Thursday, September 8, 2011

Railroad Observation Cars



The above postcard shows passengers standing on the observation car platform of an early twentieth century Burlington Limited train. The feature of this postcard that I find most interesting is the message written en route by a passenger referring to the observation platform:
8-5-08. - Got up at 5 A.M. and went out on this observation platform to see the sun rise. Have just passed through Lincoln, Neb. Am writing this on a rapidly moving train, hence the nervous hand writing. ("Believe me")
This postcard was postmarked in Holdrege, Nebraska. Holdrege still has the historic railroad station that was opened in 1910 by the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad. The Holdrege Station is one of the five Nebraska stations served by Amtrak.

On this and other older railroad observation cars, the rear end of the car had a canopied open porch-like area. There was usually a lounge inside the rear of the car where passengers could watch the track recede into the distance.

Later observation cars were usually enclosed and had a rounded rear end with viewing windows. Most observation cars were removed from service on American trains beginning in the 1950s in order to eliminate the need to "turn" the trains for service in the opposite direction. The next postcard shows a streamlined observation car on the Seaboard Railroad's Silver Meteor. This type of car was built in 1947 and was used by Seaboard even after other U.S. railroads had removed the observation cars as uneconomical.



The Burlington's Twin Zephyrs between Chicago and the Twin Cities (St. Paul-Minneapolis) were the first dome streamliner trains in 1947. The next postcard shows a Twin Zephyr with a round end dome parlor observation car.



The postcard below shows the Denver Zephyr between Chicago and Denver with a newer type of blunt end dome parlor observation lounge car. [note: I have seen a picture of the train and horseback riders in a book without the mountains, and the picture was said to have been photographed in Illinois!]



When passenger trains were still the main mode of intercity transportation in the United States, observation cars were often used by political candidates. The candidate would make a "whistle stop" tour stopping in various cities. At the stops, the candidate would appear on the platform of the observation car and give a speech. In more recent years, several U.S. presidents have used a privately-owned observation car built in 1930.

Barack Obama used a train with an observation car twice. The first time was during his campaign in April 2008. The second time was for his inaugural weekend trip from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. that traced the last part of Abraham Lincoln's inaugural journey to Washington.



Visit Sepia Saturday for More Vintage Photos




19 comments:

  1. Nice link to the photo prompt. Thank you for this informative train ride.The card with the nervous handwriting is an interesting one. It seems the sender had a sense of humour.

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  2. Thanks for the information about observation cars. I thought they might have died out due to safety worries. The streamlined cars were impressive.

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  3. I have always wanted to travel on a train with an observation car - one of those open ones at the end of a carriage like they used to have in the old black and white films. Good to know they are still around - I might still fulfill my ambition.

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  4. Love the postcards. Train travel can still be great - there are many fantastic routes still open all across the world - just need to find the time to explore more of them.

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  5. The Napa Wine Train, in Napa, California, has one of the old observation cars as their high end dinner car. The downstairs is a kitchen and bar. It was so wonderful to ride in the car and eat a fine meal. First time I'd ever been in an observation car.

    I love the card with the oranges just sort of stuck in the corner. Of course they could have put the branch in later, but I prefer to think there was some poor soul standing there holding this thing, being told, "Stop moving. Hold it still. We only get one chance at this shot!"

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  6. I hope to catch a ride on some of those as well...the best I've done are three rides on the Amtrak! I just love it when Alan posts photos that involve the posting of trains and destinations and more trains! Very cool post!

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  7. I don't know why, but I like the style of that first postcard, where the message is on the same side as the picture. It makes them somehow fit together better, especially when the message relates so well to the picture, as does this one. When the message is on the other side, they automatically become somewhat divorced from each other.

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  8. All this talk of trains has me seriously wishing I were on one! Great and informative post. I have very vague memories of being on the upper level of a train once ... will have to check with the older sibs on that one!

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  9. Yes, a rail trip across the US does hold a lot of appeal. Nice post.

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  10. I have always had a fondness for trains so I really enjoyed this about the observation cars. I think back to train travel with my grandparents. Another time and place. Love the Zephyr.

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  11. Great info! I can't get enough of those swanky Zephyr trains!

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  12. i love how these trains look vintage and futuristic at the same time.
    :)~
    HUGZ

    (trains always made me sick though...)

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  13. The "Believe me" part made me laugh. Thanks for teaching us about the trains ... they must have been fun to ride back then. You certainly are a resource person on railroads! I'll keep that in mind.

    Thanks so much for stopping by to visit,

    Kathy M.

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  14. Great postcards. I wish transcontinental travel on the train was a little more like it used to be. I love those observation cars.

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  15. I enjoy cross country train trips. The observation cars are great for ... observing. Train food isn't what it used to be though. And the routes are shrinking until you have to ride an extra couple of days to get some places in the US.

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  16. A terrific medley on a wonderful theme. As a child I took a few long train rides, and remember the top side observation cars. Crossing the great plains of Nebraska like the women in the first card must have been like traveling by ship. Only safer... unless you fell off the last car.

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  17. The early trains have so much character and the later ones seem so much more elegant than the trains we have these days.

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