Dawn-to-Dusk Dash

On May 26, 1934 the Century of Progress Exposition opened its second season in Burnham Park.  The highlight of the day was the arrival of a train.

Railroads had tied America together for a century.  But in 1934 they no longer had a monopoly on long-distance travel.  Now there were automobiles.  Now there were airplanes.

Looking to the future, railroad companies knew that the competition would only get worse.  They had to provide better, faster service.  The Budd Company, a metal-fabricating firm, had one solution–a streamlined train.

The Zephyr in regular service--East Dubuque, Illinois

The Zephyr in regular service–East Dubuque, Illinois

The Budd design was radical.  The train ran on diesel fuel, had a sloped-front engine car, and was made of stainless steel.  The result was a train that was lighter in weight, cheaper to operate, faster in performance, and futuristic in appearance.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad hired Budd to produce a prototype.  They named it the Pioneer Zephyr.  Now that it was ready, CB&Q staged a special non-stop run between Denver and the fair in Chicago.

The Dawn-to-Dusk Dash began at 6:04 a.m. local time.  The passengers included railroad and Budd executives, reporters, invited guests, and a burro mascot named Zeph.  The normal travel time between Denver and Chicago was about 25 hours.

1934 magazine ad

1934 magazine ad

About 50 miles out from Denver, the engineer decided to “see what this baby can do.”  He eased his control handle over.  The Zephyr hit 112 mph.  There wasn’t a shake or rattle.

The railroad had taken extra measures to make sure the dash wasn’t interrupted.  All freight and passenger trains were exiled to sidings as the Zephyr approached.  Hundreds of grade crossings were guarded by CB&Q employees or volunteers from the Boy Scouts. Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa–then over the Mississippi River and into Illinois.

The Zephyr pulled into Chicago Union Station at 8:09 p.m.  Allowing for the change of time zones, the 1,015 mile trip had taken 13 hours 5 minutes.  The average speed was 77 mph, a new record for an intercity run.

The Zephyr was exhibited at the fair the next day.  From there it went on a 31-state publicity tour, where it was viewed by over 2 million people.  Regular revenue service began in November.

The Zephyr did everything asked of it, and was popular with passengers.  But it only slowed the decline of long-distance rail travel.  The train was retired in 1960.  Today it can be seen at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Sorry, I don’t know what became of Zeph.



1 Response to “Dawn-to-Dusk Dash”

  1. 1 Garry July 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Pioneer Zephyr even starred in a terrible 1934 movie “The Silver Streak”, where it makes an emergency delivery of iron lungs to a Nevada town.
    I saw it at 3AM on TV years ago & Leonard Maltin’s comment is correct: “Derailed by wooden performances & leaden pace although climactic race against time is exciting.”

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