Post-war Railroads

The railroad industry in post-World War II America was swimming against the tide of change. Both in terms of aesthetics and operating practices, the period between 1945 and 1960 was the beginning of the end for tradition railroading. This 15-year period saw the ultimate flowering of steam in high-horsepower Locomotives, but it also brought the first generation of diesels that would ultimately replace them

When World War II ended, America's railroads were exalted but exhausted. The volume of men, machines, and supplies that had been moved during the conflict was unquestionably a triumph for the industry and a significant factor in the Allied victory. But it had come at a price.


Locomotives and rolling stock were worn out from being pressed beyond their limits moving troops and materiel while continuing to meet unprecedented civilian travel needs. Railroad research and development, to say nothing of nonessential production, had been put on hold. For a generation of American males, the operative image of passenger railroading involved a troop train, not the Twentieth Century Limited.

After the war, however, the railroads lost no time in moving to counter these problems. Diesels had proven their worth before and during the war, and there was little doubt that their role was about to rev up dramatically as worn-out equipment was replaced.

The immediate postwar years were a time of optimism and renewal for Americans. New prospects appeared, as well as new conveniences, and the railroads confidently saw themselves as part of this resurgence. Despite precipitous declines in both passenger and freight traffic in the Depression-ridden 1930s, the railroads' posture remained expansive and upbeat.

Perhaps the most visible and dramatic action taken by America's railroads in the immediate postwar years was the placement of massive orders for new streamliners by virtually all of the nation's Class 1 carriers. All three of the major carbuilders-the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company (which in 1946 would become part of The Budd Company), the Pullman-Standard Manufacturing Company, and American Car & Foundry-were swamped by the demand, so much so that the delivery window could be as long as five years.

Planning for new trains-and even some orders for equipment-had been suspended when the United States entered the war in 1941. The wartime focus was squarely on utility. "Non-revenue" cars such as lounges were banned, for instance, and Pullman runs under 450 miles were cancelled.


The Great Steel Fleet

When peace came, rail luxury was resurrected with a vengeance. Not surprisingly, traditionally pro-passenger railroads took the lead. New York Central ordered more than 700 cars, reequipping its fabled flagship, the Twentieth Century Limited, along with the balance of its "Great Steel Fleet," as the railroad called its imposing roster of long-distance passenger trains. This extraordinary order, shared by Pullman and Budd, encompassed coaches, diners, tavern-lounges, parlor-observation cars, mail cars, baggage cars, and sleepers, most arriving in 1948 and 1949.

All of these cars were in the "lightweight" streamliner mode; construction of "heavyweight" or "standard" cars of riveted steel was over by this time. Budd products were all built of stainless steel using a patented "shotwelding" process-spot welding with a powerful "shot" of electric current. Pullman and ACF cars were generally fabricated of Cor-Ten steel, a durable alloy marketed by United States Steel beginning in 1934. More than two-thirds of all lightweight cars built would be of Cor-Ten, with stainless steel second and aluminum a distant third (though many of Union Pacific's lightweights used this metal). Stainless steel and aluminum cost approximately ten times more than Cor-Ten.


New York Central's vast postwar order for passenger cars included more than 250 Pullmans in configurations typical of the period. More than half were what railroaders call "ten and sixes," meaning that they contained ten roomettes and six double bedrooms. Some had roomettes only, 22 in number, and others were configured with six double bedrooms and a buffet-lounge at one end.

Like virtually all sleepers, heavyweights and lightweights alike, these cars carried names-evocative names to be sure, but also useful, since they were assigned in series and thus served to identify car types. (The only major railroads that chose not to name their lightweight sleepers were the Southern Pacific and, later, the Northern Pacific.)

Central's Pullman-Standard-built 10/6s were named in the "River" series: "Agawam River," "Kalamazoo River," "Chateauguay River," and so on-97 cars in all. Budd's 10/6s were "Valley" cars, while its 22-roomette cars were in the "Harbor" series. Pullman-Standard's were named "Sandusky Bay," "Thunder Bay," and so on. Of the hundreds of cars that arrived to upgrade NYC's passenger services, two were clearly the crown jewels: "Hickory Creek" and "Sandy Creek," the deep-windowed sleeper-observation lounges for the Twentieth Century Limited.


