The California Zephyr
Wanting passengers to enjoy the scenery offered in the Feather River
Canyon and the Colorado Rockies those working on the scheduling of
the train took great pains to ensure passage through these areas
during daylight hours, while the Nevada deserts and plains states
were crossed at night. This practice allowed convenient arrival and
departure times as well as giving passengers the most breath taking
views of the route during daylight hours.
Westbound the train left Chicago in mid-afternoon and arrived in Denver the next morning in time for breakfast. After traversing the Colorado Rockies a late evening arrival brought the train into Salt Lake City. Early the following morning the California Zephyr entered California through Beckwourth Pass in the heart of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. What followed was the spectacular Feather River Canyon, one of the highlights of the trip. Oakland, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate were reached in the afternoon.
Eastbound the train departed Oakland in midmorning. Traversing the Feather River Canyon and the Sierra Nevada before dusk and arriving in Salt Lake City early the next morning. A glorious all day trip through the Colorado Rockies followed with arrival in Denver early in the evening. After a short stop the overnight trip to Chicago followed with arrival shortly after noon the following day.
The original schedule, not to exceed 51 hours westbound and 49 hours 30 minutes eastbound, remained in effect throughout the life of the California Zephyr with only minor changes. Western Pacific, embracing this schedule and the scenic opportunity through the Feather River Canyon, installed a unique brushless train washer at Portola so all windows on the train as well as the train itself would be sparkling clean during the trip through Feather River Canyon.
Two additional stops were added to the schedule in January 1950 for both westbound and eastbound trains. For travelers to and from San Jose, Palo Alto, San Mateo, Burlingame and other peninsula points the stop at Niles saved about two hours of travel time to Oakland by eliminating the need to cross the bay by ferry from San Francisco to Oakland. Herlong was added in recognition of the population growth, which made it the most populous area between Oroville and Salt Lake City.
Effective April 25, 1954 the schedule changed again by implementing a departure from Oakland eastbound thirty minutes later and a thirty-minute earlier arrival time at all westbound stations. Faster running time over the Western Pacific’s portion of the route made this possible. Number 17 would now leave Oakland at 9:58 am and number 17 would arrive at 3:45 pm. Eastbound arrival and departure from Salt Lake City was twenty minutes later and westbound twenty minutes earlier. Intermediate stations reflected the same change with no change in arrival or departure times at Denver. Arrival and Departure times were changed once again on September 30, 1956 with number 18 leaving Oakland at 9:55 am, arriving at Salt Lake City at 5:40 am. Westbound number 17 left Salt Lake City at 10:15 pm and arrived in Oakland at 3:10 pm. This change reflected the reduction in ferryboat service provided by the SP from San Francisco.
Providing better service for passengers traveling on the Zephyr was always being considered. On September 16, 1953 passengers transferring at Chicago to PRR trains the “General”, “Broadway Limited”, or the “Liberty Limited” destined to such eastern points as New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Baltimore and Washington were offered train to train transfer of hand luggage for a charge of fifty cents per piece. A similar arrangement was available for westbound passengers transferring to the Zephyr from PRR trains. This was in addition to the through car operated daily between San Francisco-Oakland and New York City which operated on alternate days via the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad which afforded a “no-change” accommodation on coast to coast travel. A passenger transferring to other trains or stations continued to check their baggage with the Pullman porter.
October 27, 1957 found the Pennsylvania Railroad withdrawing from participation when they discontinued through car transcontinental Pullman service. New York Central continued providing this service on alternating days as before but because ridership from Chicago to New York did not justify purchase of an additional car they withdrew the following month thus ending true coast-to-coast service.
Voting by an 8 to 1 margin the Oakland City Council on July 1, 1958 approved Western Pacific’s request to use the Third and Washington Street station as the western terminal for the loading and unloading of San Francisco passengers. This came about due to the impending discontinuance of ferry service across the bay by Southern Pacific. Western Pacific had discontinued ferry service many years before and had never provided this service for Zephyr passengers. Up to four or more Greyhound busses would be available dependant upon the number of passengers for the ride from San Francisco’s Ferry Building to the Third and Washington Street station. The 25-minute ride across the Bay Bridge was quicker than the ferry, which allowed Western Pacific to trim 55 minutes of the westbound schedule to San Francisco with arrival in Oakland at 3:20 pm. No change was made to the eastbound schedule with departure from Oakland at 10:10 am. This all changed again when on July 8, 1959 passengers from San Francisco were bussed from the Southern Pacific’s Third and Townsend street station rather than the Ferry Building to a new facility at Western Pacific’s coach yard instead of the Third and Washington street station in Oakland. Effective October 25, 1959 westbound passengers left the Third and Townsend station at 10:00 am instead of 9:45 and eastbound travelers would arrive at 4:00 pm instead of 4:15.
On its run from Chicago to San Francisco the train traveled 1,034 miles over the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, 570 miles of Denver & Rio Grande Western territory and 928 miles on Western Pacific ending with passengers taking the SP ferry across the bay to San Francisco. This route of 2,532 miles (including the ferry between Oakland Pier and San Francisco) took an average of 2½ days to complete. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy handled the train from Chicago, Illinois to Denver, Colorado where it was handed over to the Denver & Rio Grande Western who would then handle it until reaching Salt Lake City, Utah where the Western Pacific for its final leg, which terminated in Oakland, California, received it. During the trip from Chicago to Oakland four high points of elevation would be crossed. At 9,239 feet above sea level the Continental Divide through Moffat Tunnel was the highest followed by Soldier Summit in Utah at 7,440 feet, Jasper in Nevada 5,868 feet and Beckwourth Pass in California with an elevation of 4,986 feet.
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