California Zephyr Dining Cars

It was late in the 19th century when the railroad dining car came into its own. Dining cars were a late addition to passenger trains. Previously passengers were allowed to disembark the trains during water stops and grab a meal at a restaurant if one was nearby. Western railroads though had large areas which were sparsely populated and offering little in the way of dining establishments. It was for this reason that western roads were some of the first to begin offering dedicated cars for onboard passenger dining.

Dining cars on the California Zephyr featured a main dining room with seating that could accommodate thirty-two to forty diners and two semi private nooks separated by etched glass panels at each end of the dining area seating four each. Although rarely done the main dining room could be reconfigured for twenty-four diners by removing four four-seat tables next to the semi-private nooks and installing four two-seat tables. A telephone connection was provided from the lounge-observation that allowed passengers to make table reservations.

Lending enchantment to the blended pastels of the walls and ceiling was restful fluorescent lighting. Green venetian blinds and contrasting red, green and cream drapes blended with the over-all color motif of gray-green, rose and ecru in the walls and ceiling. Carpeting was a pale green while the chairs were upholstered in rose-red leather. Complementing the elegant place settings on starched white tablecloths the fresh red roses displayed on each table made a complete round trip between Chicago and Oakland. After much experimentation double Garnett roses were found to be acceptable and with a special chemical added to the water and the roses being refrigerated at the end of each day no browning of the petals occurred.

The finest of meals were expertly prepared in the gleaming stainless-steel kitchen which featured an “air curtain” near the pneumatically operated sliding door which led to the dining area to keep kitchen cooking odors and heat from the dining areas. Operation of the door could also be controlled from the steward’s station. Separate electric refrigerators with carefully regulated temperatures to meet Public Health requirements for meats, fresh fruits, dairy products and vegetables were opposite the propane fueled range and broiler. Other equipment found in the kitchen included a dishwasher, glass washer, a juicer, and two exhaust fans. Special air-conditioning provided an even temperature in the dining areas at all times with excess capacity routed into the kitchen for crew comfort.

Effective June 1, 1949 as the summer tourist season entered its three-month "stand" cold plate meals were added to the a la carte coach-buffet menu, with the idea of making available to passengers an inexpensive meal service, and, at the same time, to further relieve the dining car. The service of cold plate meals from the small, one-man buffet kitchen was handled by the substitution of china for complete paper service - except for coffee, cereals and liquor - relieving the cook of most of his dishwashing chores.

When the CZ was first inaugurated the dormitory-buffet-lounge car, intended primarily for the use of coach passengers, was placed behind the three coaches and ahead of first two 10-6 sleeping cars in the train. The full dining car, two additional sleepers and the observation-lounge car followed. In actual service, this positioning tended to draw passengers from the two sleeping cars forward into the mid-train buffet car for liquor service. The presence of passengers enjoying refreshments changed the atmosphere of the car to that of a club-lounge and dissuaded coach passengers from partaking of the a-la-carte buffet snack service available there. This thrust an additional burden on the dining car which, although it seated 48 and could comfortably handle three sittings each meal, was being considerably taxed by heavier than anticipated patronage. The consist of the train was then rearranged in June 1949 so that the full dining car was between the buffet-lounge and the first two sleeping cars. This immediately influenced the Pullman passengers to move to the buffet-lounge car at the rear of the train for beverage service. Coach patronage of the buffet-snack service increased as the refreshment trade shifted.

Dining Car Dining Area Right
Dining Car Dining Area Left