This Southern Pacific passenger car operated on the Sunset Limited.
Southern Pacific passenger car
A Budd corporation built passenger car operating on the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Limited” train. The Historic New Orleans Collection dates this photo as prior to 1941, but that’s not accurate. The SP replaced the “heavyweight” cars running on the Sunset Limited with “streamline” cars like this one in 1950. So, this photo is likely from 1950 or 1951.
This car model offered four-across seating. Modern airlines offer this layout in their first class/business class cabins. Amtrak continues the four-across layout in their Superliner cars. Toilets were at the back of the car.
Railroads offered coach cars as bare-bones service. Amtrak’s incarnation of the line takes 46 hours to get from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The upside of a long train ride in coach is you’re not locked into the chair, as you would be on a plane. Riders ate in the dining car, strolled down to the lounge car, or just walked up and down the train to stretch. SP offered sleeper car service for a premium.
What’s important to remember is not everyone rides a long-haul route the entire way. So, if you wanted to take the train from New Orleans to, say, Lake Charles or Houston, hop on a Southern Pacific passenger car like this. Eight hours to Houston isn’t so bad.
SP inaugurated the route in 1894. They transferred it (along with all other passenger operations) to the national passenger railroad corporation, Amtrak, in 1971. The train runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles and return. The Amtrak’s Sunset makes twenty stops in between.
Prior to 1950, SP ran steel-sided “heavyweight” cars. They upgraded the flagship train in 1950, using corrugated aluminium siding. These cars weighed less. Their “streamlined” design offered a smoother ride. Additionally, the newer cars used upgraded trucks, better shock absorbers, etc.
This car appears to be part of a ready-to-depart or just-arrived Sunset Limited consist. SP operated from Union Station on Rampart Street until Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. Trains coming into both stations used a car maintenance facility just to the side of the station tracks. Amtrak continues to use this facility, which back up to Earhart Boulevard. Pretty sure this isn’t the station itself, since there’s no roof over the tracks.
1925 photo of the the railroad depot at Biloxi. According to the Biloxi Historical Society, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported that the plans for the depot were in the hands of T.J. Rosell & Company as of January 5, 1901. On April 3, 1901, the paper reported that the depot was expected to open in two weeks.
This photograph, by John Tibule Mendes, is listed by THNOC as “Unidentified Location.” To me, anything “unidentified” is a challenge. I put the image out on social media, and local railroad historian and expert Tony Howe replied back within minutes (thanks, Tony). So, that was enough to do a proper search. According to UNO Press:
Between 1916 and the mid-1930s, John Tibule Mendes (1888–1965) was a consistent and curious observer of life in New Orleans. His photographs are archived in The Historic New Orleans Collection.
It’s no surprise that Mendes meandered over to the Gulf Coast.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N) owned and operated Biloxi Depot. Mendes likely traveled to Biloxi on an L&N train. L&N arrived and departed New Orleans from their passenger terminal at Canal Street and the river. The Aquarium of the Americas now stands on that site.
The State of Kentucky chartered the L&N in 1850. The railroad acquired the Pontchartrain Railroad in New Orleans in 1871. That acquisition enabled the connection of L&N’s system to downtown New Orleans. The L&N operated local and express passenger trains along the Gulf Coast. Those trains also provided mail service.
After several attempts at restoring passenger service along the Gulf Coast, Amtrak extended the route of the Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to New Orleans) to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1993. The railroad discontinued that service in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Amtrak plans to restore service along the coast in stages. The first stage extends the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Mobile. With that in place, they would continue eastward.
Street railways connected Algiers with Gretna and even Marrero.
I had the privilege of speaking to the Algiers Historical Society last month, on the subject of street railways on the Westbank. I’d spoken to the group on East Bank subjects in the past, so it was fun to dive into an Algiers topic.
Street Railways pod format
So, I didn’t record the original talk, I sat down this week with the Powerpoint presentation and did it as a Zoom. Zoom generates both video and audio recordings. I uploaded the video recording to YouTube. Video podcasts have been a thing for a while, so we’ll join that bandwagon.
I’ve also included a PDF of the slides, for those of you who listen to the audio format, along with images from the presentation.
Portion of the Robinson Atlas, New Orleans, 1883, showing Algiers Point
Louis Hennick map showing street rail in Algiers, 1895
Sketch of planned Algiers Coruthouse, 1896
1907 Photo of the first electric streetcar in Algiers
Louis Hennick map of Westbank street railways in 1916
Travel across the Western United States in the 1920s involved Through Cars.
Through Cars from New Orleans
Passenger railroads dominated long-distance travel in the United States in the 1920s. On 5-June-1926, the Times-Picayune newspaper presented a number of ads enticing readers to pack up and get out of town, to cooler destinations north and west of New Orleans. School was out. It was hot. Mom needed to get away, and the fishing camp in Waveland just wasn’t far enough. So, she sent away for the brochures, to make a case to the family.
Where to go?
