California Zephyr Equipment

Construction of the Stainless Steel cars, which made up the California Zephyr, began in 1946 at the BUDD Company Red Lyon plant in Pennsylvania. Touted by BUDD as the most modern plant in the world for railway car construction approximately one third of the nations new railway passenger cars (exclusive of railroad production) were being produced by BUDD at this plant. Built of 18-8 stainless steel, which had been developed by the Krupp Works in Germany and assembled with BUDD's patented "shotwelding" construction method, the cars were constructed with comfort and durability in the forefront of design criteria. This material and the construction techniques made these cars almost totally resistant to corrosion. Ultralite insulation was used throughout the train, which was also a new newly developed product and was exceptionally lightweight. For modern trains, such as the California Zephyr, it reduced insulation weight by about one-half without sacrificing efficiency. It is composed of soft, inorganic glass fibers, bound with a thermo-setting binder. To the passenger it meant greater comfort, which offered the latest in traveling luxury.

Each California Zephyr train consisted of a baggage car, three Vista-Dome coaches, a Vista-Dome buffet-lounge car, two six-bedroom and ten-roomette cars, a dining car, one 16-section sleeper, one six-bedroom and ten-roomette car, and a Vista-Dome lounge-observation car, with one drawing room and three bedrooms. A six-double bedroom five compartment car was added in 1952 behind the diner.

There were 138 regular coach seats and 72 dome seats in the three coaches. The 19 buffet and seven lounge seats in the buffet-lounge car were for coach passengers. Sleeping-car berth space was available for 107 passengers. The Vista-Dome observation car had seats for 12 in the buffet and 14 in the observation lounge, including the writing desk, and 24 seats in the Vista Dome. The Vista-Dome seats in the buffet-lounge car also were for sleeping-ear passengers only.

The cars were all 85 feet long, coupled, except the baggage car which was 72 feet 8 inches coupled. The exteriors were unpainted, except for the lettering which consisted of the name of the train on the middle of the letter board, the initials of the owning road in smaller letters at each end of the car at letter board height, and the name of the car in the middle of the side below the windows. Each coach, sleeper and observation car had a vestibule, the buffet-lounge and dining cars were without vestibules.

Each car, including the baggage car, was named, the distinctive name in each being prefixed with the word "Silver," suggested by the stainless steel surface of the trains. The baggage cars were named for wild animals of the western plains and mountains, such as "Silver Buffalo”, "Silver Antelope”, and “Silver Stag”. The names for the coaches were suggested by characteristic features of western life and environment: "Silver Lariat”, "Silver Mustang”, and "Silver Sage” are examples. The names of the buffet-lounge cars, the diners and the buffet-observation cars suggested the character of the service rendered by those cars. Three of them were "Silver Hostel”, "Silver Banquet”, and "Silver Penthouse”. The room cars were named from characteristic features of western scenery – “Silver Butte”, “Silver Pass”, "Silver Surf." The open-section sleepers bore the names of western trees, such as "Silver Maple”, "Silver Pine”, and "Silver Palm”.

Interior Decorative Treatment

Eight major color schemes were employed throughout the train. Three of these were utilized in the vista-domed coaches with each of the other car types having their own individualized scheme. Certain features of the decorations where employed to unitize the overall effect throughout the train. These unifying features included the original murals of western subjects used throughout the train. The murals applied in the coaches and buffets were in oil paints, while those in the diner and bar areas of the vista-domed-buffet-lounge and vista-domed observation were done in multiple mediums such as carved and painted linoleum and etched glass. All cars were assigned a Pullman Company porter. In later years these porters would find themselves working for the individual railroads when the Pullman Company went out of business.

Each of the dome coaches had a color scheme all its own – the first a blending of nut-pine, rust and complementary shades of mocha-gray, henna and brown; the second in soft shades of turquoise, brown, beige and green; the third in Indian red, orchid-gray, wood tone and burgundy.

Beneath the Vista-Dome of the Buffet-Lounge car was the sip and snack lounge were the walls were mauve-rose adorned with decorative murals in tones of greens with light ecru Venetian blinds. Lounges were decorated in grays and greens with complementary shades of vermilion and gold.

The color harmony in the all-room cars was a restful blending of rose-tan, petal beige and shades of gray in combination with ashes of roses and soft greens. In the semi-private section car rose-tan, Norway blue, gray-blue, petal beige and green predominated.

