The Super Chief in March 1971 at Los Angeles.

(Drew Jacksich from San Jose, California Republic, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Super Chief drumhead

SUPER CHIEF

The Super Chief was one of the named passenger trains and the flagship of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The then-modern streamliner was touted in its heyday as "The Train of the Stars" because it often carried celebrities between Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California.

The Super Chief (Nos. 17 and 18) was the first diesel-electric powered cross-country passenger train in America. The train eclipsed the Chief as Santa Fe's standard bearer. The extra-fare ($10) Super Chief left Dearborn Station in Chicago for its first trip on May 12, 1936. Before starting scheduled service in May 1937, the lightweight version of the Super Chief ran 2,227 miles (3,584 km) from Los Angeles over recently upgraded tracks in 36 hours and 49 minutes, averaging 60 mph (97 km/h) overall and reaching 100 mph (160 km/h).

With one set of equipment, the train initially operated once a week from both Chicago and Los Angeles. After more passenger cars were delivered in 1938, the Super Chief ran twice weekly that year, and later (from 1948) trips were again increased, to offer daily service. Adding to the train's mystique were its gourmet meals and Hollywood clientele.

Competitors to the Super Chief were the City of Los Angeles trains on the Chicago and North Western Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad, and (to a lesser extent) the Golden State on the Rock Island and Southern Pacific lines. The Santa Fe Super Chief was one of the last passenger trains in the United States to carry an all-Pullman consist; only the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited and the Illinois Central's Panama Limited outlasted it. The Super Chief maintained its high level of service until Santa Fe ceased all passenger operations on May 1, 1971.

When Amtrak took over operation of the nation's passenger rail service on May 1, 1971, it retained the Super Chief. In 1974 due to a publicly-perceived decline in quality of passenger service, the Santa Fe Railway withdrew permission to use the "Chief" trade name, so Amtrak renamed the train The Southwest Limited. In 1984 after new Superliner equipment had replaced the aging original rolling stock, Santa Fe allowed Amtrak to rename its train to the Southwest Chief.

 

A map depicting the "Grand Canyon Route" of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway c. 1901.

(Denver Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Route

Santa Fe's marketing advantage for the Super Chief lay in the geography of the route as well as its ownership. The Santa Fe began as a rail line along the old Santa Fe and Spanish Trails, from the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers (at Atchison and Topeka, Kansas) to the Pecos River and Rio Grande in New Mexico. This initial route was eventually extended to Los Angeles. 

The convenience of traveling "Santa Fe All The Way" was superior to anything that the competing jointly operated railroads could provide on their routes to the west coast. A single traffic and operating department managed all the divisions and districts of the Santa Fe route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Dining cars, the commissary supply chains, the on-board service crews and their management; all worked together from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The Super Chief ran through Kansas City, Missouri; Newton, Kansas; Dodge City, Kansas; La Junta, Colorado; Raton, New Mexico; Las Vegas, New Mexico; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Gallup, New Mexico; Winslow, Arizona; Seligman, Arizona; Needles, California; Barstow, California; San Bernardino, California; and Pasadena, California. During the pre-war years the Super Chief did not allow passengers to board or disembark at any point between Kansas City and Barstow; intermediate stops were operating stops only, to change crews or to service the train. During the war the rules were relaxed to carry passengers to and from Albuquerque and La Junta, but only when unsold space was available at train time. Not until the postwar era could passengers travel to intermediate stations on the Super Chief.

 

The EMC Nos. 1 and 1A photographed on August 31, 1935. (Acme News Service-published by Mexia Weekly Herald, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Front view of EMC No. 1. (Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Super Chief being serviced at Albuquerque, New Mexico, in March 1943. A headlight "blackout shield" was a wartime Civil Defense requirement on trains running to the Pacific Coast. (Jack Delano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped)

 

History

The Santa Fe intended the Super Chief to be the latest in a long line of luxury Chicago–Los Angeles trains wedded to the latest in railroad technology. In the 1930s these included air conditioning, lightweight all-metal construction, and diesel locomotion. In August 1935 the General Motors Electro-Motive Corporation (EMC) delivered two blunt-nosed diesel-electric units Nos. 1 and 1A, intended to pull the Super Chief. Aside from an ALCO HH600 switcher at Dearborn Station in Chicago, they were the Santa Fe's first diesel-electrics and the first such trains intended for passenger service. The locomotives made their first test run with a set of Pullman cars and a dynamometer car in September 1935. The first Super Chief operated on May 12, 1936, with the diesels pulling air-conditioned heavyweight Pullman cars. They were put into regular service on May 18, 1937.

