The California Zephyr
The End Has Come
Streaking across the plains in 1949 the “Silver Lady” was a
gleaming wonder-on-wheels. Running between Chicago and San
Francisco, the stainless-steel train was the first luxury Vista-Dome
streamliner that dazzled onlookers at every crossing. Now the
“unique national asset” was rattling from disrepair and more than
6,000,000 miles of wear made the through-run for the very last time,
a victim of rising costs, declining patronage and the reluctance of
the railroads to lose more money promoting passenger service.
Traversing some of the most scenic and historic terrain, the Zephyr afforded passengers a view of America which newer generations, traveling along crowded freeways or locked inside the pressurized cabin of an airplane, may never have the opportunity to see. Although the mattresses in her sleeping cars may have sagged a bit with sheets looking well worn and the coaches taking on a shabby look once the train lurched to life, there was still a sense of elegance remembered, a time when, as one porter put it, "they built trains for travel and not just transportation."
Folding out of the walls like part of a puzzle the Pullman beds and washbasins still fascinated the young children on board. The tuxedoed steward still seated passengers in the diners at tables with vases of fresh Colorado carnations resting on the white linen. Menus still featured Rocky Mountain trout, California champagne served in silver ice buckets, and afterward a selection of cigars and cordials.
The final run of No. 18, eastbound, and No. 17, westbound, of Western Pacific's California Zephyr trains began 21 years to the day on March 20, 1970 as they each left their respective stations. This brought a nostalgic closing to the railroad's passenger service. When the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered continuance of the California Zephyr on February 13, 1967 for another year it stated: "No carrier to the Commission's knowledge has been more diligent than Western Pacific in fulfilling the obligations of a passenger carrying railroad ....".
That diligence could not save the “Silver Lady” and so it was as she sped across her route for the last time saying “Goodbye America” more than a few tears were shed by the 650 passengers and 85 member crew. All along the way and at every station she was met by admirers who came to acknowledge and mourn her passing into history as the “Most talked about train in the country!” Yes, nostalgia and sentiment was very much in evidence as the stainless steel beauty made her way west for the last time.
From the Western Pacific’s perspective final operation of the train was completed on March 22, 1970 with westbound number 17 terminating at Oakland, California tardy, but still dignified and a gracious lady till the end. Operation of the California Zephyr which spanned 21 years and 2 days had now come to an end.
Approximately 253 employees’s, out of a total Western Pacific work force of 3,203, were affected by the discontinuance. Some simply retired, others however continued employment due to attrition and exercising of seniority.
WP management acknowledged, with deep appreciation, the tremendous devotion to duty of all present and past employees, who over the years, had made the California Zephyr the "most talked about train in America," and gained it a legal description by the Interstate Commerce Commission as a "unique national asset."
California Zephyr Crew Members on the Final Runs, Trains 18-17, March 21-22, 1970 Train 18, Eastbound, Oakland-Salt Lake City
Engineers—W. L. Spillman, G. J. Hardy, J. C. McCallan, R. A. Moore, R. Aiello
Fireman—H. C. Briggs, E. Thomas, W. H. Langston, S. Aguirre, M. D. Murphy
Conductors—A. D. Downer, J. F. Murray, E. H. Beitel
Brakemen—E. A. Von lbsch, T. L. White, S. R. Heath, W. I. Bump, J. W. Daniel, L. W. Hurd
Diner—Steward L. Walton, Chef G. Espinoza, 2nd Cook B. Avila, 3rd Cook J. Douglas, 4th Cook E. Johnson, Waiters W. Craddock, F. Jones, C. Woods, G. Caldwell, H. Guess, J. A. Smith
Buffet Car—Waiter-in-Charge B. Jackson, 2nd Cook T. Roberson, Waiters G. Fields, E. Payne
Chair Car Porters—R.Randall, L. S. Hill, H. Abrams
Sleeping Car Porters—S. B. Shelton, W. Owen, L. Bailey, T. Clemente
Train 17, Westbound, Salt Lake City-Oakland
Engineers—F. Aiello, R. N. Moore, J. C. McCallan, H. D. Atkinson, W. L. Spillman
Firemen—W. H. Knight, G. Aguirre, W. H. Langston, H. E. Johnson, H. C. Briggs
Conductors—S. C. Gudmundson, J. F. Murray, A. D. Downer, W. H. Thompson
Brakemen—A. G. Woodward, R. L. Quigley, S. R. Heath, W. I. Bump, E. A. Von lbsch, T. L. White
Diner—Steward P. Bellamy, Chef J. Charles, 2nd Cook H. Phillips, 3rd Cook J. Douglas, 4th Cook E. Johnson, Waiters W. Welsh, F. Jones, C. Woods, G. Caldwell, F. Allain, J. A. Smith
Buffet Car—Waiter-in-Charge E. Pontiflet, 2nd Cook T. Roberson, Waiters G. Fields, E. Payne
Chair Car Porters—L. Davis, L. S. Hill, H. Abrams
Sleeping Car Porters—J. Brown, J. H. Payne, O. C. Cooper, E. Jones, R. Dubois
|WP's CZ cars stored at Sacramento in 1970. Alan Miller|
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy either stored or used its cars on other
trains with most going to Amtrak when passenger service was taken
over by the government sponsored agency in 1972. Denver & Rio Grande
Western used its equipment on the Rio Grande Zephyr and its Ski
Trains until finally succumbing and also joining Amtrak. Although
not used or maintained Western Pacific’s equipment was retained on
the property until the Supreme Court rendered its decision.
Afterwards it was sold piecemeal to the highest bidder.
A few of the California Zephyr's seventy-seven cars remain in existence today. Although a majority of those are now privately owned and have been modified by their new owners these ex California Zephyr cars had found themselves in the employ of Amtrak and Auto-Train while others went into service on railroads in Mexico and Canada. Unfortunately most of the cars that went to Mexico are in very bad disrepair or have been scrapped. A very small few have been added to museum collections where hopefully they will be restored.