In the diner lending enchantment to the blended pastels of the walls and ceiling was restful fluorescent lighting. Green Venetian blinds and contrasting red, green and cream drapes blended with the over-all color motif of gray-green, rose and ecru in the walls and ceiling. Carpeting was a pale green while the chairs were upholstered in rose-red leather.

The lounge of the vista-domed observation featured deeply cushioned chairs and settees in shades of sandalwood and brown in a setting of rose-tan and petal beige. The vista-dome itself was tastefully decorated in tones of sandalwood and the rooms harmonious shades of rose-tan, petal beige, taupe and ashes of roses. Venetian blinds in the observation-lounge had drapes of gold and white.


For the passengers listening pleasure two two-wire spool reproducers were installed which allowed up to twelve hours of continuous musical entertainment throughout the train. Controlled from a master panel adjacent to the steward’s desk were also two Western Electric receiving sets each equipped with seventeen pre-tuned crystal receivers. This allowed for a total availability of thirty-four broadcasting radio stations with two available throughout the train at all times. Also operated from this control panel, which measured six-foot by eighteen inches, was the trains public address system. Utilizing a handset with a push button when activated the radio or wire-recorded programs were interrupted allowing announcements to be made to all passengers. A separate handset was also available at the conductors’ alcove in the second dome coach. Dome coaches were equipped with a selector switch, which controlled the available program for the entire car. Volume controls for the dome and main floor were separate however. All sleeping cars employed individual speakers that were placed in or near the ceiling for better sound distribution. Individual volume controls and a five-position selector switch allowed the room occupant to select either of the available radio broadcasts, a wire recorded program or train announcements only. The system could also be turned off entirely in the room. Individual radios were installed in the buffet-lounge and the lounge observation car. Available for crew use was a telephone system for communication between certain points within the train.

Lighting and Air Conditioning

Lighting in all passenger areas, with the exception of the diner, buffet-lounge, and the observation lounge was of the fluorescent type with the exception of the reading lights under the luggage racks in the coaches and the reading light in each roomette which were incandescent type lights. Lamps under the luggage racks, one per seat used for reading, were individually controlled. Incandescent lamps were also used in the lavatory areas, vestibules, passageways, kitchen, crew's quarters, and porters' areas. Lighting fixtures mounted in the ceiling along the aisle ways of the coaches were designed with a cylindrical magnifying lens, which focused the light on the aisle floor, produced a soft low level of light in the seat area without glare. Lighting in the domes was designed and laid out in such a fashion so that illumination progressed from a high intensity at the lower level to an extremely low level as you ascended the stairs at night. This was to eliminate interior glare on the dome glass and allow night viewing of the passing scenery by passenger so inclined. Two small lights were concealed on the sides of each stairwell tread with smaller units of a similar design used to illuminate the leading edge of the elevated-seating platform. Lensed glassware mounted in a continuous row and built into the ceiling of the dome on each side of the air duct drew attention to the dome while in the station.

Mounted in the coves at the sides of the ceiling in the diner a continuous row of Luminator lensed glassware provided a high level of soft glareless light for dining car patrons. This arrangement also provided ceiling illumination from the enameled panel just above the clear lenses. A ceiling light in the foyer provided illumination, which accented the semicircular steward’s desk.

Illumination in the buffets of the lounge cars was similar to that in the dining car, which provided a high level of light for reading but did not cause glare in the unit across the car. A small cornice light was used in the double seat section at the end of the car with the light directed over the passenger’s shoulder. Individual fluorescent ceiling units directly over the tables and seats were used in the lounge. Lighting in the observation-lounge came from a continuous row of lensed glassware mounted in the soffit over the windows and directed the light to the reading area. Lights over the seats provided illumination for the ceiling. With various types of seating arrangements the ceiling units in the buffet were arranged to properly illuminate the area.

General illumination in the 10-6 sleeper longitudinal bedrooms came from a large unit mounted in the ceiling. Additional illumination was provided by fluorescent berth lights in pier panels on either side of the window. One at the head of the bed also served as a reading light. Directed forward so as to illuminate the reading material the reading light in the upper berth was mounted parallel to the berth. Transverse bedrooms had two sofa lights mounted as well as the overhead-ceiling unit. A lensed reading light located just back of the passenger provided light for reading in the upper berth while the sofa light nearest the head did the same for the lower berth.