In 1937, Santa Fe purchased several of Electro-Motive’s new “Streamliner Series” diesel-electric locomotives and placed them in service on the Super Chief line. These locomotives were the first to wear Santa Fe’s red, yellow, and silver “War bonnet” color scheme. EMC’s sleek and efficient streamlined locomotives became the standard on North American railroads. Hollywood celebrities frequently rode the fashionable Super Chief, making it known as “The Train of The Stars.”

 

Transcontinental sleeping cars

By January 1954 the Super Chief had inherited from the Santa Fe's Chief the service of running continuous Los Angeles-New York sleepers continuing from Chicago on the New York Central Railroad's 20th Century Limited and on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad offered a similar service with Los Angeles-Washington, D.C., sleepers on that company's Shenandoah westbound and Capitol Limited eastbound. However, in October 1957 the PRR dropped its Broadway Limited sleeper connection. Upon the April 1958 timetables, the cooperating railroads terminated their transcontinental sleeper operations. Declining ridership and delay from switching sleeping cars between Chicago terminals were factors in the through-car termination.

 

Timeline

  • May 10, 1937: The last of four "preview" runs of the Super Chief-2, with an improved 3,600 hp (2.7 MW), two-unit, streamlined diesel locomotive set built by Electro Motive Corporation (EMC), concludes as the train pulls into Los Angeles. All heavyweight cars used on the Super Chief are replaced with lightweight stainless steel cars. The public is invited to tour the new train at Santa Fe's La Grande Station on May 11 and 12.
  • May 15, 1937: The Super Chief departs Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. PST. The train reaches Chicago in 36 hours and 49 minutes, setting a record. Both new E1 units suffered mechanical damage during the trip and were taken out of service for repairs.
  • May 18, 1937: The lightweight Super Chief starts its first regular run, led by Unit 1A and EMC demonstrator Unit 512 (a.k.a. AT&SF Unit 1C) from Chicago's Dearborn Station. The passenger list includes ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his "sidekick" Charlie McCarthy. (The first pair of E1s were delivered in June.)
  • June 15, 1937: The Super Chief makes its first regular run with EMC E1s 2A and 2B, the first locomotives to wear the famous red, yellow and silver "Warbonnet" scheme.
  • January 1938: E1 Units 3 and 3A are placed in service on the Super Chief.
  • February 26, 1938: Due to production delays, a "borrowed" six-car Chief consist begins running as the Super Chief to allow twice-weekly trips.
  • July 2, 1938: Lightweight cars built by Pullman-Standard replace the Chief cars. Until 1946 each trainset makes a weekly round trip between Chicago and Los Angeles, averaging 636 miles (1,024 km) per day.
  • 1941: The Santa Fe takes delivery of its only 2,000 hp (1.5 MW) ALCO DL-107/108 model locomotives, units 50 and 50A.
  • July 7, 1942: The Super Chief goes on a wartime schedule of 41 hours, 45 minutes. Consist expands to 12 cars.
  • June 2, 1946: The train reverts to its prewar schedule of 39 hours and 45 minutes.
  • September 29, 1946: Super Chief begins running every other day, departing Los Angeles and Chicago on even-numbered days. With the El Capitan departing on odd-numbered days (except the 31st), the two trains form what the Santa Fe bills as "the first and only daily 39-3/4 hour service between Chicago and California."
  • February 29, 1948: AT&SF receives its first post-War order from Pullman-Standard and places these into service on the Super Chief. The railroad now has five Super Chief trainsets, enough to operate daily.
  • December 29, 1949: Train No. 17, led by locomotive set No. 37L/A/B/C, collides with a tanker truck in Azusa, California. All four locomotives, baggage car No. 3409, and railway post office No. 88 are damaged by fire.
  • 1950–1951: The Super Chief is reequipped with new streamlined sleeping cars built by the Budd Company and the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF), and dining cars from Pullman-Standard. Santa Fe also adds the Pullman-built "Pleasure Dome"-Lounge car (one of the most luxurious ever made for any train) to its Super Chief consists, billing it as the "...only dome car between Chicago and Los Angeles." A speedometer in the front of the car showed the train's velocity.
  • June 1952: The Super Chief is featured in the Warner Bros. film Three for Bedroom "C" starring Gloria Swanson.
    1954: The General Tire and Rubber Company uses the Super Chief as the centerpiece of a print advertisement for its new "Nygen Cord" tire, in which the train is towed by an AT&SF switcher using one of the tires as a connecting link.
  • January 10, 1954: The $15.00 extra-fare is reduced to $7.50; the barbershop and shower-bath are discontinued. The Super Chief begins rolling the coast-to-coast Pullmans (which go through to New York City on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited or the New York Central's 20th Century Limited route; east from Washington, it runs on the Shenandoah line westbound to Washington it runs on the Capitol Limited) route; transcontinental sleepers had formerly been carried by the Chief.
  • 1956: Round-back observation cars are removed from the Super Chief, converted to blunt-back cars at Pullman's Calumet, Illinois shops and are returned to train Nos. 17 and 18. In early 1958 they are permanently removed from service.
  • October 1957: The Pennsylvania Railroad discontinues its sleeping car connection.
  • January 12, 1958: The Super Chief and El Capitan are combined during the off-peak season on a 39-1⁄2-hour schedule.
  • April 1958: The continuous Los Angeles-east coast sleeper carriages in cooperation with the New York Central and Baltimore and Ohio are terminated.
  • 1958: The five Super Chief trainsets are refurbished and redecorated.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over operation of intercity passenger rail service in the United States. Amtrak retained the Super Chief/El Capitan names with Santa Fe's permission.  From June 11 to September 10, 1972, Amtrak operated the Chief, a second Chicago–Los Angeles train along the same route. This was the only occasion on which Amtrak ran a second train to duplicate a long-distance service along its entire route outside the New York–Florida corridor. Amtrak dropped the El Capitan designation on April 19, 1973.  On March 7, 1974, the Santa Fe directed Amtrak to stop using the Super Chief and Texas Chief names due to a perceived reduction in the quality of service. The trains were renamed Southwest Limited and Lone Star on May 19.  On November 30, 1980, Amtrak replaced the ex-Super Chief "Pleasure Dome" and "Hi-Level" cars on the Southwest Limited with new Superliners.