Postwar Streamliners

Sailing along with the "Great Steel Fleet" were the colorful new streamliners of other railroads. Competitor Pennsylvania Railroad upgraded its "Fleet of Modernism," including its illustrious Broadway Limited. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western launched a New York City-Buffalo train with an old name: Phoebe Snow, the "maid all in white" who had touted the virtues of the line's clean-burning locomotives, fired with Pennsylvania anthracite coal.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line buffed up their New York City-to-Florida trains, ACL's Champions and SAL's Silver Meteor and all-new Silver Star. Illinois Central inaugurated the City of New Orleans (which decades later would be made famous in song) from Chicago and updated its all-Pullman Panama Limited on the same route. Southern Railway and partners fielded a new Crescent between New York and New Orleans and the Royal Palm between the Midwest and Florida. Norfolk & Western introduced a pair of Cincinnati-Norfolk streamliners, the daylight Powhatan Arrow and overnight Pocahontas.


The Louisville & Nashville line was off the blocks quickly, in late 1946, with its Cincinnati-New Orleans Humming Bird and St. Louis-Atlanta Georgian with partner Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis. (In 1950, Wabash would enter the bird sweepstakes with its Blue Bird.)

Monon's postwar streamliners were unique. While other railroads turned to the major builders, this modest Midwestern carrier made a deal with the U.S. Army to buy a bunch of almost new hospital cars made surplus by peace and-with the help of industrial designer Raymond Loewy-turned them into handsome red-and-gray streamliners, complete with baggage-mail cars, coaches, dining-tavern cars, and flat-end parlor-observation cars. Thus equipped, the Hoosier and Tippecanoe streamliners entered service between Chicago and Indianapolis, while the Thoroughbred ran between Chicago and Louisville.


Western Railroads After World War II

Western railroads invested heavily. Great Northern got in ahead of all the rest, with its reequipped Empire Builder, inaugurated in early 1947 to operate between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, and competitor Milwaukee Road came along about six months later with its Olympian Hiawatha, featuring unique glass-turreted "Skytop" observation cars (offered on the road's Chicago-Twin Cities Hiawathas as well). Northern Pacific, also vying for passengers between Chicago and the Northwest, upgraded its lightweight North Coast Limited. New on Southern Pacific were a streamlined Oakland-Portland Shasta Daylight fin the lovely red and orange colors introduced before the war) and the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited.

Union Pacific enhanced its Overland Route fleet serving Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland (with partners Chicago & North Western, Southern Pacific, and Wabash). The Santa Fe Chiefs-and in particular, the all-Pullman, extra-fare Super Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles-received a massive infusion of new equipment.


Chicago, Burlington & Quincy was a streamliner pioneer, having introduced its three-car, fluted-stain-less-steel Zephyr in 1934. (Along with UP's Streamliner, which debuted a week or so earlier, Burlington's little train, later called the Pioneer Zephyr, kicked off the lightweight era.) By the time World War II broke out, Burlington had significantly expanded its "Zephyr" fleet, a process the company continued immediately after Japan's surrender.

Dome-car Railroads

This studio-altered view of General Motors' train of tomorrow demonstrator shows why some cars would prove enduringly popular.
Sanderson Photography, Inc.

In September of 1945, Burlington ordered an identical pair of trains from Budd (its exclusive supplier in the lightweight era) that two years later would enter service between Chicago and the Twin Cities as the Twin Zephyrs. These trains were notable in that each contained four Vista-Dome cars for sightseeing-undoubtedly the most exciting innovation in postwar passenger railroading. In July of 1945, just months before the Twin Zephyrs order, Burlington had introduced its Silver Dome, the prototype Vista-Dome, converted in the railroad's Aurora (Illinois) Shops from a Budd coach.

