TrainWeb.org Facebook Page
Great Northern Empire Builder, 1955-1967

Great Northern Empire Builder, 1955-1967

Fred Klein, 2001, 2010

This is the third incarnation of the streamlined Empire Builder, perhaps the most famous because of the “great domes”.  Many cars in the train were inherited from the 1951 EB, but the dome cars were new, and the observation cars were rebuilt 1947 cars.  The dome coaches were added in May 1955, and the full dome lounge added in September 1955.  This train is a good one to model because most of the cars are available with accurate off-the-shelf models.  The remaining four cars are available from the company Brass Car Sides, so it is possible to prototypically complete the train.  Con-cor chose Great Northern as the approximate prototype for its smooth-side cars, which makes it much easier to assemble the train.  Con-cor put skirts on all of its cars, but most of the GN cars did not have skirts.  Con-cor used un-prototypical Pullman green plastic for its GN passenger car trucks.  Also, Con-cor mirror reversed the sleeper and diner cars, apparently because of a production slip up.  See the page on smooth side passenger cars for more detailed prototype comparisons.

 

image002.jpg

East of Glacier National Park in Montana in the late 1950s. GN photo from page 112 of Great Northern Empire Builder, by Bill Yenne.

 

image004.jpg

The 17-car great dome Empire Builder east of Two Medicine Creek Trestle, Montana. GN photo from page 124 of John Strauss’s book Great Northern Pictorial volume 3.

 

This consist is the full summer train.  Cars were removed in the off-season as needed.  The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy handled the train from Chicago to St. Paul, generally pulled by two silver E units.  GN took the train to Seattle, and the Portland cars were split off in Spokane for transport by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad.  Cars were owned proportionally by these three railroads.  This consist represents the train between St. Paul and Spokane, and with minor adjustments, between Chicago and St. Paul.  It was very important to GN to keep a train with the Empire Builder colors, and cars of other colors are unusual.  The exception is that the CB&Q sometimes used its own silver baggage and RPO cars in the Chicago to St. Paul run, but I have not seen photos of this.  Except for baggage and RPO cars, cars assigned to the EB were lettered “Empire Builder”.  Other GN trains carried “Great Northern”, but of course substitutions were made for equipment failures.  The best reference I have found for the Empire Builder is Great Northern Pictorial volume 3 by John F. Strauss.  See also the Great Northern Historical Society web site http://www.gnrhs.org/empire_builder.htm.

 

Prototype car

Prototype number

Model car

Model number

Brand

prototypical?

F7A diesel

GN

F7A diesel

GN 362A

Kato

yes

F7B diesel

GN

F7B diesel

GN 362B

Kato

yes

F7B diesel

GN

F7B diesel

GN 362B

Kato

yes

F7A diesel

GN

F7A diesel

GN 362C

Kato

yes

72' baggage-storage mail

GN

72' baggage-storage mail

GN 270

Kato

yes

85' RPO-baggage

GN 37-42

85' RPO-baggage

GN 39

Kato

yes

50' storage mail box car

GN 2646

Micro-custom

yes

85' baggage-storage mail

GN 262-276

85' baggage-storage mail

GN 274

Con cor

yes

Baggage-dormitory

GN 1200-1205

Baggage-dormitory

EB-GN 1202

brass side

yes

Coach (60 seat)

GN 1209-1214

Coach (60 seat)

EB-GN 1213

Con cor

yes

Dome Coach

GN 1320-1332

Dome Coach

EB-GN 1321

Con cor

yes

Dome Coach

GN 1320-1332

Dome Coach

EB-CBQ 1339

Con cor

yes

Dome Coach

GN 1320-1332

Dome Coach

EB-GN 1320

Con cor

yes

Coffee shop-Ranch car

GN 1240-1245 …Lake

Coffee shop-Ranch car

Hidden Lake

brass side

yes

7 duplex-4 sec-3 br-1 com

GN 1260-1274 …River

8 duplex-4 sect-4 br

Tobacco River

Con cor

yes, mirror image

7 duplex-4 sec-3 br-1 com

GN 1260-1274 …River

8 duplex-4 sect-4 br

Sun River

Con cor

yes, mirror image

6 rmt-5 dbr-2 comp

GN 1370-1384 …Pass

6 rmt-5 dbr-2 comp

Inuya Pass

brass side

yes

Diner

GN 1250-1255 Lake…

Diner

Lake of the Isles

Con cor

yes, mirror image

Geat dome lounge

GN 1390-1394 …View

Geat dome lounge

Mountain View

brass side

yes

7 duplex-4 sec-3 br-1 com

GN 1260-1274 …River

8 duplex-4 sect-4 br

Fraser River

Con cor

yes, mirror image

6 rmt-5 dbr-2 comp

GN 1370-1384 …Pass

6 rmt-5 dbr-2 comp

Jefferson Pass

brass side

yes

Observation-6/4/1

GN 1290-1295 Mountain

Observation

Twelve mile coulee

Kato

approximate

 

Head end portion (St. Paul to Spokane)

image006.jpg

Four passenger F units powered the train, modeled here by Kato F7s.  A fourth F unit was required for the 1955 EB (compared to the 1951 EB) because of the added weight of the dome cars.  The number of baggage/storage mail cars varies, but there was always at least one.  Photos show at least one baggage car in front of the RPO.  This is probably the “storage mail” car added to the consist at St. Paul and removed at Spokane.  It is followed by the RPO (numbered 37-42, built by ACF in 1950).  Additional Chicago to Seattle baggage/storage mail cars could be in front of or behind the RPO.  These head end cars are lettered for the Great Northern so they could be interchanged with other GN trains.  The three head end cars are modeled by a Kato baggage car lettered for “storage mail” (ACF prototype), a Kato RPO, and a Con-cor baggage car with its factory REA lettering.  These are all GN prototypes (see the smooth side prototype web page).  The GN had a variety of baggage cars, generally with two wide doors.  Many GN baggage cars were rebuilt heavyweight cars, hence the large number of 85’ cars.

