Santa Fe’s Super Chief – An Iconic Passenger Train

If there was a passenger train service that epitomized the ultimate in luxury, it can be argued that Santa Fe’s “Super Chief” achieved that level.   Its reputation was that of excellence, offering meals by Fred Harvey in an elegant presentation, superior sleeping accommodations and a “Pleasure Dome” lounge car according brilliant vistas along the way.  Even as the quality of passenger rail service declined in the late 1960’s, Santa Fe insisted on maintaining its superior level of service to the end.  In fact, when Amtrak took over operations of the route, Santa Fe withheld the right to use the name “Super Chief” by Amtrak for fear that the new service would not meet the standards of the Super.  The service now operated by Amtrak goes under the name “Southwest Chief”.

Below are pages from a Santa Fe timetable showing the Super Chief’s schedule and a brochure illustrating the level of service offered:

ATSF Spring 1958 - Cover        ATSF Spring 1958 - Contents-Super Chief Sked

Page from Santa Fe Brochure of the Super Chief.

Page from Santa Fe Brochure of the Super Chief.

The eastbound route departed Los Angeles daily at 8 p.m. and passed over Cajon Pass into Arizona and New Mexico before heading into Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and finally Illinois.  The trip took 39.5 hours.  The scheduled provided for passage through New Mexico during the daylight, giving the passengers the opportunity to enjoy the landscape of the desert southwest.  The Super Chief was an all-sleeping car service and included gourmet dining and a “Pleasure Dome” car.

The diesels that pulled the Super Chief, that operated daily between Los Angeles, California and Chicago, Illinois, were the General Motors F-7.  I took the below photos of these diesels at rest in Gallup, New Mexico in December, 1966.

           ATSF F7 Gallup-big                ATSF F7 A

General Motors F-7 Diesels

Models of these diesels were the most popular ever produced by the likes of Lionel, American Flyer and Athearn, makers of model trains, and just about every boy in the 1950s included these models on his Christmas Wish List.   Lionel’s catalogs featured the engine and the train it pulled:

Lionel's 1952 Catalog - the first year the engine was offered.

Lionel’s 1952 Catalog – the first year the engine was offered.

LIONEL Catalog 1952-inside pages-10002 LIONEL Catalog 1952-inside pages-10001

Pages from the Lionel 1952 catalog.

I also featured the Santa Fe on model railroads I built over the years.  Below are some photos from layouts I had built:

Layout 1966-1b

HO Scale Model Railroad – 1966

Layout 1982-6c

Layout 1982-7a1

Layout 1982-7b

HO Scale Model Railroad – 1982-86

Today, scale models of Super Chief consists are available from KATO in N scale.

Amtrak operates its “Southwest Chief” along the route of the Super Chief, replicating the same schedule and service using Superliner high-level chair cars, sleepers, a dining car and lounge car.



About James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin
James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin is an author, blogger, lecturer and consultant in air transportation, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster (London) and a Visiting Lecturer at Emirates Aviation University (Dubai). He is also a Contributing Editor to Airways Magazine. Previously at ERAU’s College of Business he taught Business Law, Business Law for Airline Managers, and Airline Management. He was also faculty advisor to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. As a lecturer he coordinates Aviation Law workshops for Aeropodium, a UK-based aviation-related events company and organizes Aviation Law Conferences at his law school, American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL). As a consultant he specializes in start-up airline strategies, airline marketing, regulatory compliance, licensing, aircraft sourcing, strategic planning, contracts, agency agreements and preparing business plans. An avid golfer, Mr Baldwin periodically writes a golf column for the Dorchester Banner. Previously Mr Baldwin served as Deputy General Manager for Legal and Regulatory Affairs of Star Airways, a small Turkish cargo airline of which he was a founder, and prior to that, the US Representative of Tajik Air, the international airline of the Republic of Tajikistan. In the latter capacity, he represented the airline’s interests before the US government, multilateral development banks and private US and international business interests. He also coordinated and prepared on behalf of the government of Tajikistan a request for a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency for a feasibility study on its air transport sector. Mr Baldwin also served as an officer in the US Navy (1974-1978) and the active US Naval Reserve (1978-1994). His latest assignments included service as a Naval Liaison Officer on tanker convoys during the Iran/Iraq War, Officer in Charge of military officers boarding, inspecting and briefing masters of merchant ships delivering military cargo during the first Gulf War and Commanding Officer of a US Naval Reserve unit. He is now retired with the rank of Commander. Mr Baldwin is the author of Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline (BluewaterPress, 2011). He also co-edited, with Jeff Kriendler, former Vice President, Corporate Communications at Pan Am, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History through the Words of its People (BluewaterPress, 2011). He, along with Mr Kriendler, recently published Pan Am - Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer. Mr Baldwin obtained an A.B. (Bachelor’s) Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) and a J.D. (Juris Doctor) Degree from the AUWCL (Washington DC). He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, the U. S. Golf Association, Cambridge Multi Sport (CMS) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He has traveled widely and includes among his interests distance running, golf, hill walking, sailing, model railroading, spectator sports, classical music and writing. He is married and resides in Maryland.

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