The dome-car brainstorm had come a year earlier to Cyrus R. Os-born, a General Motors vice president and general manager of its Electro-Motive Division, builder of diesel locomotives. The inspiration occurred while he was riding in the cab of one of his company's products through Colorado's Glenwood Canyon. It struck Osborn that passengers would gladly "pay $500 for the fireman's seat" with the views it afforded. Osborn sketched the dome idea and General Motors eventually built it, in the four-car, all-dome prototype Train of Tomorrow, which debuted in 1947.


This little demonstration train consisted of a round-end observation-lounge, sleeper, diner, and chair car, all topped with glass-enclosed observatories. Each of these types would be replicated for some of the 16 railroads (virtually all of them in the West, since clearances on most eastern lines prohibited dome operation) that would come to own a grand total of 236 dome cars by the time the last one was built in 1958.

Probably the greatest dome train of all was the Chicago-San Francisco California Zephyr, operated by Burlington in partnership with the Denver & Rio Grande Western and Western Pacific. This handsome Budd-built train was ordered in 1945, just a month after the Twin Zephyr, but didn't enter service until 1949, so extensive (67 cars, for six trainsets), complex, and elegant was the equipment ordered. With five domes and a schedule designed to transit both the Colorado Rockies and California's Feather River Canyon in daylight, the CZ, as it was known to its intimates, made good its publicists' claims by becoming the "most talked about train in America."


The Chessie Streamliner

Continuing the decorative direction pioneered by the Santa Fe, the fully reequipped train of 1951 carried out a Southwesten American Indian theme.
California State Railroad Museum

Perhaps the most bizarre episode in the postwar passenger boom involved the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and its impetuous chairman, Robert R. Young. Though the route of the coal-hauling C&O was relatively short on population areas and thus passenger potential, in the mid-1940s Young ordered a total of 351 cars to modernize its passenger service. This included 46 cars from Budd to inaugurate the Chessie, an all-new daytime streamliner to run between Washington and Cincinnati (with connecting sections to Newport News, Virginia, and Louisville, Kentucky). The equipment for this luxurious train, which had two dome cars and a lounge car featuring a fish tank, was delivered in August of 1948.

By then, however, a downturn in business conditions and disappointing ridership on both C&O and competitor Baltimore & Ohio caused the Chessie to be rethought-and abandoned before it was even inaugurated. All but four of the 46 Chessie cars were sold off, and by 1951 only 130 cars from among Young's 351-car order remained in C&O service, many having been diverted before they were ever delivered. (Southern Pacific and Rock Island had been responsible for a similarly stillborn train, the Golden Rocket, on the Golden State Route between Chicago and Los Angeles. This tri-weekly luxury service was set to debut in 1947, but the operators pulled the plug, setting a sad precedent for the Chessie.)


C&O's controversial Young was not shy about publicity. One occasion that garnered plenty of it was a 1956 magazine ad he instigated with a banner headline that screamed, "A Hog Can Cross America Without Changing Trains-But YOU Can't!" A pig lolled contentedly in the door of a stock car, while a distraught family-labeled "John Q. Traveler"-watched the train roll by.

Indeed, the United States had never had a true transcontinental, coast-to-coast train (and wouldn't until 1993, when Amtrak extended its Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited to Jacksonville and Miami). In the ad, Young prodded the industry, saying that C&O "stands ready" to join with other carriers in providing such service.


Transcontinental Service

Though a transcontinental train would have to wait nearly four decades, through-service had been planned even before the war and was inaugurated in March of 1956. Trains traveled from New York and Washington to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The participants were the New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Baltimore & Ohio in the East and, in the West, the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Rock Island, Chicago & North Western, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific. The cars were interchanged at Chicago.

During this era, Chicago remained the great railroad center it had always been, with no fewer than six major, main-line train stations: Union Station (serving the Pennsylvania Railroad, Milwaukee Road, Burlington, and Gulf, Mobile & Ohio), LaSalle Street Station (New York Central, Nickel Plate, Rock Island), Dearborn (Santa Fe, Erie, Grand Trunk, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Wabash, and Monon), Grand Central (Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Soo Line), Central (Illinois Central), and the Chicago & North Western Passenger Terminal. Countless thousands of passengers poured through these grand stations, bound for hundreds of cities from coast to coast.


