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California Zephyr, about 1964-1970, Kato cars

California Zephyr, about 1964-1970, Kato cars

Fred Klein, 2005, 2010, 2016

The California Zephyr ran from Chicago to Oakland and was introduced in 1948.  The Budd Manufacturing Company made all of the cars.  The CZ ran over Chicago, Burlington and Quincy rails to Denver, then on Denver and Rio Grande Western track to Salt Lake City, then on the Western Pacific to Oakland.  Passengers then continued by ferry to San Francisco.  Six trainsets (plus some extra spare cars) ran the route to keep daily service.  New motive power from each railroad was simply switched on in Denver and Salt Lake City.  The cars were owned by the individual railroads in numbers proportional to the mileage of each railroad along the route.  Cars were lettered “California Zephyr”, but each end of the car was labeled with its owner in small letters.  Cars were named “Silver …” and not numbered. Information about the train with references can be found at


In later years, the formerly fixed consist changed to suit seasonal demands because the CZ had become a largely “vacation” train.  Winter trains could be as few as 8 cars and summer trains could have 16 or more.  Typically an extra coach and one or two 10/6 sleepers were added during the summer.  The train pictured here is representative of a summer consist with an expanded train.  It also included some non-CZ coaches and sleepers from roads like Rock Island, the C&O or Seaboard, and often an extra car for a special tour group.  The “foreign” cars were generally added near the front or rear so the CZ wiring for a loudspeaker system would cover as many cars as possible.  In 1957, the sleeper that continued from Chicago to New York or Washington via NYC or PRR was no longer sent east.  About 1964, the unpopular16-section sleeper cars, that were removed in 1958 and remodeled into 48 seat flat-top coaches, were substituted for one of the dome coaches.  The familiar string of four dome cars was thus reduced to three domes.  In the early 1960’s most cars were redecorated and overhauled, and substitutions were made in the train while they were shopped.  The modeler of a later CZ thus has some flexibility in making a prototypical consist.


The California Zephyr in the California’s Feather River Canyon. From Joe Welsh’s Union Pacific Streamliners, Voyageur Press, 2008, page 146.


The westbound California Zephyr in California’s Altamont Pass, an hour away from Oakland. The date is April 22, 1950. Photo by Viewliner Limited.


Most of the cars pictured here are from the Kato CZ set released in 2004.  The cars have prototypical details including correct-length letterboards, full-length skirts, and correct windows. Each of the four CZ web pages in my series has different engines: Chicago, Burlington and Quincy; the Denver and Rio Grande Western for two different time periods, and the Western Pacific. These are the car names of a typical summer post-1964 consist:


Car type

Model name

F3 A-B-A diesel set

WP 810


CB&Q Silver Bear

Coach (Burlington) 52 st

CB&Q Silver Cloud


DRGW Silver Aspen

Dome coach

CB&Q Silver Ranch

Dome coach

WP Silver Feather

Dome dorm-lounge

CB&Q Silver Club


CBQ Silver Diner

5 comp-6 dbr

CBQ Silver Valley

10 roomette-6 dbr

CBQ Silver Crag

10 roomette-6 dbr

DRGW Silver Glacier

10 roomette-6 dbr

WP Silver Canyon

10 roomette-6 dbr (Burl)

CBQ Silver Prairie

10 roomette-6 dbr

RI Wichita

Dome-obser-1 dr-3 dbr

DRGW Silver Sky




Power section


File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0

The power here is for Western Pacific’s portion of the trip.  In 1948, WP bought then new F3’s for power and ran them as an A-B-B set.  I have seen photos of an A-B-A configuration, used when engines were substituted.  In later years, WP upgraded some of the F3s to F7s, but F3s could be found from inauguration in 1948 right up to the end in 1970.  The pictured F3s are factory painted diesels from Kato.  The passenger F3s used by the WP on the California Zephyr had larger “Western Pacific” lettering than on these models.  These F3s are the only WP power I own, so today an A unit substitutes for a B unit.  One baggage car (1948) began each consist.  It also carried express merchandise.  Names were Silver Coyote (shown), Buffalo, Stag, Bear, Antelope and Beaver. 


