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First lightweight Santa Fe Super Chief, 1937-1947

First lightweight Santa Fe Super Chief, 1937-1947

Fred Klein, 2001, 2010

The first all-lightweight streamlined train to operate on the Santa Fe was the Super Chief, which began Chicago to Los Angeles service in May 1937.  This lightweight train added a second train to the 1936 heavyweight Super Chief service.  The train is sometimes called the “Super-2” because the heavyweight cars came first.  This consist worked as a single train with only a change in baggage car for several years.  Another lightweight Super Chief train with different car designs began service in 1938, to make twice weekly service.  The particular consist shown here made weekly trips.  The train was unique among railroads and very posh with exotic woods and interiors. By 1947 enough other Super Chief trains were built to enable daily service.  In 1951 the trains were completely re-equipped.   The Super Chief was all Pullman (no coaches) and extra fare.  The sleepers were built by the Budd company, owned by Santa Fe but were operated by the Pullman company. Repp’s The Superchief; Train of the Stars has the most coverage about this train of the reference books listed below, but each book adds a little more information.



The Super Chief on August 29, 1937, headed by ATSF 2 A and B at Chillicothe Illinois. From page 158 of Stan Repp’s The Superchief; Train of the Stars.


Unlike most other trains on this web site, these cars are brass and were made as a prototypical train.  Oriental made the locomotives and cars.  I believe M&R models may have sides for some of the 1938, but not the 1937 Super Chief cars.


Car type

Car name

E1A diesel

ATSF 2 (2L)

E1B diesel



ATSF 3430

8 sect-1 draw-2 comp


8 sect-1 draw-2 comp



Acoma 1377


Cochiti 1474

6 br-2 draw-2 comp


6 br-2 draw-2 comp


Observation-2 dr-3 co-1br



Diesel power


The locomotives were new and unique.  The Electromotive Corporation furnished newly designed E1 diesels for the Super Chief, the first of a long line of E passenger diesels.  The famous warbonnet paint scheme made its debut with this train.  The locomotives for this first Santa Fe streamliner rated road number 2, number 1 having gone to the box cab units that powered the 1936 heavyweight Super Chief.  The cabless E1B unit was designated by Santa Fe as number 2A.  The units were semi-permanently coupled together and generated a total of 3600 horsepower.


First half


All of the cars in this unique consist were built by Budd in 1937.  These early cars were partly riveted (typical of pre-war cars), but mostly shot-welded, a new technique developed by Budd for stainless steel.   Baggage car 3430 carried passenger baggage and some express.  Although the car was built for the SC, it was withdrawn before the inaugural run and assigned to the San Diegan.  I have not seen any RPO or mail cars used in the early Super Chiefs, probably because of the non-daily service and the desire to keep the schedules fast.  After the baggage car, the consist had two different sleeper types, a central dormitory-lounge and diner, two more sleepers identical to the first two, and a sleeper-lounge-observation.


The sleeper car names in the pre-1940 Super Chiefs were given unique Indian names of tribes and places in Arizona and New Mexico.  Isleta was the first sleeper with 8 sections, 1 drawing room and 2 compartments.  The upper berth of each section had a pair of  window-ettes”.  Taos was a 6 double-bedroom, 2 compartment, 2 drawing room car.  The many small, square windows visible in the Taos car above are on the passageway side of the car, with all of the rooms and larger windows on the other side.  The pair of identical sleepers in the second half of the train below are turned-over so you can see the other side of these two cars.  The next car, Acoma, is a dormitory-barber shop-buffet-lounge car.


Second half




The 36-seat dining car “Cochiti” followed the dormitory lounge car.  A new set of  Mimbreno” china was designed for this diner.  Next was the 6 double-bedroom, 2 compartment, 2 drawing room sleeper “Oraibi”, identical to the sleeper “Taos”.  The four long windows were for the drawing rooms and compartments, the square windows for the 6 bedrooms, and the tiny windows for the drawing rooms’ private lavatories in the center.  “Laguna” was another 8-section, 1-drawing room and 2-compartment car.  “Navajo” was the signature car with 2 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom, 3 compartments and an observation lounge.  We see the passageway side of the car above.



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

Repp, Stan, The Superchief; Train of the Stars, Golden West Books, 1980.

Wayner, Robert, Car Names, Numbers and Consists, Wayner Publications, 1972.

Zimmermann, Karl, Santa Fe Streamliners; the Chief and their Tribesmen, Quadrant Press, 1987.