Chicago's depot diversity, while architecturally and operationally rich, complicated transfers of passengers, luggage-and, later, through-cars that were sleepers. Parmalee Transfer was the company dedicated to shuffling people and their belongings among the stations. The Pullmans, too, had to switch tracks, a complicated operation that involved four stations. Though performed expeditiously, the switching involved layovers for servicing, which kept the through-car option from being entirely successful. Passengers could stay aboard during switching maneuvers, or they could detrain to see the sights of Chicago.

These through-services were part of the railroads' postwar passenger revival, which by 1948 was in full swing. Some 2,500 new cars were in service, enough to assemble 250 new streamlined trainsets, with another 2,000 cars on order. Putting this in perspective, and highlighting the vastness of rail passenger operations of the era, is another revealing statistic: In 1950, lightweight cars, pre- and postwar, accounted for only 15 percent of the country's total operating fleet. Though long out of production, the old riveted heavyweights still ruled the roost, maintaining an almost exclusive hold on local and suburban services.


Railroad Modernization

A star attraction at the Chicago Railroad Fair was Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's original Zephyr of 1934.
California State Railroad Museum

In 1948 and again in 1949, the Chicago Railroad Fair provided an admirable showcase for innovations in passenger service and other aspects of railroading. Dieselization and streamlining, two parts of the equation that equaled modernization, went hand in hand, and diesels were much in evidence in the Railroad Fair's equipment displays. Fairbanks-Morse was represented by a 1,500-horsepower road switcher and a streamlined passenger unit powering Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha. The Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of General Motors brought its Train of Tomorrow with its sleek E7 diesel, along with an A-B-B-A set of streamlined F3 freight diesels.

These F3s were an improved version of the FT that the division had introduced in 1939 and sent barnstorming--84,000 miles over 20 railroads-with the mission of making diesel believers of hardened steam-seasoned skeptics. The demonstrator FTs were remarkably successful, considering the daunting nature of their task, and 1,172 FTs (and similarly powered though somewhat improved F2s) were produced before, during, and immediately after the war.


While steam locomotives were endlessly individualized-from task to task and from railroad to railroad-EMD's salesmen staked their reputation on the utility of a standard product: one size fits all. This allowed locomotive-builders to adopt the production-line approach long since perfected by the automobile companies.

Basically, diesels of the "first generation"-those that performed the herculean and not uniformly appreciated task of vanquishing the steam locomotive-fell into three categories: yard switchers, road switchers, and "cab units," the streamlined locomotives that were originally the norm on the main lines. Yard switching was the diesel's first-calling, one that, by the 1940s, was widely accepted. Sleek diesels hauling passenger trains also became an accepted, if somewhat rare, phenomenon in the late 1930s.

But it was the line-haul application to freight pioneered by the FTs that would shake the industry during and after the war.


Diesel Engines on Freight Trains

Freight, according to conventional railroad wisdom, was the inviolate domain of steam. EMD's FT and successors proved otherwise.

Produced from 1945 to 1953, the F3s and F7s were a bit more powerful than the FTs (1,500 versus 1,350 horsepower per unit) and embodied myriad improvements that surfaced while FTs were running their wheels off in wartime service. The F3s, F7s, and F9s (a 1,750-horsepower version marketed from 1954 to 1957) eventually numbered 5,856 units. That's standardization. It's also market dominance.


Competitors, including steam-building giants American Locomotive Company and Baldwin, scrambled to get into the act. Both had been testing the waters of diesel-locomotive-building since the 1920s, but neither had done much more than that. Steam died hard, and these two companies, along with the Lima Locomotive Works, represented the "big three" of steam. As an offspring of automaker General Motors, EMD was less encumbered by tradition.

