Mince Meat Pie?

And as the CZ was the pride of the railroads, you could expect the power to be smart – and the train ran through carwashes at Denver and at Portola on the Western Pacific on each trip, to keep the dome windows clean for the scenery.

CW: Stewardess onboard the CZ pointing out sites to children; CZ crossing a river; Pullman Double Bedroom accommodations.

But it couldn’t last. By the early 1960s, even a fully loaded CZ was lossmaking, and the WP in particular (the smallest and weakest of the partner railroads) wanted out. It applied for consent to abandon the service from the ICC in 1966, but was denied – the Commission referred to the CZ as ‘a unique national asset’. Eventually, persistence paid off, and consent to end the train west of Ogden was granted, effective March 1970.

Great travelogue VIDEO of the CZ


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