Post-war Railroads

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.