In the freight-locomotive marketplace, EMD had a signficant advantage in addition to its wholehearted commitment to internal combustion (which Alco and Baldwin understandably lacked until long after the writing was on the wall). In 1943, EMD had been ordered by the War Production Board to resume manufacture of the FT and was simultaneously prohibited from building switchers or passenger locomotives. Alco and Baldwin were assigned switchers as their niche. By the time the war ended and these strictures were lifted, these two former steam greats were hopelessly behind in freight-locomotive technology and visibility.

Alco did have some success marketing its FA/FB cab units, designed primarily for freight service, in competition with EMD's evolving succession of F-units. Alco's distinctively flat-faced locomotives had their devotees, but the 1,354 eventually sold represented but a fifth of the total tally racked up by EMD's Fs. Baldwin's equivalent products-popularly known as "Babyfaces" and "Sharknoses" in reference to their designers' variations on EMD's classic "Bulldog" snouts-sold but 265. Fairbanks-Morse, a railroad supply that built locomotives from 1944 to 1963, had a similar product popularly known as the "C-Liner." Total sales: 123.

EMD, Alco, Baldwin, and FM had passenger counterparts to these freight diesels. In all cases they were stretched versions (with plenty of room in the carbodies for two diesel engines rather than one, plus heat-supplying steam generators and boilers), riding on six-wheel rather than four-wheel trucks for better tracking at high speeds. Market-share among the builders roughly paralleled the freight-unit breakdown.

Electro-Motive was not interested in customization, nor in having the purchasing railroads telling them how to make their mousetrap, so to speak. The company staunchly resisted requests for modifications, feeling that it knew best, at the same time recognizing that standardization was the key to financial success. The very fact that diesels were by definition building blocks-each F3, for instance, being a 1,500-horsepower unit that could be operated alone or in lash-ups of two, three, four, or even five or more-allowed endless customization. The former steam builders, on the other hand, lacked this clarity of vision on diesel standardization. As a result, Alco and (particularly) Baldwin tended to get unproductively mired down in special orders.

In any case, the diesels certainly were coming, with EMD leading the charge. Raw numbers tell the story. In 1944, America's Class 1 railroads rostered 39,881 steam engines, which accounted for 91 percent of total motive power; 3,049 diesels, or 7 percent; and 863 electric units, 2 percent. By 1955, just over a decade later, the numbers had more or less flip-flopped: 24,786 diesels (79 percent), 5,982 steamers (19 percent), and 627 electrics (2 percent). By 1960 the case was closed: diesels 28,278 (97), electrics 492 (2 percent), and steam 261 (1 percent). The steam era was history.


The Last Steam Locomotive

Dining car china was another medium through which to advertise.
Sanderson Photography, Inc.

Steam didn't go down without a fight, however. It was tried and true motive power, not without its virtues, and certainly not without its supporters-given that the business of railroading has typically been filled with hidebound traditionalists. Steam locomotive production had continued apace through the war, and a number of lines continued to order (and in a few cases, build) steam for a few years afterward. This final incarnation of steam took a relative high-tech form, exemplified by Lima's "Super-Power" locomotives and by comparable products from Baldwin and Alco. They featured higher boiler pressure, feedwater heaters (heating water on the way to the boiler), roller bearings on engine and tender, mechanical and pressure lubricating, one-piece cast-steel bed frames, superheaters (heating steam passing to the cylinders), and often boosters on trailing trucks to provide a little added power for starting heavy trains.

Coal-hauler Chesapeake & Ohio was an unusually good steam customer, purchasing a number of locomotives after the war (but all to previously established designs). Lima delivered 20 and Alco 30 of the 2-8-4s (called "Kanawhas," not "Berkshires," on C&O), and Lima delivered five 4-8-4s ("Greenbriers," since C&O was too Southern to roster a "Northern"). Lima supplied 2-6-6-6 "Alleghenies" and Baldwin, its 2-6-6-2s-the last of which, No. 1309, arrived in September 1949, concluding Baldwin's long history as a builder of steam for domestic use. Number 779, the last of 10 Berkshire's that Lima delivered to Nickel Plate in 1949, wrote finis for that builder. Alco's last steamer was also a Berkshire, for Pittsburgh & Lake Erie. (The 27 4-8-4 "Niagaras" that Alco had built for New York Central from 1945-46 represented one of the last successful American steam-locomotive designs.)


