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RyPN Editorials March 14, 1999
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Thoughts on Preservation
Reassembling the Zephyrs - A Do-Able Project?

Recently, I've spent quite a bit of time with the folks on the Burlington Route Historical Society's discussion list trying to determine the whereabouts of a number of former Burlington Zephyrpassenger cars. Their website has an impressive list of existing Burlington cars, both non-streamlined and streamlined, totaling more than 140 cars for the CB&Q itself, plus about 20 others for the subsidiary Colorado & Southern and Fort Worth & Denver. Despite much research, the list still does not account for all the extant cars, some of which have migrated about as far as they could get from their native routes.

It is known that between 18 and two dozen former Zephyr cars, most believed to be from the articulated, original Denver Zephyrs of 1936, were shipped to Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s, where they are believed to remain in storage. Members of the discussion list have suggested that, considering our efforts at helping the Saudis in the Gulf War, coupled with the wealth we've provided them with our indulgent consumption of oil, the Zephyr cars might be returned to the U.S. for preservation, preferably at their expense. This, of course, would be a delicate diplomatic matter to be handled through federal legislators and the U.S. State Department.

Besides the Saudi cars, quite a number of other cars from the named Zephyr trains remain in North America, some privately owned, some in regular service with Amtrak and VIA and some at museums. Some of these, while thankfully saved from the junkman, are located far from anywhere that they ran in regular service. Some are well-kept, some are badly vandalized and a few have been hopelessly modified by private owners. All, however share their stainless Budd shotweld construction and, if not intentionally scrapped, will still gleam in the sun long after all of us reading this are gone.

But individually, their existence is only semi-meaningful. Each of the cars were meant to be part of a whole. Thus far, only the Illinois Railway Museum's Nebraska Zephyr is assembled as a complete train, because it was purchased and preserved that way in the beginning. It is an impressive, mobile artifact, which has improved a lot since they acquired the train. But what about the others? Just what should eventually happen with all those other cars? I believe that, without a stated, sensible purpose, some of them will be destroyed in time, despite the indestructible nature of their shiny flanks. The cars need a purpose for continued existence and restoration.

So what should we do with this shiny abundance from the Red Lion plant? I believe some creative swapping between museums and other owners could produce some impressive trainsets, even if they were only used for static display. Assembled into cohesive units, the equipment will have more meaning than it does in separate pieces. But first, let's take a brief look at what's left today of this once proud fleet:

The first train, No. 9900, the Pioneer Zephyr of 1934, has been nicely restored at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Visitors report it is a very impressive display, replete with Disney-like sound and vibration effects. Ensconced within its glassed enclosure, it should last forever, endangered only by too many touching fingers. Some critics have suggested that the large amount of money spent on its new home and special effects might have been better put toward returning it to operating condition, but the train is clearly well off compared to much other preserved equipment.

The second and third Zephyrs, Nos. 9901 and 9902, originally used on the Chicago-Twin Cities run, were scrapped, No. 9901 after hitting a gasoline truck in Texas in 1944, the other in 1966. No. 9903, the Mark Twain Zephyr, was saved, and is currently stored at a Chicago-area railcar rebuilding firm. Unfortunately, during storage and display at various locations, the interior has been largely gutted, with seats and other furnishings possibly lost. The train, which now includes the extra car added to the Pioneer Zephyr shortly after its inaugural, is privately owned and its future is unclear at present. Hopefully, something good will come of it eventually. Nos. 9900-9903 were permanently articulated trainsets, with the power car an integral part of the train.

