The Texas Zephyr: A Bygone Era in Luxury Train Travel

In the 1930s, in an effort to combat the declining number of passengers, several railroads adopted the lightweight, diesel-powered Streamliner passenger trains. Combining esthetic beauty with modern science, the Streamliners were more aerodynamic than previous trains, and able to reach a higher speed. The exteriors were a mix of sleek, stainless steel and bright, vibrant colors, while the interiors had opulent furnishings, air conditioning, and a trained staff providing impeccable service for passengers. The epitome of luxurious railway travel, each train featured specialized passenger cars, ranging from sumptuous dining facilities to lavish sleeping and observation areas.

[Coupled Passenger Cars from "Texas Zephyr", with Diaphragm], January 4, 1958, by Everett L. DeGolyer, Jr., DeGolyer Library, SMU.

[Coupled Passenger Cars from "Texas Zephyr", with Diaphragm], January 4, 1958, by Everett L. DeGolyer, Jr., DeGolyer Library, SMU.

In some cases, the Streamliners were more than just a means of traveling the country. On August 22, 1940, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy inaugurated the Texas Zephyr Streamliner, under its subsidiary, the Fort Worth and Denver Railway. In some small towns, people even viewed the Streamliner as a symbol “that perhaps the hard times of the Great Depression were over” (Goen, 1999). The Texas Zephyr became extremely popular with passengers and gained a great deal of publicity for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, including garnering a cameo in the movie “HUD” with Paul Newman.

The Fort Worth and Denver Railway acquired two, 12 car trains in 1957 (previously belonging to the Denver Zephyr) from its parent company, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, for use on the Dallas to Denver run. However, passenger travel continued to decline due to the development of highways and explosion in automobile traffic, which continued to impact the future of railway transportation. By 1965, the Texas Zephyr trainsets acquired in 1957 were sent away to Denver for storage, and the Texas Zephyr was eventually decommissioned on September 10, 1967, shortly after the U.S. Postal service announced its plans to terminate the mail contract with the train.

Fort Worth & Denver City, "Texas Zephyr", August 16, 1962, by Everett L. DeGolyer, Jr., DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Fort Worth & Denver City, “Texas Zephyr”, August 16, 1962, by Everett L. DeGolyer, Jr., DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Recently, 24 photographs held by SMU’s DeGolyer Library, from the Everett L. DeGolyer Jr. collection of United States railroad photographs, have been made available online. These images show locomotives and railroad cars centered around the “Texas Zephyr,” formerly the “Denver Zephyr,” from the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad and its subsidiaries. Most of them were taken by Everett DeGolyer Jr. between January 1958 to August 1962, thus showing the Texas Zephyr in all of its glory. While these trains have all but vanished, either sold off for scrap, sitting in storage, or on display in a museum, their legacy continues to live in the photographs which captured them in their heyday, for future generations to come.

Sources:

Goen, S. A. (1999). Zephyr a star in Wichita’s crown. Wichita Falls Times Record News. 

University of Iowa (2001). Cheating the Wind: Streamliners on the Rails. The University of Iowa Libraries.

Union Pacific Railroad (2014). Union Pacific Passenger Trains. Union Pacific.

About Cynthia Boeke

AA-CUL(CMIT)
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