Coach section


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The first coach is a summer add-on 52-seat coach on loan from the Burlington.  Budd built this type of coach in 1940.  The model “Silver Cloud” is from Kato as released in their 4-car sets, and can match a prototype coach that was sometimes added to the CZ.  The next coach “Silver Aspen” is a 48-seat coach rebuilt from the unpopular16-section sleeper cars that were removed in 1958 and rejoined the CZ (with no name change) in the early 1960s.  This 48-seat coach replaced one of the dome coaches.


The next two dome coaches are from the original 1948 train, here named “Silver Ranch” (CB&Q) and “Silver Feather” (WP).  The next dome car “Silver Club” was a buffet-lounge-dormitory, also from the original 1948 train.  The square windows are the dormitory section, the buffet kitchen and lounge were under the dome, and the coffee shop tables were in the short section in front of the dome.  Names of the buffet cars are “Silver Club (shown), Lounge, Roundup, Shop, Chalet and Hostel”.  The 48-seat flat-top coach “Silver Aspen” and the three dome cars are models from Kato’s 2004 CZ set.


First sleeper section


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Next came the diner.  Budd supplied six of these diners for the California Zephyr in 1948 (3 for the CB&Q, 2 for the WP and one for the D&RGW).  Starting about 1952, the diner was located in the consist between the coaches and the first class cars, to separate the two classes of service.  The diner ran kitchen-end forward (small window end): coach passengers forward of the diner would then have to wait for seats in the narrow corridor adjacent to the kitchen.  Pictured is the Kato Budd diner “Silver Diner”. 


The next three sleeper cars are “Silver Valley”, “Silver Crag”, and “Silver Glacier”, all built by Budd.  The first car “Silver Valley” represents the 5 compartment-6 double bedroom sleeper that was built in 1952 to replace the 16-section old-fashioned curtain sleepers that became unpopular and were withdrawn.  No model exists for the 1952 5/6 car, but I use the 1948 10/6 model as a stand-in.  The second car “Silver Crag” is a 10 roomette/6 bedroom car built in 1952 to supplement the CZ, probably used mostly in the peak travel season.  The 1952 10/6 cars had 3-windows in the hall opposite the 6 bedrooms, but the original 1948 10/6 cars had 6 windows.  The third car “Silver Glacier” is one of the original 10/6 sleepers of the 1948 CZ.  All the model sleeper cars are made and lettered by Kato:  the 1952 10/6 car “Silver Crag” (6+3 windows) is from one of their 4-car Budd sets, and the 1948 10/6 cars (6+6 windows) are from the 2004 CZ set.


Second sleeper section


File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0

The next sleeper “Silver Canyon” (WP) is one of the original 10 roomette/6 bedroom cars from the 1948 CZ and is part of the train consist used year round.  The following two cars are add-ons for the summer season.  Burlington loaned the 1952 10 roomette/6 bedroom car “Silver Prairie”.  The next car is on lease from Rock Island, or perhaps houses a tour group.  “Silver Canyon” is a prototypical Budd model car from the Kato CZ set.  “Silver Prairie” is a prototype Burlington car from one of the Kato 4-car Budd sets.  The Rock Island car is a Con-cor/Rivarossi model of a Pullman Standard coach, but represents one of Rock Island’s non-duplex sleepers.


The final car is the 3-bedroom /1-double-room /buffet-lounge dome car made in 1948.  This is the CZ signature car and nearly always ended the train.  The small buffet section is under the dome.  Car names are “Silver Horizon, Solarium, Penthouse (CBQ), Sky (D&RGW, shown), Crescent and Planet (WP)”.






Frailey, Fred, Twilight of the Great Trains, Kalmbach Books, 1998.

MacGregor, Bruce, and Ted Benson, Portrait of a Silver Lady, The train they called the California Zephyr, Pruett Publishing, 1977.

Randall, David, From Zephyr to Amtrak, Prototype Publications, 1972.

Zimmerman, Karl, The story of the California Zephyr, Quadrant Press, 1972.