Nos. 9904 and 9905, delivered in 1936, were the second sets to take up the Twin Cities Zephyr runs and were later assigned to the Chicago-Lincoln Nebraska Zephyr route when replaced by newer equipment on the Minnesota run. No. 9904, with cars named for Greek goddesses, is the one at IRM. Because two cars from the set were removed and scrapped in the early-1960s, the train accurately represents its appearance from that time. The No. 9905 set, named for Greek gods, was stored near Denver Union Station for a time after retirement, and then was sold to Saudi Arabia. Like No. 9904, it had two middle cars scrapped in the 1960s. Both trainsets also operated with an extra baggage car in the late-1940s and early-50s, and both of the assigned baggage cars are still owned by Amtrak. The trains were originally powered by single, Winton-engined "shovelnose" units, which were not articulated to the cars like the earlier trainsets. In later years, the trainsets were typically powered by newer units, including E5s, E7s, E8s and E9s, and by the 1960s, the streamlined consists followed behind many heavyweight mail and baggage cars, and were sometimes combined with other trains, though always on the rear end.

Nos. 9906 and 9907, also delivered in 1936, were the original Denver Zephyrs, designed for the overnight Chicago-Denver route. Substantially longer than the previous trains, they included sleepers in addition to the usual coaches and other cars. Initially, they were powered by A and B-unit shovelnose diesels, but later with newer units. They were reassigned to the Texas Zephyr (Denver-Dallas) from the Chicago-Denver run when replaced with complete new Budd trains in 1956, and ran until 1965. Afterward, they were stored in Denver until disposal. It is unclear exactly which cars from these sets are where. Some are in Saudi Arabia, three are in South Dakota and the whereabouts of others are unknown, but substantial portions, at least, of these trains are believed to still exist. They were the last Zephyrs to employ articulated cars, though not all cars in the consists were permanently joined.

In 1939, the last shovelnose diesel, No. 9908, essentially a motorized baggage car, was built for the General Pershing Zephyr, which originally pulled two coaches and a boat-tail observation car. The locomotive is currently at the National Museum of Transport in St. Louis, where volunteers are said of late to have had the 12-cylinder EMC 567 engine running. The observation car was sold to an Australian mining railroad, where it remains, and the two middle cars went into bunk car service for Burlington Northern. It is presently unclear if they still exist or not. As No. 9908 was later assigned to other light duties however, it seems likely some sort of believable train could be assembled to go with it.

In 1940, the Texas Zephyrs were inaugurated on the Colorado & Southern-Fort Worth & Denver, Denver-Dallas run, with new, non-articulated equipment. Powered by elegant EMC E5A and B units (with stainless carbodies), these were, suprisingly, not fully streamlined trains. To accommodate extra patronage after the trains were received, three older heavyweight sleepers were given the modernization treatment, painted silver, and added to the consists. The original Texas Zephyr cars were replaced with the original Denver Zephyr trains in 1957, after the DZ got brand new Budd consists in 1956. The DZ cars were again retired in 1965, and the 1940 equipment was put back to work. While some cars from the 1940 TZ still exist (a gutted observation car sits just east of Colorado Springs), the fates of the rest are unknown; some may also be in Saudi Arabia. The heavyweight sleepers are known to have been scrapped in the 1960s. In their later, waning years, the TZ trains often carried as many heavyweight cars as streamlined.

In 1947, the vistadome concept was introduced with new equipment on the Twin Cities Zephyrs. These relatively short daylight trains carried only coach-type domes, parlor cars and a diner, with no sleepers. The trains rolled at high speeds along the mighty Mississippi River for roughly 300 miles of fabulous scenery.

In 1949, the famed California Zephyrs were introduced as the ultimate, vista-domed cruise train between Chicago and Oakland, in conjunction with the Rio Grande and Western Pacific. There were initially six sets of 11 cars each, with more added a few years later. This train is well celebrated, has its own website (http://calzephyr.railfan.net), and not much more need be said about it here. Most of the CZ cars from the three owning railroads exist today, many in running condition., and, with replication of a couple of B units, three proper sets of motive power (CB&Q, D&RGW and WP) could be assembled.

The previously mentioned Denver Zephyrs of 1956 were the last addition of full trainsets. The second DZ fleet had some 24 cars originally, many of which still exist today, some in regular operation.

