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Famous Locomotives


The Pioneer Zephyr
Following Zephyr's record-shattering speed run from Chicago to Denver, the train went on a national promotional tour. Arriving in Oakland, California, the train is mobbed by curiosity seekers.
Following Zephyr's record-shattering speed run from Chicago to Denver, the train went on a national promotional tour. Arriving in Oakland, California, the train is mobbed by curiosity seekers.
California State Railroad Museum

Most famous of the motor trains was the Zephyr, named after the Greek god of the west wind. It was a complete, compact, self-propelled three-car train, clad in gleaming stainless steel and looking every bit like the train of the future.

Christened in April of 1934, the diminutive train toured the East and Midwest while plans were laid for a spectacular promotional stunt. The stubby little Zephyr was to make the 1,015-mile trip from Denver to Chicago in a dawn-to-dusk dash of 14 hours-12 hours under the fastest regular service. The trip got off 65 minutes late on May 26, 1934. The shovel-nose streamliner reached a top speed of 112 miles per hour as it hurtled across the Plains. Its progress, closely followed by the press, was announced to visitors at Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition.

The train broke a timing tape in Chicago at 7:10 p.m.-13 hours, 4 minutes, and 58 seconds after it left Denver-and rolled onto the stage at the climax of the "Wings of a Century" pageant at the exposition. There, with Lake Michigan as a backdrop, the Zephyr signaled the end of the Steam Age, claiming the future for the diesel-electric streamline train.


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