 

Sleeper-lounge-observation Navajo at the Colorado Railroad Museum in 2012. Note the Super Chief drumhead sign mounted on its rear.

(Nathan Hughes Hamilton, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Equipment used

The first motive power set on Super Chief-1 consisted of a pair of blunt-nosed, Diesel-electric units (EMC 1800 hp B-B) designated as Nos. 1 and 1A. Santa Fe employees hung the nicknames "One-Spot Twins" and "Amos 'n' Andy" (from the popular radio show of the day) on the units, which were always paired and ran back-to-back. In a little over a year the EMC E1, a new 3,600 hp (2.7 MW) streamlined Diesel-electric set (one 1800 hp hood unit and the other a cabless booster unit, also 1800 hp) would be pulling the Super Chief.

A variety of locomotives (including ALCO PAs, EMD E6s, FTs, F3s, F7s, and FP45s, along with Santa Fe's only ALCO DL-107/108s and FM Erie-built units) would make their appearances over the years. All wore the Warbonnet paint scheme devised by Leland Knickerbocker of the GM "Art and Color Section" that debuted on the Super Chief-2. Steam locomotives including No. 3751 were occasionally used as relief power in the event of problems with the diesels.

 

The Super Chief at Joliet, IL. The train is led by EMD F7 No. 302 and includes a Pleasure Dome dome lounge (2nd car from right), August 1963.