But with this grand history aside, however, where should we go from here? In a perfect world, the cars would be reassembled into proper trainsets, fully restored to operation and turned loose to run. As IRM has shown, this can be done, but it isn't easy, requiring a large commitment of funds, labor and cooperation.

Operations-wise, I think a recreated Twin Cities Zephyr of the 1950s-era could be successful as a one-day cruise train ride, though perhaps not running all the way from Chicago to Minneapolis. With the Mississippi's impressive scenery, domes, and some good meals in the dining car, this would be a nice trip, perhaps coupled with an overnight stay and maybe return by air, bus or Amtrak's Empire Builder. A pair of ex-Burlington E8s or '9s, restored to their original exterior appearance, could provide motive power. These are already head end power-equipped, as are many of the cars that are in operating condition. Such a train would be similar to the Union Pacific's elegant executive train -- modernized and adapted internally for ease of operation and maintenance (electric heat, for instance), but still looking very much like the proud trains of old on the outside.

To ride the grand old California Zephyr again would be wonderful, but unlike the TCZ, would require sleepers for authenticity. An overnight, longer trip, perhaps Denver to Oakland, would be more expensive, with more obstacles to overcome. Such an idea was discussed for the train's 40th anniversary a decade ago, but did not materialize. With the Golden Anniversary of the train this year, it's still a great idea, but planning should have started a decade ago.

The General Pershing Zephyr could also be reassembled and utilized in much the same way as IRM's Nebraska Zephyr -- a mobile display piece, to be taken to various rail celebrations and for short excursions. Due to its age, it would be wrong to modify its mechanical and electrical systems extensively for modern, regular use.

All of these ideas involve mega-dollars, difficult-to-obtain cooperation from major railroads disinclined to favor the whole idea, and many other problems. To say they can't be done, however, is being shortsighted. After all, the American Orient Express, Rocky Mountain Railtours, and others are doing just such a thing. The only difference is that their equipment, while quite elegant, is not historically related or restored. And don't forget the fortune wasted on the ill-fated Marlboro Express. Too bad some of that money couldn't have been used to restore and operate a historically authentic train on part of its original route.

So, leaving the operating train ideas to others with more money and better connections, what about the cars that are less likely to run again? Doing something with these, I believe, is within the realm of "weekend warrior" volunteers, community groups, and other low-budget organizations. A number of depots, large and small, have been saved along the "Way of the Zephyrs", and what would look better outside them than a restored passenger train? Such a display could provide just enough reason for tourists to get off the Interstate and visit an otherwise bypassed town in the Midwest. A couple of big stations once served by the Zephyrs are being redeveloped, as are several in smaller towns. These will likely get some sort of rolling stock display anyway, why not a real train that once ran there?

Once acquired and assembled into proper order on their display track, the trains would need locomotives. In Dreamland, perhaps, we could speak of recreating shovelnoses, or even E5s (the latter built with new stainless carbodies over E8 frames- assuming the EMD dies for stamping out the windshield and other carbody moldings might still exist for the A units), but these are tall orders, beyond the abilities of local groups. More realistic choices could come from the two-dozen remaining ex-CB&Q E8s and '9s, over half of which are currently available, and likely in eventual danger of scrapping. Thus, the reassembled trains would more resemble their appearance from the 1950s than the 1930s, but that was still a time when passenger trains were in their prime. The later Es, last used in Chicago commuter service, were all modernized with head end power and other equipment, but for display, their original appearance could be restored without too much difficulty.

On the outside, the stainless Budd cars would require little maintenance once all spots with potential for leaks were sealed, and all broken windows replaced. The metal itself is tough, won't corrode, and harsh cleaners can be used to remove graffiti with no problem. The occasional broken window should be covered by insurance, and that Lexan that Amtrak uses seems to be holding up pretty well; it might be a substitute for glass.

