The dawn of the American streamliner


Like an arrow the streamliner shot across the country, caught the public imagination, beckoned a new generation that thought the railways outmoded and slow to come for a thrilling hundred-mile-an-hour ride in this aluminum bullet.

Lines of light illumine the aisles of the "City of Los Angeles", and corner lamps in each berth focus bullets of light over your shoulders.

A new era in railroading was beginning, yet its seeds were buried deep in the past. For the streamline train was first prophetically suggested in a British patent granted in 1846 to Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor of the Bessemer steel process. He proposed a ‘‘wedge form” for the piston carriage of ‘‘atmospheric railways,’’ to “‘diminish atmospheric resistance and allow the carriage to move at higher velocities with less power. The wedge form may be used both in the fore and hind parts of carriages or of trains, in addition to the closing of the intermediate spaces.’’ In 1865, as the American Civil War closed, U. 5. patent No. 49,227 was issued to S. R. Calthrop for a train designed to diminish wind re- sistance, but the train was never developed. At the turn of the century the "Windsplitter,’’ America’s first streamline train, was given trial on the Baltimore & Ohio tracks in Maryland. It was designed by F. U. Adams of Chicago, a newspaper man. It never was placed in scheduled service, and the streamline idea slumbered on.

Luncheon on the transcontinental streamliners is served on a tray that folds into the seat ahead.

The epoch of the streamliner was born, at last, of necessity. In 1920 the railroads carried a peak-year load of 1,235,000,000 passengers. In 1933 only 433,000,000 passengers chose the rails for their thoroughfare. Passenger-miles dwindled from forty-seven billion in 1920 to a little more than sixteen billion in 1933. What drastic, dramatic gesture could lure back the lost passengers to the railways?

The streamliner was the answer. Dramatic ‘‘packaging’’ for the traveler. Mighty power plants wrapped in color —‘‘sarasota blue and pimpernel scarlet,” for one — that would draw thousands every day to watch them roar by, and would pile up a waiting list of passengers.

More like an intimate club room than a railway car, the rear end of the Alton railroad’s “Abraham Lincoln” is an air-conditioned solarium.

The railroads borrowed style from giant air transports and from streamline automobiles. But speed called for more than mere styling, and the railroads went to the automotive manufacturers for an engine that would haul million-pound trains — built at a cost of a dollar a pound — across the continent day after day at eighty and ninety mile speeds without breakdown. Speed was nothing new to the old iron horse, for a record of 127.1 miles per hour marked up by the Pennsylvania's Broadway Limited in 1905 has yet to be challenged by today's fast trains. Even today the Chicago and North Western's conventional steam “400" matches the better than mile-a-minute pace of the streamline steam “Hiawatha’’ and the Diesel-electric “Zephyr’’ between Chicago and St. Paul. But sustained speed, a thousand miles nightly from Chicago to Denver, two-thousand-mile sprints from Lake Michigan to the Pacific, called for an engine with long-distance stamina, and the Diesel was given the assignment.

Lunch counter service is an innovation on the "Abraham Lincoln.” Here the Chicago-St. Louis passenger is served quickly at reasonable prices.

Climb into the massive yellow power car of the ‘‘City of San Francisco,’’ one of the newest and most powerful of the growing fleet, and watch the engineer start his eleven-car streamliner on its journey of two nights and a day to the bay city from Chicago. Half-way across Nebraska this speedster will overtake the steam train that left Chicago eight hours in advance.

The Diesel-electric engineer is half automobilist, half electric motorman, His ‘‘fireman’’ — an obsolete term — climbs down into the grey power room that resembles the engine room of a great ship, starts the Diesels as you would start an automobile engine, and rejoins the engineer in the cab. Three auxiliary motors have already been running, furnishing power for lights, air-conditioner, brake lines. Given the ‘‘highball,’’ the engineer releases his brakes, sets the motor in ‘‘series’’ and advances the controller to  "Speed 2". The mighty locomotive starts forward almost imperceptibly — a jolt is all but impossible with articulated, shockproof coupling — the controller is advanced again and the purr of the Diesels becomes a roar as the electric drive draws more and more power. When the train reaches a speed of thirty miles an hour the controller is thrown back, as if to shift gears; the motor is switched from ‘‘series’’ to "parallel’’ and again the controller moves forward. There are eight speeds on the controller. At sixty miles an hour the engineer switches beyond “parallel’’ into the high cruising range, and the streamliner hits its stride.

Like an automobile, the Diesel is watercooled and the crew must keep its temperature around 160 degrees. Dial in the cab show the engine temperature, train speed, and air-brake pressure, There are warning lights to indicate overheated motor and low lubricating oil. Instead of semaphore signals, the automatic train control flashes a light in front of the engineer if the track ahead is obstructed, and if he fails to reduce speed in acknowledgment of the warning, the train is automatically brought to 4 stop.

Frontire days are remembered in this unique room on the "City of Denver.’ With it pine
walls decorated with old photographs and posters, it is reminiscent of the pioneer west.


images and info provided by the Popular Science ARCHIVE from the Zetu Harrys Collection


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