(Lawrence and David Barera, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Original Consist

The Super Chief-1's mostly-heavyweight original consist included:

  • EMC "Boxcab" Diesel Locomotive No. 1
  • EMC "Boxcab" Diesel Locomotive No. 1A
  • Baggage-Club-Lounge No. 1301 Chief Yellow Bear (also included a barber shop)
  • Sleeper (lightweight)Forward (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms) (see NOTE immediately below)
  • Lounge General Hancock (10 sections)
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner No. 1468 (30 seats)
  • Sleeper Glen Frazer (6 compartments, 3 drawing rooms)
  • Sleeper Clover Knoll (8 sections, 5 double bedrooms)
  • Lounge-Observation Crystal View (3 compartments, 2 drawing rooms)

NOTE: Lightweight sleeper Forward was built in the summer of 1936 as the first Pullman sleeping car using the "alloy-steel truss frame" method. This car was an addition to the first (heavyweight) Super Chief consist in November 1936 after early Diesel units 1-A, 1-B and leased 1-C (the "One Spot Twins") had proved their ability to maintain the schedule. It was built unpainted with fluted sides but was painted dark grey with black and gold striping for use on the Santa Fe. Forward was built in the same period as the articulated set Advance and Progress (constructed in August 1936), which were later used on the early C&NW/UP/SP Chicago-San Francisco "Forty-Niner" which used semi-streamlined heavyweight dining, lounge and sleeping cars with the articulated set on the rear renamed Bear Flag and California Republic.

 

1st Light-weight Consist

In May 1937 the heavyweight equipment on the Super Chief was replaced with all lightweight stainless steel cars built by the Budd Company; the heavyweight cars were placed back in service with the Chief. For the new lightweight train, the Super Chief-2, the equipment used was:

  • EMC E1A Locomotive No. 2
  • EMC E1B Locomotive No. 2A
  • Railway Post Office-Mail Storage No. 3400 (transferred to the San Diegan prior to entering revenue service)
  • Baggage-Mail No. 3430
  • Sleeper Isleta (8 sections, 2 compartments, 1 drawing room)
  • Sleeper Laguna (8 sections, 2 compartments, 1 drawing room)
  • Dormitory-Lounge No. 1370 Acoma (also included a barber shop)
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner No. 1474 Cochiti (36 seats) – now on permanent display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, California (see photo)
  • Sleeper Oraibi (2 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Taos (2 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper-Lounge-Observation Navajo (3 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom); now on permanent display at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. (see photo)
  • The sleeping cars were operated by Pullman but were owned by the Santa Fe. The car names were chosen to commemorate the Native American tribes, pueblos, and cities along the railroad's route.

 

2nd Consist

On February 26, 1938, the consist was modified:

  • EMC E1A Locomotive No. 2
  • EMC E1B Locomotive No. 2A
  • Baggage-Dormitory-Buffet Lounge No. 1386 San Clemente
  • Sleeper Tuba (17 roomettes)
  • Sleeper Isleta (8 sections, 2 compartments, 1 drawing room)
  • Sleeper Taos (2 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Dormitory-Lounge No. 1370 Acoma (also included a barber shop)
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner No. 1474 Cochiti (36 seats)
  • Sleeper Oraibi (2 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Laguna (8 sections, 2 compartments, 1 drawing room)
  • Sleeper-Lounge-Observation Navajo (3 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)

The railroad added another trainset using sleeping cars borrowed from the Chief to handle the demand for passage aboard the train. Its original consist was:

  • EMC E1A Locomotive No. 3
  • EMC E1B Locomotive No. 3A
  • Baggage-Dormitory-Buffet Lounge car No. 1387 San Acacia
  • Sleeper Chinle (17 roomettes)
  • Sleeper Wupatki (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Klethla (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Dormitory-Lounge No. 1377 Agathla (also included a barber shop)
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner No. 1485 Awatobi (36 seats)
  • Sleeper Polacca (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Yampai (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper-Lounge-Observation Chaistla (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)

 

3rd Consist

On July 2 of that year, the permanent Super Chief-3 consist was established:

