Union Pacific introduced the first lightweight streamliner, the City of Salina, in 1934. The CB&Q was right on their heals with the first 'diesel streamliner', the Pioneer Zephyr, a couple months later. The Streamliner Era was born and the race was on to capture the imagination of the traveling public (who were already abandoning the passenger train in droves, entranced with the automobile and the speed of the aeroplane). W.W.II brought to a screeching halt the advancements and innovations being made every day in the rail transportation industry. The war effort required every piece of freight and passenger equipment pressed into service and all raw materials devoted to the battle front.
With an end to the hostilities the rail car builders were right back on track ... building incredible cars with wonderful features ... trying to hold on to the traveling public ... but to no avail. The decline of the streamliner passenger train is well documented and beyond the scope of this "brief history"! (I will try to link some good information here in the future)
Sorry, all photos/graphics inserted randomly and don't correspond with the surrounding text.
The "San Francisco Overland" was the last incarnation of the famed "Overland Limited", a proud name that harkened back to the "golden spike era" many decades earlier. The Overland was still a premier train on the overland route until the early stages of the streamliner era when it was eclipsed by the Union Pacific's "City of San Francisco". As the UP "CITY of (fill in the blank)" "brand" trains became more dominate, the once proud Overland continued to degrade and lose services.
The 2981 served faithfully, racking up around 5 million miles for the Southern Pacific during its railroad career. However, as the fortunes of passenger trains waned in the 1950s and 60's, so too did the glory of this stylish railcar, when in October of 1966, the beautiful lounge of 2981 was stripped and converted into a dance floor. The Southern Pacific (wanting to keep idled onboard service crews working during the winter), along with the Reno Chamber of Commerce, started the Reno Fun Train (a winter time "gamblers special") which ran between Oakland, CA and Reno, NV bringing revelers, who otherwise, would not make the drive from the Bay Area over the treacherous Donnor Pass, to Reno.
Amtrak was created on May 1st, 1971 to "rescue" the American passenger train (some would say to administer its burial), which was in a death spiral and no longer any competition to the commercial airlines or the automobile. The 2981 was purchased by Amtrak in 1973, and numbered Amtrak 3500. She finished her railroad career, still assigned to the Reno Fun Train serving as a bar/dance car into the late '70s. The car transitioned to private hands after Amtrak retirement and spent a decade as a derelict on various railroad spurs under several owners. Fortunately for the 2981 (and we hope, many future generations), a new chapter has been written for this glorious car. Once again adorned in authentic railroad colors, she has been given the name Overland Trail and has undergone extensive mechanical, structural and cosmetic restoration to return her to the rails as a classic form of travel, suitable for the stylish and sophisticated, or for those simply wishing to relive a bygone era.
Post Script: Where are the cars from this class today?
2981, alive and well (based in Los Angeles) and expected to operate well into the new millennium!
2982, involved in an early serious Amtrak wreck. Sold for scrap but the body (less trucks) may still survives as a "bait shop" in state of Kansas.
2983, currently in storage in Burbank, California, awaiting a complete remodel (not to anything resembling the original configuation) and "Amtrak" upgrade.
2984, currently in dead storage on isolated track in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
2985, removed from railroad, stripped and now part of office/motel complex (serving as office space) in Santa Rosa area, CA. The 2985 became a "donor" of MANY parts to help complete her sister, the Overland Trail. We are grateful to Jon Clark who told us about the cars new owners and their plans to strip her and to the owners who grasiouly offered us anything that was in the dumpster.
2986, resurrected from stationary conference car use in the early 80s (in time for LA Olympics in '84), last used as part of Southern Pacific's business car fleet into the early '90s. Nice but modern restoration. Remarkable, even though the car was "tubed", the original "foot print" of the lounge was restored including the magazine racks and card playing sections). On permanent loan to the Western Heritage Museum, Omaha, NE.
Many thanks to Mr. Michael K. Dowell for contributing much to this article.
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Last updated 1/9/09