Two florescent tubes were placed one on each side of the mirror in each roomette with the lensed glassware diffusing the light in such a way as to not disturb the passenger when sitting beside or using the mirror. The main light source was in the ceiling over the reading area. Available for use either day or night was an incandescent berth light at the side. Florescent ceiling units located opposite each section provided general illumination in the open section sleeper with additional ceiling illumination being provided by large prisms pressed into the sidewalls of the controlled lens. The resultant down lighting flooded the car with sufficient light for reading or relaxing. Incandescent lights were located for use in the upper and lower berths.

Cool air was supplied by use of ten-ton Frigidaire electro-mechanical air conditioning systems during the hot summer months in all cars with the exception of the sleepers, which had seven-ton capacity units. Dome cars had split systems with one unit with a capacity of six tons cooling the two main passenger areas and the other four-ton unit for the dome and under dome area. Cooling in the diner, although supplied by a single unit, was split with the equivalent of six tons of cooling air being directed into the dining area and the remaining four being applied in the kitchen area. Electrostatic filters and Dorex purifiers were used in all cars as part of the air circulating system with cool air admitted into the passenger space through Multi-Vent ceiling panels. Refrigeration equipment in the diner and the buffets of the buffet-lounge and observation car was supplied by a Frididaire electro-mechanical unit, which also allowed for the making of ice.

Heating during cooler weather was accomplished with a Vapor Zone Control system on each car, which regulated the steam heat produced by the steam generators, located in the locomotives. Lavatories in each car were supplied with hot water by a Vapor water heater, with heat supplied from the steam generators, and a Westinghouse water-raising system. System water was treated with a National Aluminate water softener while a Lundy circulating water-cooling system supplied drinking water for the bedrooms. Each car was equipped with a 500-gallon capacity underbody water tank with the diner having an additional 100-gallon capacity tank in the kitchen for the hot water heater. Copper tubing with Walseal fittings was used on all cars for the brake, steam, and water pipes. Propane connections in the diner were made with brass piping with threaded fittings. Air brake piping on the trucks was extra heavy-duty wrought iron.

Mechanical Equipment

All of the passenger carrying cars with the exception of the diner received electrical power from 25-kw Safety genemotors with Spicer drives. Exide storage batteries with a 1,294 amp-hour capacity provided power while stopped. The diner was equipped with a 30-kw Safety genemotor and 2,588 amp-hour Exide storage batteries. Motor alternators of 2-kw capacity were used to convert the 32 volts direct current power produced by the alternators to 110-volt alternating current power. Cars having heavy AC electrical loads were fitted with two of the motor alternators, which operated on a split load concept, which allowed for one to shutdown at night when the load was light. These alternators supplied power for the fluorescent lighting, razor outlets, vacuum cleaner outlets, electrostatic air filters, radios and the public-address system. Direct current from the alternators was used to power the air conditioning systems, incandescent lighting, and the water coolers.

Riding on trucks with coil bolster springs and Houde vertical shock absorbers of General Steel Casting equalizer design and cast from alloy steel, 36” machine balanced rolled steel wheels were mounted on 6-inch by 11-inch axles and equipped with Timken roller bearings. To help reduce vibration rubber pads were placed under the equalizers over each journal box, under the center plates, and at the end of the bolsters. Budd model CF disk brakes were installed on each side of the axle inboard of the wheel. Because these brakes could sustain longer braking applications and did not contact the wheels they eliminated heat checking, which could affect braking efficiency and had a weight savings of about 1000 pounds per car over conventional clasp type brakes. Air brakes on each car was of the Westinghouse HSC type with an American Brake Shoe anti-wheel-slide device. Beginning in 1959 the electro-pneumatic portion of the HSC brake system was being disconnected and no longer used. A lever operated type handbrake was accessible at one end of each car inside the diaphragm, which controlled the disk brakes on one axle of the car. National tight-lock couplers were mounted in Waughmat draft gears.

Scale Weights of the California Zephyr Cars in pounds.
  Light Weight Ready to Run Maximum Load
Baggage 103,900 120,500 167,350
Dome Coaches 148,700 154,300 165,700
Dome-Buffet-Lounge 155,620 163,520 171,620
16-Section Sleeper 136,410 143,000 148,300
Diner 148,150 160,300 169,400
10-6 Sleeper 142,350 149,150 152,850
6-5 Sleeper      
Dome-Bedroom-Observation 151,030 159,250 168,550
Note: The average weight of trucks per pair is 40,500 pounds.