  • EMC E1A Locomotive No. 3
  • EMC E1B Locomotive No. 3A
  • Baggage-Dormitory-Buffet-Lounge No. 1387 San Acacia
  • Sleeper Chimayo (17 roomettes)
  • Sleeper Talwiwi (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Tchirge (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Dormitory-Lounge No. 1377 Agathla (also included a barber shop)
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner No. 1485 Awatobi (36 seats)
  • Sleeper Tsankawi (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Tyuonyi (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper-Lounge-Observation Puye (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)

 

One of the dining cars in 1947. (Fred Harvey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The observation car's lounge, 1940s. (Fred Harvey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

4th Consist

Beginning in 1947, a typical Super Chief consist:

  • EMD FTA Locomotive No. 163L
  • EMD FTB Locomotive No. 163A
  • EMD FTB Locomotive No. 163B
  • EMD FTA Locomotive No. 163C
  • Baggage-Buffet-Lounge No. 1384 San Ignacio (also included a barber shop)
  • Sleeper Toroweap (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Tonto (17 roomettes)
  • Sleeper Moencopi (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Jadito (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Dormitory-Club-Lounge No. 1375 Moencopi
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner (36 seats) No. 1484
  • Sleeper Kietsiel (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Hualapai (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Segatoa (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper-Lounge-Observation Coconino (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)

 

Train 18, The Super Chief - El Capitan, east of Streator, IL on January 28, 1967.

(Photo by Roger Puta, courtesy Marty Bernard, railfan 44, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

5th Consist

A typical Super Chief consist from 1948 to 1951:

  • EMD F3A Locomotive No. 17L
  • EMD F3B Locomotive No. 17A
  • EMD F3B Locomotive No. 17B
  • EMD F3A Locomotive No. 17C
  • Baggage No. 3446
  • Baggage-Buffet-Lounge No. 1383 San Simon (also included a barber shop)
  • Sleeper Blue Grove (10 roomettes, 2 compartments, 3 double bedrooms)*
  • Sleeper Blue Point (10 roomettes, 2 compartments, 3 double bedrooms)*
  • Sleeper Regal Town (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Dormitory-Club-Lounge No. 1392
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner (36 seats) No. 1493
  • Sleeper Regal Pass (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Regal Center (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Blue Springs (10 roomettes, 2 compartments, 3 double bedrooms)*
  • Lounge-Observation Vista Canyon (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)

*NOTE: The nineteen "10-2-3" sleepers in the Blue series had a floor plan unique to the Santa Fe.
In the 1940s and into the 1950s, the Super Chief occasionally interchanged sleepers with other railroads to provide "coast-to-coast" sleeping car service. In those instances, sleepers from eastern connections would take the place of Regal– or Pine–series cars:

  • (Pine Leaf, Gem, Creek, Pass, Ring, Beach) — Baltimore and Ohio Railroad "10-6" from Washington, D.C. off the Capitol Limited via Chicago to San Diego (the longest Pullman run in the United States).
  • (Pine Arroyo, Brook, Dale, Island, Cove, Fern) — New York Central "10-6" from New York off the 20th Century Limited via Chicago to L.A.
  • (Regal Gate, Gulf, Arms, Creek, Town, Court) — New York Central "4-4-2" from New York off the 20th Century Limited via Chicago to L.A.
  • (Regal Ruby, River, Spa, City, Inn, Ring) — Pennsylvania Railroad "4-4-2" from New York off the Broadway Limited via Chicago to L.A.

 

Inside the Pleasure Dome observation car in 1952. (Santa Fe Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Alco PA No. 51, temporary power on the Super Chief. (Santa Fe Railroad, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

6th Consist

A typical Super Chief consist from 1951 to 1956:

  • EMD F7A Locomotive No. 38L
  • EMD F7B Locomotive No. 38A
  • EMD F7B Locomotive No. 38B
  • EMD F7A Locomotive No. 38C
  • Baggage No. 3415
  • Railway Post Office (RPO) No. 83
  • Baggage-Buffet-Lounge (also included a barber shop) No. 1385 San Pascal
  • Sleeper Palm Top (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Pine Arroyo (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Regal Corps (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • "Turquoise Room"-"Pleasure Dome"-Lounge No. 502
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner (48 seats) No. 605
  • Dormitory-Club-Lounge Car No. 1343
  • Sleeper Regal Hunt (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Regal Manor (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Palm Lore (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper-Lounge-Observation Vista Club (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)

 

EMD F7 No. 38C with the Super Chief-El Capitan at LAUPT, March, 1971.

