California Zephyr Dome Coaches

Coaches on passenger trains allowed for the most basic of amenities, a place to sit. Even during the streamliner era they were still used to provide this basic service although the seating had become more comfortable as the wood benches gave way to padded, upholstered seats.

The coach was one of the earliest passenger train cars, dating back to the late 1820s and 1830s. These early cars resembled stagecoaches, in that they had a roof and basic car body with no center isle and very little protection from the outside elements. As construction techniques improved so did car design and ride quality as well as the seating provided. Coaches now featured a center isle and seating to either side. Forward facing bench seats on either side of the aisle became the primary type of design. It was not until the streamliner era that the coach design evolved. It was around this time coach cars became more diversified with many featuring individual as well as much more comfortable seating.

As designed from the start the coaches on the CZ were built to afford all coach passengers with comfort and convenience as well as a new design feature, a dome, on the regularly assigned vista-domed-coaches. The idea of a “dome” on top of a passenger car was not new as various ideas had been tried as early as the 1880’s without widespread success. Further refinements to the idea didn't come until 1944 when Cyrus Osborn of EMD conceived a new idea while traveling in a Denver & Rio Grande Western locomotive through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. From his seat, high in the locomotive, he recognized what wonderful views passengers could enjoy from a car with a panoramic dome atop it allowing a 360-degree view.

Silver Dome at Chicago, Illinois August 1971.

Mr. Osborne took his idea to the CB&Q which then took the sketches he had made and used the idea to rebuild one of their Budd built stainless-steel coaches at their shops in Aurora, Illinois, with the new Vista Dome atop it. As built the dome area featured seats that were positioned in the cabin lengthwise facing double-pane windows which had also been designed with improved insulation qualities. This first Vista Dome was called, appropriately, Silver Dome. It was then tested in the consist of the Twin Cities Zephyr on July 23, 1945. This dome car featured flat glass dome windows. Budd took this new idea and with the introduction of their first domes, completed in Fall 1947, refined it so the dome now featured curved glass which created a full streamlining effect. It was this design that entered service on the many CB&Q Zephyrs including the CB&Q-D&RGW-WP California Zephyr.

All of the coaches on the CZ, normally three per train, featured forty-six deep cushioned reclining seats, comfortable foot and leg rests as well as arm rests dividing each seat which folded out of the way when not in use. The two seats next to the bulkhead at the foot of the stairs leading to the vista-dome did not recline. Seating on the “main floor” of the coaches was reserved and assigned in advance. Divided into two sections at car-floor level the forward section, as the cars were normally placed in the train, could seat eighteen passengers with the rear section seating twenty-eight. Access to the vista-dome was by stairway from the twenty-eight-passenger section.

Windows, with sills at elbow level and equipped with venetian blinds were frost-proof, mist-proof and heat resistant. Featuring recorded music and radio reception each coach had its own color scheme. The first was a blending of nut-pine, rust and shades of mocha-gray, henna and brown; the second in soft shades of turquoise, brown, beige and green; the third in Indian red, orchid-gray, wood tone and burgundy.

Featuring wall-to-wall carpeting, spacious restrooms, modern interior decorating as well as murals depicting scenic and historic highlights enroute the cars were comfortable and functional. Soft pillows were available from the car attendants and the lights were dimmed during sleeping hours. Originally six of the coaches (which were placed immediately behind the baggage car) were fitted with a forward section, divided from the rest of the car by a swinging door behind the entrance to the women’s restroom that was reserved for women and children only. This section had electric receptacles for use with a bottle warmer, which could be obtained from the hostess. This use was later discontinued, and the door removed. The Silver Bridle, Bronco, Dollar, Feather, Lariat and Lodge were so equipped.

Coupled directly behind the baggage car (later behind the 48-seat coach) each coach featured a vista-dome similar to the one in the dome-lounge and lounge-observation cars. Accommodating twenty-four passengers each, reservations were not required nor was there an extra charge for these seats. The second dome-coach in each train differed from the other two by replacing the luggage shelf space with a conductor’s booth at the vestibule end of the car. This booth was fitted with a shelf desk, a seat and a locker.

Of the eighteen vista-dome chair coaches ordered, CB&Q owned seven numbered 4716-4722 and named Silver Bridle, Lodge, Lariat, Ranch, Rifle, Saddle and Stirrup. D&RGW owned four the 1105-1108 named Silver Bronco, Colt, Mustang and Pony with WP owning seven which were numbered 811-817 and carrying the names Silver Dollar, Feather, Palace, Sage, Schooner, Scout and Thistle.

Vista-domed-coaches reflected names suggesting the characteristic features of western life and the environment.

Dome Coach Door Right
Dome Coach (with Conductors Window) Door Left
Dome Coach Door Left