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Burlington Zephyr: 1939

Summer 1939. "Streamlined train at La Crosse, Wisconsin." 35mm negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.

Summer 1939. "Streamlined train at La Crosse, Wisconsin." 35mm negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.


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Zephyr at La Crosse

Do notice the Griswold crossing signal in the background, just behind the nose of the Zephyr. The Griswold signals have the rotating stop signs.

Riding the Zephyr

When I was a kid my family would take the Twin Cities Zephyr from Chicago to Prairie du Chien WI in the 50's & early sixties. It was considered the modern way to travel. I recall going up to the domes at the top and looking at the scenery with that great green tinted glass!

Zephyr at MSI Chicago

Here's a Zephyr at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago:

The Future

should have looked like this! Why did we settle for what we've got now? What an incredible vehicle. It still looks futuristic.


Today's BNSF commuter trains in Chicago still use corrugated stainless steel coaches and recently have added logos identical to the "Burlington" lettering in this photo.

The Museum of Science and Industry Zephyr is a great place to see the engine and cockpit of this train up close.

Gorgeous, gorgeous machine.

Gorgeous, gorgeous machine. I loved seeing Pioneer Zephyr in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago not too long ago. It looks like a twin to the one in the photo. I believe the Pioneer Zephyr is the one featured in the video below.

Old and New

Contrast that with the wooden bodied outside-frame boxcar in the background. Not only that, but it has the vintage location for the brake wheel above the end of the boxcar instead of the current position of brake wheels at the ends of the cars, below the roof line.

CB&Q Freight House

The photo shows the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy's North Side Freight House at 500 Wall. There was a freight depot at 214 Pearl Street. The CB&Q Passenger Depot was at 200 Pearl and 2nd Street.

The CB&Q trackage has been removed and the cityscape altered, so there's no equivalent Street View.

The Freight House Restaurant in La Crosse (107 Vine near front Street) is an similar structure, but it belonged to the Milwaukee.

A brief history of the La Crosse railroad depots.

Gorgeous, but not the safest design

There is one of these beauties in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The exhibit there says that its engineers were wary of operating it, because the cab's forward and low position meant that in the event of a crash, the wreckage would end up right in their laps. Modern locomotives are driven from a cab higher up and further back.

Denver to Chicago

In 1934 in the depths of the depression an earlier version of this train made a dramatic dawn to dusk nonstop run from Denver to Chicago, an amazing run.

All dressed up.

Looks like a pig in a prom dress.

Burlington Diner?

This looks less like a train and more like a diner. I love the art deco influence.

That's my boy!

It's Zephyrus, good old #9905!

Cinematic 'Metropolis'...scifi/awesome!

Twin Cities Zephyr

#9905 was known as "Zephyrus," one of a pair of Twin Cities Zephyrs. Its sister #9004 is at the Illinois Railway Museum. "Zephyrus" was sold to Saudi Arabia in the 1970s.

It was supposedly still there in storage as recently as the Gulf war in 1991. Wouldn't it be great to get it back!

It's the "Zephyrus"

Locomotive 9905 was named the Zephyrus, and it pulled "The Train of the Gods." Its sister train Pegasus pulled "The Train of the Goddesses," which can still be ridden today at the Illinois Railway Museum.


... simply awesome.

Further reading

Whole grain

At least in 1939 there was no comparison between 35mm and 8x10. The detail just wasn't in the 35. What, he be shooting Verichrome (Ortho) or early Plus-X?


They want to build commuter rail in my city. I'll vote for it if the trains look like this!


What a beautiful machine!

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