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Inaguration of the California Zephyr

CZ on display in San Francisco, California

Public exhibition of the new California Zephyr began on March 12, 1949 at Oakland, California and continued during the week at San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton, Sacramento, Marysville, Oroville, Portola as well as Winnemucca, Elko and Salt Lake City, Utah. Attendance at these exhibitions was estimated to exceed 65,000 people. During these exhibition’s members of the press, civic leaders and Western Pacific employees were invited to take short “tours” of the line aboard the new train.

Also proud of this new train the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy held public exhibitions in Chicago and other points plus operated six 76-mile preview excursions from Chicago to Aurora at two-hour intervals with a round trip fare of one dollar.

This might have well been called California Zephyr Week, for the dream of all Western Pacific people had become reality, for the sleek silver trains had been delivered, ushering in a week of thrilling pre inaugural promotion activities.

CZ Inauguration in San Francisco, California.
Al Silveria photo.

The week was climaxed on Saturday, March 19, a day before the inaugural run from Oakland, CA when the dedication of the California Zephyr took place at San Francisco. This would be the only time the California Zephyr ever made an appearance in San Francisco proper. Displayed proudly in front of the Pier 3 Ferry building the train was officially christened the “California Zephyr” when feminine beauty and glamour met the new look in railroading. Lovely actress Eleanor Parker, Warner Brothers' star, christened the California Zephyr by breaking a bottle of California champagne across the nose of the 802.

The christening program was opened by Evelyn Corvello singing The Star Spangled Banner; the Most Reverend John J. Mitty, Archbishop of San Francisco, followed with the Invocation; and Leland Cutler offered an inspiring address of welcome. Master of Ceremonies Tol Avery introduced the distinguished guests, following which President Harry A. Mitchell, of the Western Pacific Railroad, presented the train and the Honorable Goodwin J. Knight, Lieutenant Governor, accepted it in behalf of the people of California. The program ended with the singing of "I Love You California," again featuring the beautiful voice of Evelyn Corvello.

In spite of Western Pacific management's preoccupation with displaying the Zephyr to an eager public, WP employees were also given an opportunity to see and inspect the train and, where possible to do so, special arrangements were made providing short trips which enabled any employee, if he/she so desired, to actually ride the train. WP employees were grateful for the consideration shown them by management and their feelings could best be expressed by what one employee remarked . . . "It was nice of the officials to let us in on the Zephyr. It makes us feel more like we're a part of the Western Pacific and besides we will know what we're talking about when we tell our friends about it."

The California Zephyr operated daily on a fast schedule between San Francisco and Chicago over the Western Pacific, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Burlington railroads. In addition to the luxury of the train itself, the new schedule provided for daylight riding through both the Feather River Canyon and the Colorado Rockies on the Moffatt Tunnel route, magnificent scenery where the unobstructed views from the Vista Domes could be enjoyed to the fullest.

A Zephyrette, one of the uniformed train hostesses who had just completed Chicago courses in railroading, babysitting and general charm, were in attendance to explain the features of the new streamlined train. Among those were the exceptionally smooth and quiet ride due to heavy insulation and disc brakes, water softeners and circulating ice water, individually controlled radio reception in each bedroom and roomette, with wire recorders providing music and entertainment when radio reception was not favorable.

What was considered the top comment about the new train was overheard by Lee Brown, head clerk of the overcharge bureau, to wit: "This is the only train I've ever been on that I hated to get off." A close second was the question from a pleased San Francisco visitor "Where's the swimming pool?"

At the Ferry Building on Sunday, March 20, passengers boarded the 9 a.m. ferry for the inaugural run of the first eastbound California Zephyr, leaving Oakland Pier behind F3 803 at precisely 9:30 a.m. Corsages of three gorgeous Hawaiian orchids made up in the California Zephyr's colors of orange and silver, which were flown over from Hilo, Hawaii, were presented upon boarding to each female traveler on this first passenger trip east. Adding to the festive atmosphere, the Western Pacific Employee Band kept the public entertained with music prior to departure.

The trains were an immediate success. This was in no small part to the planning the railroads had done preceding the California Zephyr’s inaugural run.