(Drew Jacksich from San Jose, California Republic, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

7th Consist

A typical Super Chief consist from the early 1960s (all-Pullman section):

  • EMD F7A Locomotive No. 303L
  • EMD F7B Locomotive No. 303A
  • EMD F7B Locomotive No. 19A
  • EMD F7A Locomotive No. 44L
  • Baggage No. 3544
  • Sleeper Palm Summit (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Pine Lodge (10 Roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Indian Drum (11 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Regal Isle (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • "Turquoise Room"-"Pleasure Dome"-Lounge No. 501
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner (48 seats) No. 606
  • Sleeper Regal Crest (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Indian Pony (11 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Palm Leaf (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Pine Range (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)

 

The combined Super Chief - El Capitan, led by EMD F7 No. 44C pulls into Track 10 at Los Angeles

Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) on September 24, 1966.

(Surf Line Historical Society, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

8th Consist

A typical Super Chief consist from the late 1960s (combined with El Capitan):

  • EMD FP45 Locomotive No. 104
  • EMD FP45 Locomotive No. 101
  • Baggage No. 3671
  • Baggage No. 3553
  • Baggage-Dormitory "Transition Car" No. 3478
  • Hi-Level "Chair car" / Coach (68 Seats) No. 549
  • Hi-Level "Chair car" / Coach (72 Seats) No. 731
  • Hi-Level Diner (80 seats) No. 654
  • Hi-Level Lounge (88 seats) No. 575
  • Hi-Level "Chair car" / Coach (72 Seats) No. 725
  • Hi-Level "Chair car" / Coach (68 Seats) No. 542
  • Sleeper Pine Cove (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Indian Mesa (11 double bedrooms)
  • "Turquoise Room"-"Pleasure Dome"-Lounge No. 504
  • Fred Harvey Company Diner (48 seats) No. 600
  • Sleeper Indian Flute (11 double bedrooms)
  • Sleeper Palm Leaf (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)

 

ATSF 5940 with Train 18, the Super Chief - El Capitan. FP45 5940 was built as ATSF 100. The F-unit in the distance is 34C. December 17, 1970.

(Photo by Roger Puta, courtesy Marty Bernard from U.S.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Station Stops

Station stops 1938

  • Chicago, Illinois (Dearborn Station)
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Newton, Kansas (service only)
  • Dodge City, Kansas (service only)
  • La Junta, Colorado (service only)
  • Raton, New Mexico (service only)
  • Las Vegas, New Mexico (service only)
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico (service only)
  • Gallup, New Mexico (service only)
  • Winslow, Arizona (service only)
  • Seligman, Arizona (service only)
  • Needles, California (service only)
  • Barstow, California
  • San Bernardino, California
  • Pasadena, California
  • Los Angeles, California

 

Station stops 1956

  • Chicago, Illinois (Dearborn Station)
  • Joliet, Illinois
  • Streator, Illinois
  • Chillicothe, Illinois
  • Galesburg, Illinois
  • Fort Madison, Iowa
  • Shopton, Iowa
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Newton, Kansas
  • Hutchinson, Kansas
  • Dodge City, Kansas
  • La Junta, Colorado
  • Raton, New Mexico
  • Las Vegas, New Mexico
  • Lamy, New Mexico
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Gallup, New Mexico
  • Winslow, Arizona
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Seligman, Arizona
  • Needles, California
  • Barstow, California
  • San Bernardino, California
  • Pomona, California
  • Pasadena, California
  • Los Angeles, California

 

A Super Chief Print Ad Gallery

 

Pleasure Dome print ad, 1951. (Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Turquoise Room print ad, 1947. (Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Indian Guides print ad, 1954. (Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Print ad featuring Chico, 1946. (Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Print ad: Every Inch the Chief, 1948. (Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

She Came in on the Super Chief print ad, 1948. (Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

 

"Hollywood mystique"

The Super Chief was a near-instant success among travelers who appreciated its modern, air-conditioned cars, private bedrooms, high amenity levels, and smooth ride. The train was staffed with top-of-the-line crews ingrained with the best traditions of the railroad, and drew passengers not only from other railroads but from other Santa Fe trains such as the Chief.

