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Bill Haithcoat

OBservation cars, vs, domes,hi-level,superliner

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I tihink the differences bvetween a dome and superliner, and the more minute differences between the hi-level equipment inherited from the Santa fe and Superliner equipment has been well thrashed out in these pages. There is nothing new or distinctive that I could add....those topics come up from time to time.

 

 

But not quite as much, I think, gets said about an Observation car....I noticed a recent forum in which the writer referred to a superliner sightseer lounge area as "the observation car." First, it is ok to do so....that usage will probably grow in years to come...and words tend to get defined, eventually by how they are actually used.

 

But historically, an observation car is a quite different thing--it refers to a car at the rear of a train with special windows, etc, for sightseeting.

 

THe were of two basic designs., the original old heavyweight, probably dating from the earliest trains in the late 1800's. It was an open platform car. We have all seen shots of this, presidents and other dignaries making speeches etc from the rear of a train. This is called "whistle stop campaigning" and the term is still in use. These cars were normally combination sleeper-lounge-observation cars.

 

Amazingly these cars can still sometimes be seen today in two ways, 1. private cars(owned by wealthy individuals) and, 2. business cars, to carry railroad officials around.

 

In the streamlined era,observation cars usually had beautifully tapered rears, like some of you saw recently in Hoboken at the exhibit which included an observation car from the 20th Century Limited. A few observation cars were blunt ended, because in some cases cars had to be connected behind them making the whole "observation" concept kind of useless.

 

The "dome concept" was originated about 1946 because somebody got the idea while riding through in the cab of a locomotive on the Exposition FLyer, predecessor to the California Zephyr. A monument still stands to that, somewhere in the canyons of the CZ route.

 

Santa fe's high level cars were built in two time ranges, about 1954 and again about 1957, as I recall.

 

It is quite obvious that any dome or superliner or hi-level has much more sightseeing potential than out the back of an old observation car. But observation cars are named that simply, because THEY WERE INVENTED FIRST. They got "rights" on that name , so to speak.

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Well, at some point during those earlier discussions, I did mention that the Park series observation cars on the Canadian offered the best of both worlds. These cars have a vista dome on top, and on the lower level at the back end, a lounge seating area where windows wrapped around the back end of the train. Underneath the dome, is a snack counter where you can get drinks and snacks. At the head end of the car are some bedroom accomodations. A pretty neat set up!

 

Now the old style observation car with an open platform . . . nothing beats riding on that platform. I rode on the private car caritas from Chicago to New York City on the back of the Lake Shore Limited in the nineties. ( The passenger load, me, one other rail fan, and three crew members working on the car ).What a trip. I spent most of it on that platform. Highlights . . . standing on the platform as the train eased throught Chicago's southside. I remember people playing basketball stopping to watchh us role by. Minutes later, the acceleration out of Englewood on that multiple track main line. Later, the temperature dropping 15 degrees as the train crosses the causeway near Sandusky, Ohio. The next morning, waking up at 5 and sneaking onto the platform hoping not to wake up the other people. The other railfan snuck out to apologizning for waking me up. We both froze are hind ends off as 48 approacched Buffalo. When the attendant offered coffee, I did not take any because we had been told that we coulld not taking anything to eat or drink on the platform. She new I was freezing my a** off, and brought me a cup anyway.

 

The food was outstanding too. On the phone, I was told that to expect anyting spectacar for food. My remakr, just give me a hamburger for dinner and cereal for breakfast. What I got, Steak for dinner. I saw the cook making the biscuits FROM SCRATCH why the train was still sitting in Union Station. That keylime pie for desrt, WOW. The blue berry pancakes serverd the next moring were so light and fluffy they had more hang time than Micheal Jordan. What a trip. !

 

So the best way to go is on a private car positining move if you ask me.

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Wow, Steve!! What a report!! I enjoyed reading every word of that!! I saw a private car on my recent trip, on two of the trains|(the same car)....it made me wonder what all was going on with them.....must be nice.

 

I never rode in an open platform observation car in revenue service, but have been on them several times on excursion trains....never had an experience as neat as yours, though.

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The monument to the Vista Dome car was originally in Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. I believe it has been moved to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. The plaque on the monument reads:

 

"Idea for the Vista-Dome railroad car was conceived on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad across the Colorado River from this point on July 4, 1944. Riding through Glenwood Canyon in the fireman's seat high in the nose of a Rio Grande diesel locomotive built by his company, C. R. Osborn, Vice President of General Motors and General Manager of Electro-Motive Division, was struck with the need for some means of giving passengers an unobstructed view of the inspiring scenery overhead and on all sides. The idea of building glass enclosed domes into the cars occurred to him. Unlike so many originators of unusual new ideas, Mr. Osborn in a brief five years saw his dream grow into full practical utilization. Vista-Dome California Zephyr trains went into service March 21, 1949 between San Francisco and Chicago and now daily pass the spot where the idea was born. September 14, 1950."

 

seajay

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Thanks for the specifics, Seajay. I was typing strictly from memory....I knew I had not noticed the monument in recent years.Glad to know it is still around, even if not in the original location.

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I got the information on the Vista Dome monument from the California Zephyr Virtual Museum. If you haven't seen this site, visit:

 

http://calzephyr.railfan.net/

 

It hasn't been updated for a while but, still, it's pretty cool. There are a lot of great pictures, diagrams, and other information.

 

seajay

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Guys, dont get any idea that im rich. It is possible to for us to ride these cars on Amtrak runs. They sometimes move these cars from one place to another as a "positioning move" to be used for a charter trip. At times, the car owners sell space on their car for these positioning moves. My trip cost about 350 one way from Chicago to New York. Of course, I rode coach back on Amrak to Chicago.

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Steve---How do you find out about these moves? Where and how are they advertised? Do you get on some sort of list? Let us know....I, too, am sure that few of us are rich.

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Steve---Re: "Canadian" park-series Observation-lounge- dome.(all in one car).....guess you know that the pre-Amtrak California Zephyr had a very similar car on the rear. It also had a mid-train buffet lounge with a dome on top of it, as well as three coaches with domes.

 

Indeed, Amtrak did originally inherit quite a few streamlined tapered-rear observation cars(as well as domes) from the railroads.

 

I remember my first time to see an old heavyweight open platform observation car....and it actually was a business car....I knew the train I saw it on was not supposed to have an observation.....so I was quite confused by the whole thing...I was probably about 8 years old. Somebody explained to me that it was a "business car"...my first time to hear of such.

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I would do an internet search. I now that the Caritas does positioning moves in the midwest. Let me know how you do.

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Bill,

 

While there are other cars and sites, this link will take you to the page for the Caritas to get you started. Sadly though there is not much happening right now, but keep checking.

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If you can get friendly with a Conductor or Engineer, or a guy who works at an Amtrak yard they generally will know when unusual equipment is going out. That's how I knew someone (Michael Jackson) was chartering two cars on the rear of 97 a few months ago.

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Battallion, that brings up two points,

 

1.This helps explain why we railfans keep on going to the station to look at trains....the fact that the equipment can be mixed up, added cars, substitute cars, etc, making life more interesting.

 

2. DId you see Michael Jackson?

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Isn't Michael Jackson a top manager or something at Amtrak. Of course there is also the famous signer. B)

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