Only a few railroads had the size, expertise, and facilities to build their own locomotives in the modern era: CB&Q at West Burlington, Illinois Central at Paducah, Great Northern at Hillyard, Frisco at Pine Bluff, and Canadian Pacific at Montreal. Reading built 30 T1 Northerns from 1945-47, and 10 G3 Pacifics-both notable in being new designs that were fielded late. But in homemade steam, Pennsylvania and Norfolk & Western were preeminent by far. Pennsy's Juniata Shops in Altoona turned out nearly 7,000 locomotives in a wide variety of classes-ending, in 1946, with 25 streamlined, shark-nosed T1 4-4-4-4 duplexes for passenger service (Baldwin built another 25) and 25 Q2 4-4-6-4s. Neither class was wholly successful.

But when it came to steam in the twilight years, the Norfolk & Western-a coal road, like C&O, that invested in burning what it hauled-stood alone. N&W's Roanoke Shops was the birthplace for some of the most advanced and powerful locomotives ever built: Y6 2-8-8-2s for coal drags and general merchandise, Class A 2-6-6-4s for fast freight (and just about anything else), J 4-8-4s for passengers, and S1 0-8-0s for switching. These were major players in steam's final chapter.

The sleek, powerful Js were unusual in being designed as streamlined locomotives (though some built in wartime ran temporarily without shrouds, to save metal); the last trio among the 14 that were built rolled out of Roanoke Shops in 1950, the same year Class A construction ended-and even then, N&W wasn't finished. Y6s were assembled into 1952. The honor of being the last steam locomotive ever built in America fell to an S1 switcher the following year.


O. Winston Link

One of steam's greatest charms was at the same time its greatest weakness. To function, the steam locomotive required a substantial coterie of attendants and an elaborate physical structure of support. Many of traditional railroadings' most cherished icons-the water tower, the coaling dock, the turntable, the roundhouse-existed to fuss over the steam engine. Workers known as "hostlers" were kept busy coaling, watering, and lubricating locomotives between runs, and tending their fires-building, cleaning, dropping, and banking. In the roundhouses, workers performed routine inspections at regular, mandated intervals and made relatively minor "running repairs." In backshops, heavy overhauls and rebuilding occupied boilermakers, machinists, and members of various other crafts.

Fortunately, these final days of steam are well-documented, since they came at a time when the enthusiasm for trains (and particularly steam) was an established and growing hobby, and when quality cameras were common enough to be in the hands of many talented and dedicated fans. Plenty of fine photographers captured a plethora of images, most of them informative, some deeply evocative. But the work of one man-O. Winston Link, a New York City-based commercial photographer-covering one railroad, the Norfolk & Western, stands out from the rest as a composite document of steam's dying days.

In what was truly a labor of love, Link made numerous trips to the railroad in the late 1950s, photographing the machines and, significantly, the people who worked on and around them. His project was unique, especially since most of the images were made at night, allowing a degree of graphic control not possible in daylight. The pictures were created with a keen sense of composition and an inventiveness that bordered on the madcap, so elaborately constructed were such scenes as a Class A roaring past a drive-in movie theater. Complex syncronized flash set-ups were required in many cases, and the technical expertise was remarkable throughout. Hundreds of images-published in Steam, Steel, and Stars (1983) and The Last Steam Railroad in America (1995)-create a richly human portrait that has gained a wide and general audience.

The End of Steam Engines

Though the diminution and eventual demise of steam was the beginning of the depersonalization of railroading, the process didn't happen overnight. Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) dates back to 1927, when it was introduced on the New York Central, but the 1950s were still rich in train-order railroading, with "flimsies" (orders were generally written or typed on tissue) hooped up to engineers and conductors by agents and operators at thousands of depots and interlocking towers across the country. Though radio was coming in, replacing lantern signals as the preferred communication mode between train and engine crews, it would be years before operating authority could be transmitted over the air. Meanwhile, there were railroaders spread all along the line-and riding the cabooses that trailed every train.

