Riding the Rails
Riding Aboard Amtrak's Heritage Fleet
I remember making several trips aboard Amtrak’s Heritage Fleet cars in the days before Amtrak replaced them with newer models. The Heritage Fleet comprised Streamliner locomotives, coaches, sleepers, and other rolling stock that Amtrak “inherited” when it took over passenger rail travel from the private railroads. The earliest Amtrak consists showed cars in the color schemes of their private owners. It took a little while for Amtrak to paint them in their own red-white-and-blue livery.
Early Amtrak consist in the predecessor railroad liveries
are seen on The Empire Builder pulled by ex-Burlington Northern
locomotive 9762 at Yakima, Washington, in August 1971.
(Jacksich, Drew. Creative Commons license 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
It took longer for Amtrak to replace the aging Streamliner rolling stock, which dated from the 1940s and 1950s. Most of what Amtrak inherited was too worn to use. Still, it was fun getting to ride on the better ones of them one more time before they all disappeared. Yes, one more time. You see, in childhood, I rode on the Illinois Central’s City of New Orleans when I went to visit my grandparents.
We will begin this remembrance of Amtrak’s Heritage Fleet with a day trip I took in September of 1986. I caught the Amtrak Cardinal in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rode across northern Kentucky, through West Virginia and Virginia, to Alexandria. I rode in an ex-Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) heritage coach that still bore Native American art on the posts between the windows. The AT&SF used Budd Company stainless-steel cars, which means the exterior walls were scalloped stainless steel; even the lavatories in the restrooms were stainless steel.
Trains were friendly in those days. Although people did not share their names with one another, they did share a bit about themselves and their reasons for travel. I met a lady from Staunton, Virginia, who was on her way to New York to spend a week with her brother and his family, shopping, dining in fine restaurants, and attending Broadways plays. I met a man who was a chef at the prestigious Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
A few years later, when I lived in Virginia, I traveled on the Amtrak Crescent several times to visit my parents. I remember the first of those trips. I was hopelessly homesick and made my reservations at the last minute. Not surprisingly, I was given one of few berths remaining aboard a Slumbercoach. The best way to explain what a Slumbercoach was is to show you a picture:
Source: Miley, H. Michael. Ex-Northern Pacific Slumbercoach at the
Illinois Railway Museum. September 15, 2007. Creativecommons 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons.
You will see single-level windows at the near end. Those are double bedrooms, quite similar to, yet pleasantly larger than, those on today’s sleeping cars. At the far end, however, you will see windows that alternate between upper and lower positions. Their positions represent upper and lower mini-bedrooms. Thus, there is an upper unit that overlaps half of each of two lower units. To access an upper unit, one climbs two or three steps. See pictures and drawings: http://cs.trains.com/trn/f/743/t/221869.aspx
The unit comprises a single berth that folds down from the wall and rests atop a folded chair. A passenger may unfold the chair for a place to sit in the daytime. A toilet and lavatory sit directly beside the berth; however, the berth must be raised in order to access the toilet. The floor space is but a narrow strip between the berth and the steps. See pictures: https://www.train-museum.org/locomotives-rolling-stock/passenger-cars/slumbercoach-amtrak/
I did not care for the Slumbercoach. It was difficult to climb up and occupy with luggage. The berth was most uncomfortable. Of course, the Slumbercoaches were well on their way out when I experienced one; everything was old and worn. A total of 28 Slumbercoaches were built by the Budd Company between 1956 and 1959. None remains in service today.
Let’s move on to my next trip in a Heritage Fleet sleeping car. The Heritage Fleet bedroom was heavenly! I loved it! If you’ve seen the sleeping car bedrooms in old movies, then you know what I’m talking about. The room had space to move about, two chairs in addition to the upper and lower berths, and a separate bathroom, which also was spacious. The Heritage Fleet bedroom was easily twice as large as today’s Viewliner or Superliner bedrooms. All but five of Amtrak’s Heritage Fleet sleeping cars were built by Budd; the remaining five were built by Pullman-Standard. See pictures: http://www.guidetozscale.com/html/pullman_rooms.html
I need to add one more segment about the Crescent’s heritage cars. They are dining cars that were used on the Southern Railway’s Crescent in the days before Amtrak came into being. Yes, they appeared for several years on the Amtrak Crescent. I’m glad they did, because they gave us a glimpse into privatized dining ambience even as they paid homage to the Crescent’s predecessor railroad. Southern’s color scheme was dark green and white; thus, the seats were dark green. Glass partitions bore scenic engravings. Curtains were dark green. A vase of flowers stood on each linen-covered table. Even the menus reflected those used on the Southern Crescent.
Like most of Southern’s passenger rail cars, this
dining car was built by Pullman-Standard.
By the mid-1990s, Amtrak was replacing its Heritage Fleet sleepers with the Viewliner I sleepers. They were designed by the Budd Company, which built three prototypes. Construction of revenue units was done by Morrison-Knudsen. Sad to say, Budd was leaving the rail car business at the time and today is a part of ThyssenKrupp Budd, which manufactures automobile bodies. It is interesting to note that the current production of Viewliner II sleepers uses the Budd Viewliner I design with construction being done by Construcciones & Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) of Spain.
The old Streamliner Heritage Fleet may be gone from revenue rail service in the United States, but it is far from forgotten. They still are used on several of VIA Rail Canada’s routes, perhaps most notably on the Canadian, which runs between Toronto and Vancouver. Those cars came from Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Amtrak. Heritage Fleet cars also can be found at railway museums and can be enjoyed on several excursion trains, including the Cayuga Valley Railroad in Ohio, which owns several cars from the original California Zephyr.
And, then, there was that feature of railroading in times gone by that I remember with greatest fondness: the clickety clack of the wheels on bolted tracks. If you’ve ever driven over concrete roadways from the 1930s through the 1950s, with thick tar strips, say at about sixty miles an hour, you know what I’m talking about. Add a slight swaying motion for good measure, and you know why I was in hog heaven on that trip. Take my word for it: If there is a single disadvantage to welded track, it is the loss of that clickety clack. Terrible loss! Just terrible!