I have twice taken the California Zephyr from Colfax to Denver and back. One train on my sketchlist is the Original Zephyr at the Museum of Science and Technology.
This 1934 three-car-train set, known as the Pioneer Zephyr, seemed to come out of the future, compared to the steam locomotives that hauled most passenger service in the 1930s. It was a train Buck Rogers might have piloted. This train set seems more airplane than train!
This was one of the first passenger trains powered by a diesel engine and eventually led the way to replacing steam with diesels in the 1950s and 60s on passenger routes.
This stainless steel three-car- train set, set a new speed record on it’s inaugural run from Chicago to Denver on May 26, 1934. The Zephyr had an average speed of 77 mph with a top speed of 112.5 mph over the 1,015 mile journey. The previous “express” made the journey in 27 hours and 45 minutes. The new streamlined Zephyr made the same journey in 13 hours.
As a contrast, the only Amtrak passenger service from Chicago to Denver on train number 5 of the California Zephyr makes the same journey in 18 hours and 15 mins. So much for progress.
The train was retired in 1960 and donated to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. The Pioneer Zephyr is widely regarded as the first successful streamlined passenger train in the United States.