Colorado appealed to flat-landers from the swamp. Get up in the mountains, where there was less humidity and mosquitos. The Frisco Railroad, in partnership with Southern Railway, operated the Kansas City-Florida Special and The Sunnyland trains. Both trains operated from Jacksonville to Kansas City. New Orleans passengers rode to Memphis. They changed trains there for points West. Mom contacted Frisco’s General Agent, whose office stood in the United Fruit Building, for an “illustrated map-folder.”
“Follows the Rocky Mountains for 1500 miles.” In addition to the Frisco-Southern trains, The Fort Worth and Denver Railway (popularly known as the Denver Road) offered service to Colorado. Passengers in New Orleans traveled to Dallas, via either the Texas and Pacific or the Southern Pacific. From Dallas, they transferred to the Denver Road, into the Rockies.
The magic of through cars
Typical layout of a “heavyweight” Pullman car.
While changing trains doesn’t sound like an appealing proposition, passengers didn’t mind it if their entire car changed to a new train. Passengers boarded sleeping cars that traveled on one railroad, then changed to another. For example, New Orleanians boarded a sleeping car on Frisco’s Kansas City-Florida Special. When that train reached Memphis. the through car disconnected. Frisco hooked it to a train headed for Colorado. Passengers relaxed in their compartments as the changes happened.
This system worked because The Pullman Company owned all the sleeping cars. Rather than operate their own sleepers, the railroads leased cars from Pullman. That company maintained the cars, staffing them with the now-famous Pullman Porters. Since the railroads didn’t own the sleepers, transfers were easy.
Going West today
While the days of through cars are gone, it’s still possible to easily go West from New Orleans by rail. Here’s the Amtrak City of New Orleans, passing through Old Jefferson on 5-June-2023. The train, Amtrak #58, travels to Chicago. From there, connections to Denver, California, and the Pacific Northwest are all possible.
Private cars on Amtrak’s Crescent are a wonderful treat.
Springtime brings out the private railcars all across the country. With three Amtrak long-haul passenger routes converging on New Orleans, we see a wonderful variety of privately-owned heritage railcars. This weekend was no exception, as two private cars brought up the rear of the Crescent on 5-May and another the next day.
AMTK 161 in Phase I livery for the 50th Anniversary
In the lead are AMTK 161, in Phase I livery for the 50th Anniversary.This was the paint scheme used by the railroad after it consolidated the passenger equipment from the legacy railroads.
AMTK 71 rolled in between the two anniversary engines. It wears the current “standard” livery for the Genesis power, Phase V.
AMTK 130 follows engine 71. It wears Phase II livery for the 40th Anniversary celebration in 2011.
NYC and Georgia
Private Varnish NYC-3
At first, I thought the third engine was a deadhead, then the back of the train explained it. Two “private varnish” cars brought up the rear.
The New York Central Railroad built NYC-3 for Harold Sterling Vanderbilt. the Vanderbilts founded the railroad. The car was built in 1928. The car served Vanderbilt, and later as a “business car” for the NYC. A private charter company currently operates and maintains NYC-3.
Georgia 300, as it is called, is a classic looking heavyweight observation car from the golden era of rail travel that was built by the Pullman Standard Co. shops in 1930. Sporting a Packard blue with silver striping livery, the train car operated as a lounge car named the General Polk on the New Orleans-New York Crescent Limited (operated by the L&N, West Point Route, Southern, and Pennsylvania), and was later purchased by the Georgia Railroad and reconfigured to Office Car 300. The Georgia Railroad used the car in trips to venues like The Masters Tournament and the Kentucky Derby.It ran until its retirement in 1982 after being made redundant as surplus due to the merger between Georgia Railroad and Family Lines.
The 100-200 blocks of St. Charles Street, looking up from Canal Street, 1880. This is one side of a stereoscope card from S. T. Blessing Studios on Canal. The foreground shows the 100 block of St. Charles. Meyer The Hatter and Kolb’s Restaurant open on St. Charles fifteen-ish years later. The St. Charles Hotel dominates the background of the photo. Two Stephenson “bobtail” streetcars travel up St. Charles. They run on the Great Northern Station line. The Carrollton line still came to Canal Street via Baronne. I decided to change my profile picture on Twitter (yes, I’m still on Da Twittah, as @NOLAHistoryGuy) to this image.
St. Charles Street
No, that’s not a typo. At this time, the city listed the portion of St. Charles between Canal Street and Tivoli Circle as a “street.” Above Tivoli Circle, it morphed into “Naiads Street.” The New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company named their streetcar line for its destination, the City of Carrollton. Carrollton served as the seat of Jefferson Parish. Orleans Parish later annexed the area. So, the line ran up Naiads to Carrollton Avenue. It cnnected the CBD with the eastern end of Jefferson.
The circle was named after Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the Southern Rebellion, it was used as an encampment for both Union and Rebel soldiers. The White League erected their monument to the traitor Lee in 1884. That statue was removed by the city in 2017, and the circle is now known as Harmony Circle, renamed by a unanimous vote of the City Council in 2021.
This photo shows the second incarnation of the St. Charles Hotel. It opened in 1853, after the first incarnation (the one with the dome and rotunda) burned down. This building burned down in 1894. The third incarnation replaced it. That hotel was demolished in 1974. The Place St. Charles office building (now the Capital One Building) replaced it in the 200 block.