The locomotives would require more work to refurbish, and it could take a couple of years of volunteer time to properly restore them. A proper E or F unit restoration includes removing all side panels, thoroughly cleaning the engine room, and usually, replacing the panels with new material and replicating the portholes. All roof openings should be covered, and if doing it myself, I'd raise up all the roof hatches to clean rust from the area where they sit on the carbody and seal them with silicone caulk. A good grade of paint, perhaps with a clearcoat finish, will last several years, but will eventually require re-doing with continuous outdoor exposure. That's no different than if they were sitting at some railroad museum or in use pulling trains. Internally, the engines should be barred over occasionally, to keep them from seizing, and of course all water should be thoroughly blown out.

As some of the cars are pretty sad inside, the display train might be just "to look at" from the outside at first, but with some cleanup and refurbishing, individual cars could be reopened. A dining car is a natural for birthday parties and other events. A couple of sleepers could provide budget motel rooms for weary travelers, with breakfast in the diner. Yes, I know train-motels have been tried before, and usually failed, but sleeping on a train is more unique today than it was 30 years ago, when "heritage tourism" was unheard of. Besides, these would be non-profit ventures, with income used to restore and maintain the display. As these trains lacked shower facilities, a couple might be hidden in lockers or closets, or a maintenance-of-way "shower car" parked nearby, with a connecting platform. Such facilities would more resemble a youth hostel than the Sheraton, but would be adequate. Surprisingly, heritage tourists often pay more to stay at quaint bed-and-breakfasts, where the facilities are sometimes down the hall, than they would at a motel.

An "agent" in the depot (desk clerk) would provide some presence on the property to help discourage vandalism. Good lighting helps, and other sophisticated protective devices are available. Heat, air-conditioning, water and sanitary facilities in the cars would have to be modified for stationary use, but I believe this could be done unobtrusively. I invite comments on dealing with handicapped access. All original equipment that had to be removed for such modifications should be properly tagged and safely stored, in case. the trains were ever put back into service.

Eventually, all cars in the train could be restored inside for a complete walk-through tour, from engine cab to observation car. People could sit in the engineer's seat, and perhaps with supervision, even ring the bell or blow a muted horn if neighbors allowed it. With the wheels trigged, they might operate the brakes, with air supplied from a stationary compressor. The baggage car would contain crates, trunks, vintage luggage and perhaps a flag-draped casket. The mail car would be restored as-built, with pigeonholes and mail sacks. The diner would serve on replicated Zephyr china, and so on. On special days, docents might staff each car in period passenger uniforms.

These ideas are not limited to the Burlington Zephyrs, of course. Other roads had all-Budd trains, though fewer cars exist from them today. Vintage steam trains could be reassembled in the same way, as could non-stainless streamliners of other railroads, but proper restoration and maintenance of them would be more difficult and expensive than those equipped with Budd cars. Thus, the Zephyrs seem a good way to try out the idea.

Setting up a static display, like an operating train, would cost a lot of money, but an authentic train, to be displayed in a setting where it used to actually run, seems a credible proposal to float before a TEA-21 evaluation committee. And unlike some established rail museums, where there are ten times more restoration projects than there are volunteers to complete them, it seems a goal that might be accomplished within several years by a handful of volunteers, with some help from experts. Diplomacy is a critical element; tying the project's goals with those of the community is not always an easy task.

Movement of the equipment to the desired location would not be cheap, easy, nor without risk. As it is all roller bearing equipped, however, there should be some possibility of movement by rail if the equipment were properly prepared and the carriers approached in a professional manner. Unlike painted cars, stainless cars face an extra risk in movement, as they are very difficult to repair if dented. Hopefully, the overseas cars would not be dropped by a dockside crane nor sunk en route.

Certainly, we'd all like to see all these trains fully restored and operating, but we have to be realistic about what we can accomplish. Those of us who remember the last heyday of streamliners are now in our 50s, and we are the most likely to engage in such tasks. Completing a proper display could take a decade of spare time, or more. Subsequent generations do not have the emotional attachment to trains that we have, and when we're gone, few will have an interest in saving this equipment. Thus, we need to begin now to develop credible scenarios for its long-term preservation.