The Super Chief quickly became "the" train to ride between Chicago and Los Angeles, much as New York Central's 20th Century Limited was the favored travel option of the time for the East Coast-bound. To acquaint passengers with the various points of interest located along the route, Santa Fe built seven signs marking such notable features as the Continental Divide and Raton Pass.

In the mid-1940s, company president Fred G. Gurley went to great lengths to solicit business from California's motion picture industry. A passenger agent was located in Hollywood specifically for the purpose of maintaining close contact with the movie studios. The train stopped at Pasadena to allow celebrities to board away from the "hustle and bustle" of Los Angeles' Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT). When the Santa Fe was notified that a particular celebrity was going to be traveling on the Super Chief, a press release was issued to allow the media to interview and photograph the star.

Sadly, legendary Jazz Pianist Fats Waller died of pneumonia at the age of 39 on board the Santa Fe Super Chief on December 15, 1943.

In time the passenger list would include many Hollywood stars, such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, James Cagney, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby. The train's appeal was not limited to those in the entertainment industry, as it also played host to former presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and their wives.

Several radio and TV episodes of The Jack Benny Show had plotlines involving the cast traveling on the Super Chief. in one, a tout at Los Angeles Union Station tried to convince Jack to take the El Capitan instead.

 

Super Chief Post Cards

 

Postcard depicting the Super Chief, 1938. (Fred Harvey. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Super Chief traveling through orange groves. (AT&SF, Curt Teich, Western Publishing & Novelty, Los Angeles, CA, via W. Lenheim Collection)

 

The Super Chief at Albuquerque. (AT&SF, Curt Teich, Southwest Post Card, Albuquerque, NM, via W. Lenheim Collection)

The Super Chief and a field of California poppies. (AT&SF, Curt Teich, Western Publishing & Novelty, Los Angeles, CA, via W. Lenheim Collection)

The Santa Fe's Super Chief. (AT&SF, Curt Teich, Southwest Post Card, Albuquerque, NM, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Three for Bedroom "C"

In June 1952, Warner Bros. Pictures released Three for Bedroom "C", a romantic comedy starring Gloria Swanson, James Warren, Fred Clark, Hans Conried, and Steve Brodie. In the film, an aging movie star (Swanson) hides out in a compartment during a cross-country journey from New York to Los Angeles aboard the Super Chief.

Swanson's first color film was one of very few to be shot entirely aboard actual railroad equipment. Santa Fe transported cars from the Super Chief to the production company's studio lot for filming. The film met with lukewarm reviews and was not a financial success, but did showcase the features of the Super Chief.

 

The pantry aboard former Santa Fe dining car No. 1474, the Cochiti.

Over a million meals were served in the car,  which remained in service through the late 1960s.

(Photo by Robert A. Estremo, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Dining

Most railroads began offering some form of meal service on their trains as an alternate to the poor fare typically found at trackside establishments even before the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. By the mid-1880s, dedicated dining cars were a normal part of all long-distance train consists departing from Chicago for points west, save for those of the Santa Fe, who relied on America's first interstate network of restaurants to feed its passengers en route. The "Harvey Houses", located strategically along the line, served top-quality meals to railroad patrons during water stops and other planned layovers and were favored over in-transit facilities for all trains operating west of Kansas City.

The Super Chief included dining cars, staffed by Fred Harvey Company personnel, as part of its standard consist from the outset. In general, the Super Chief operated 36-seat dining cars, although most of them were convertible to 48-seat dining cars with a flip-top (or change of) table and addition of chairs. Dining cars almost always operated with a lounge car coupled to them for bar-lounge service and a waiting area when the dining car was full. Unlike the Union Pacific "City" trains, the Super Chief and other Santa Fe trains did not use the "twin-unit" dining cars. Santa Fe, in general, ran somewhat shorter trains that could be serviced with a single dining car (although the heavyweight trains frequently operated in several sections, the streamlined trains generally did not). The height of Super Chief lounge and dining facilities came in 1951 with the new 600-series Dining Cars bracketed by the 500 series Pleasure Domes in front and a bar-lounge-dormitory unit in back (moved from the front of the trains). The train still operated with the Vista-series 4 Drawing Room, 1 double bedroom observation cars on the rear, albeit without any bar or buffet service.