 

Next is the baggage-dormitory car in the series 1200-1205.  The cars were made by ACF in 1951.  I believe passenger baggage was kept in this car so the railroad could collect post office fees for mail storage in the previous baggage cars.  The model uses sides from Brass Car Sides In this case on a Con cor car) painted by Model Railroad Customizing, and is prototypical to the EB.

 

Head end portion (Chicago to St. Paul)

image008.jpg

The EB route over the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy rails was generally pulled by their own equipment.  This was generally a pair of E8s during the EB’s dome era.  The E8s shown here are Kato models.  The CB&Q sometimes used its own silver baggage and RPO cars in the Chicago to St. Paul run, but the photos I have seen all show GN equipment.  Without specific prototype information available, I show the only good models I have.  The 73’ Budd RPO “Silver Sheen” was made in 1940 for the Silver Streak Zephyr.  The 73’ Budd baggage/storage mail car of 1940 was also made for the Silver Streak.  GN head end cars would be substituted in St. Paul.  The models are by Kato.

 

Coach portion

image010.jpg

The first coach is a 60-seat short-haul coach for passengers riding short distances and not needing the leg room of the long-haul passengers.  The cars in series 1209-1214 were built by ACF in 1951.  The windows were long so that two rows of seats could be by a window.  The Con-cor coach model is prototypical for the short haul coach, though the factory-painted numbers are in the 1110-1113 series as used on the 1947 EB.  I renumbered this car for the 1951-67 EB.

 

Next are the three “great dome” coaches for long haul passengers.  The cars were built by Budd in 1955 for this edition of the EB and were numbered 1320-1332.  The roofs are corrugated, but the lower sides have prototypical (for the GN and NP) slab panels instead of corrugations.  One of these coaches was switched into the Portland section of the EB at Spokane.  I re-lettered the second coach for CB&Q.  These are prototypical models from Con-cor.

 

The next car is the ranch car (coffee shop-dinette-lounge).  Six of these were built by ACF in 1951, numbered 1240-1245, and named “… Lake”.  The prototypical model was made with a side from Brass Car Sides and custom painted as “Hidden Lake” #1242.

 

Pullman portion 1

image012.jpg

The first two sleepers are 7/4/3/1 (7 duplex roomettes, 4 sections, 3 double bedrooms, 1 compartment) cars built by PS in 1950 for the 1951 edition of the EB.  They were numbered 1260-1274 and named “… River”.  The Con-cor model is an exact mirror image of the 8-duplex roomette /4-section /4-bedroom sleepers built by Pullman in 1947 for the Great Northern 1947 Empire Builder.  The 1950 7/4/3/1 car is very similar to the 1947 8/4/4 car, but the 1950 car omits the porter’s small window near the door because he now rated his own roomette.  The reversed 1947 model is close enough to the 1950 prototype for me, and the two sides of the car are rough mirror images anyway.  The next sleeper is the 6/5/2 (6 roomettes, 5 double bedrooms, 2 compartments) made by PS in 1950.  The series was numbered 1370-1384 and named “… Pass”.  Inuya Pass” is a custom painted model with sides from Brass Car Sides.  One of the River and one of the Pass cars were cut out at Spokane for the Portland train.

 

The 36-seat diner is another ACF car of 1951, numbered 1250-1255 named “Lake …”.  Unlike the ranch cars, “Lake” is the first part of the name.  The ranch, diner and observation cars went to Seattle, and the Portland passengers could get simple meals in a buffet-lounge (which also had 6 roomettes and 3 double bedrooms) car that was added to the Portland section in Spokane.  Like the sleeper, the diner is a mirror-reversed model made by Con-cor.  I wonder if the Con-cor diners get left-handed faucets and bottles that open to the right?

 

Pullman portion 2

image014.jpg252.jpg

 

 

To me, the most spectacular car of the train is the great dome lounge car.  Made by Budd in 1955, the car was for first-class passengers.  They were numbered 1390-1394 and named “… View”.  The dome section sat 57 in sofa seats and 21 in lounge seats, and the lower level bar and lounge sat 32.  The model is a Brass Car Side on a Bachmann full dome car, custom painted by Model Railroad Customizing.  It is naturally a prototypical model.

 

Next are two more sleepers.  I re-lettered the Con-cor 4/7/3/1 sleeper as “Fraser River” because Con-cor only makes two factory-lettered “River” Pullmans.  Again it is mirror-image reversed, but otherwise almost prototypical.  The next car is another 1950 6/5/2 “Pass” sleeper.  “Jefferson Pass” is a custom painted car with sides from Brass Car Sides. 

 

The last car is a 6/4/1 lounge observation (6 roomette, 4 double bedroom, 1 compartment).  They are rebuilt cars from the 1947 EB, originally made by PS in 1947 with 2 bedrooms and 1 drawing room.  They were reassigned to other trains in 1951, but kept their original numbers and got new “… Coulee” names when they returned to the EB in 1955.  The model is by Kato, a PS 1941 prototype.  The car is similar in appearance, but the window placement is not exactly like the prototype.

 

REFERENCES

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

Strauss, John, Great Northern Pictorial volume 3, Four Ways West, 1993.

Yenne, Bill, Great Northern Empire Builder, MBI Publishing, 2005.

 



TrainWeb.org Facebook Page