Postwar America through the decade of the 1950s still had the appearance of a railroad country. In 1944, Class 1 railroad mileage totaled 215,493; by 1960 it had actually increased slightly, to 217,552. Over those rails during the decade and a half after the war, a heady mixture of steam and diesels had powered an impressive array of lightweight and heavyweight passenger trains-illustrious all-Pullman flyers, humble locals, and everything in between-and freight trains that ranged from hot "redball" merchandisers to coal drags, as well as "way freights," serving industries both large and small.

The 40-foot box car was still the emblematic and most common freight car. Stock still moved to slaughterhouse by rail. Many refrigerator cars were still ice-cooled, with huge blocks being wrestled from icing platforms through roof hatches of refrigerator cars. "Loose-car railroading" remained the order of the day, and the unique ability of a train to be combined and recombined at classification yards was held as a primary virtue. If you ordered merchandise, it was still likely to reach you courtesy of the Railway Express Agency, whose green baggage carts stood on the platforms of thousands of depots from coast to coast. So-called L.C.L. shipments ("less than carload lot") shipments were a routine and welcome aspect of the rail freight business.

The Official Guide of the Railways was still a rewardingly hefty tome, rich in routes and trains. The modern merger movement lay ahead, so most of the railroad names therein had been familiar ones for generations. Other than the colorful addition of diesels and streamliners, it might seem that little had changed, but forces were already in motion that would soon have serious implications for railroading.

In May of 1949, an ominous milestone was passed. For the first time, airline passenger-miles exceeded those of the Pullman Company. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower signed into law the act creating the Interstate Highway System. America was unmistakably in love with its automobiles, and the federal government decided to make a monumental investment in the roads they would require to dominate the country's surface transportation system.

On March 29, 1957, the New York, Ontario & Western was abandoned. Though this charismatic road has become better loved in death than it ever was in life, the loss of a Class 1 carrier undoubtedly was shocking-a further loss for an industry destined to become increasingly aware of its mortality.

On March 27, 1960, regularly scheduled passenger steam service in the United States came to an end (except for special excursions like Rio Grande's Silverton Train) when Grand Trunk Western pulled its Northerns out of Detroit-Durand local service. Two days later the Canadian Pacific mixed train between Megantic, Quebec, and Brownville Junction, Maine, was dieselized, making moot the question of whether a mixed train was a passenger train.

On May 6, 1960, the Norfolk & Western dieselized, and the twilight of steam faded into night.

Post-war Railroads Timeline


New York, Susquehanna & Western becomes the first Class 1 railroad to embrace diesel technology. Other railroads are quick to follow.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad debuts Silver Dome, the first dome car, on its popular Chicago-Twin Cities Twin Zephyr.


General Motors' four-car, all-dome Train of Tomorrow, a product of its highly competitive Electro-Motive Division, is unveiled at Soldier Field in Chicago on May 28.

Alton Railroad becomes part of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio.


Santa Fe's Chicago-to-Los Angeles Super Chief, successfully inaugurated in 1936 and streamlined in 1937, begins daily service.

New York Central fields the all-new Twentieth Century Limited; rival Pennsylvania Railroad counters with a new Broadway Limited.


Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific launch the Vista-Dome California Zephyr between Chicago and Oakland, California; however, for the first time in history, airline passenger-miles exceed those of the Pullman Company.


President Truman orders U.S. troops to the aid of South Korea.


Norfolk & Western's Roanoke Shops build the last steam locomotive in the United States, an 0-8-0 switcher.


Santa Fe is an early convert to diesel technology, partly due to the scarcity of water on its desert lines.


When an 0-6-0 switcher drops its fires at Camden, New jersey, the Pennsylvania Railroad is dieselized.


Grand Trunk Western pulls its Northerns out of local service in Michigan, putting an end to regularly scheduled passenger steam service in the United States.