The bar-lounge cars next to the diner always included dormitory space for the train crew (a staff of 3–4 cooks and 6–7 waiters) required for the two-night-and-one-day trip. The eight Pullmans on the train had a capacity of 150–200 passengers when full but often ran with single-occupancy rooms, making the passenger load less.

 

The Turquoise Room in 1955.

(Santa Fe Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The Turquoise Room

When Santa Fe rolled out its new "Pleasure Dome"-Lounge cars in 1951, the railroad introduced the Turquoise Room, promoted as "The only private dining room in the world on rails". The room accommodated 12 guests, and could be reserved anytime for private dinner or cocktail parties. The room was often used by celebrities and dignitaries. As was the case on other railroads, dining car service was a losing proposition financially. Santa Fe, more than any of its competitors, took the concept of using on-board meal service as a loss leader to the highest level to attract and retain customers. The name Super Chief became synonymous with the finest fare available on wheels.

 

Front cover of the Santa Fe's "Along the Route" booklet, which was given to passengers.

(AT&SF, via W. Lenheim Collection)

 

Menu

The Continental cuisine offered aboard the Super Chief went beyond the American fare on other trains, and often rivaled that served in many five-star restaurants. A "Wake-Up Cup" of coffee was brought to one's private bedroom each morning, on request, a service exclusive to the Super Chief. Breakfast and lunch were served à la carte, while dinner could be ordered either à la carte or table d'hôte.

The elaborate dinner offerings generally included caviar and other delicacies, cold salads, grilled and sauteéd fish, sirloin steaks and filet mignon, lamb chops, and the like. For discerning palates, elegant champagne dinners were an option. One of the Super Chief's most popular signature dishes was the AT&SF version of pain perdu, simply and appropriately named "Santa Fe French Toast".

 

Mimbreño china

The décor, linens, and other dining car accoutrements reflected the same Southwestern flair prevalent throughout the train. Mary Colter, architect, Indian art expert, and 35-year veteran of the Fred Harvey Company, designed the china and silverware used on the Super Chief. Colter, who also designed the interiors of Fred Harvey's opulent La Fonda, La Posada, and El Tovar hotels, based her dinnerware motif on the Native American pictographs of animals and geometric patterns left behind on clay pots by the ancient inhabitants of the Rio Mimbres Valley in southwestern New Mexico around 1100 AD. Colter drew specific inspiration from the 700 pen-and-ink drawings of Mimbres pottery recorded by archeologist Harriet Cosgrove from 1924 to 1927 while excavating the Swarts Ruin in New Mexico with her husband Cornelius Cosgrove. Publication of the Swarts Ruin record created a sensation in 1932.

The "Mimbreño" pattern was produced between 1936 and 1970 by the Onondaga Pottery Co. of Syracuse, New York, under its better-known trade name, Syracuse China. The bottoms carried the inscription "Made expressly for Santa Fe Dining Car Service." These distinctive pieces made their debut on the dining car Cochiti in 1937. Used on the Super Chief and other named trains until the end of Santa Fe passenger service in 1971, some original Mimbreño dinnerware can still be found today in service on BNSF Railway business cars.

Mimbreño has been dubbed "the oldest of all railroad china" as its design concept dates back nearly ten centuries. Demand for surviving original pieces has created a collector's market, and led to the issuance of authorized reproductions in recent years.

 

An EMC E1 leading the Super Chief, 1937.

(Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Super Chief Overview

Service type: Inter-city rail
Status: Discontinued
Locale: Midwestern and Southwestern United States
First service: May 18, 1937
Last service: May 19, 1974
Successor: Southwest Limited
Former operators: Santa Fe; Amtrak (1971–1974)
Route Termini: Chicago / Los Angeles
Average journey time: 39 hrs 30 min
Service frequency: Daily (after 1948)
Train numbers: 17 and 18
Line used: Southern Transcon
Technical
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge