By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; January 4, 2021
In 1973, The Southern Crescent was still operating as one of the very few non-Amtrak passenger trains. It would not become an Amtrak train until 1979 when the Southern Railway ended all passenger service. The heritage of the Crescent dates back to 1891; for many years it was an exclusive all-Pullman sleeping car train.
Traveling through 12 states and the District of Columbia, from New York’s Penn Station to New Orleans, the Crescent, even under Amtrak, until recent years had a reputation for a good dining car which had innovative chefs and appealing regional meal offerings.
W. Graham Claytor, Jr. was President of the Southern Railway in 1973, where, according to a Wikipedia biography, “Claytor was an ‘employee’s President,’ often chatting with the crews of the trains on which he rode, actively soliciting their suggestions on how to make the railroad run better. He carried this attitude with him during his later service as the President of Amtrak.”
Further, from Wikipedia: “In 1982, Claytor came out of retirement to lead Amtrak. He was recruited and strongly supported by John H. Riley, an attorney who was also the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Reagan Administration from 1983 to 1989.
“Claytor maintained a good relationship with the U.S. Congress during his 11 years in the position. Within 7 years of being under Claytor’s leadership, Amtrak was generating enough money to cover 72 percent of its $1.7 billion operating budget by 1989, up from 48 percent in 1981. This was achieved mainly through vigorous cost cutting and aggressive marketing. He is credited with bringing political and operational stability to the nation’s passenger train network, keeping the railroad functioning properly despite repeated attempts by the administrations of Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush to eliminate its funding.
“Claytor retired from Amtrak in 1993.”
It was during the Claytor era that Amtrak converted its dining cars on the Florida Service trains to the experimental cafeteria-style service and seating.
Before all of that, in the Fall of 1973 Graham Claytor’s Southern Crescent dining car dinner menu offered the following:
Southern Crescent Dinner Menu
For your dining enjoyment, fine WHITE and RED wine is available at reasonable prices from your Dining Car Steward, where local law permits.
Chilled Grapefruit Juice, Chilled Tomato Juice, Jellied or Hot Consomme, Clear, Southern Vegetable Soup
• Broiled Fish, Lemon Butter, $3.85
• Fried Chicken, Southern Style, Cream Gravy, $4.00
• Prime Rib of Beef, Natural, $5.50
• Omelet with Chicken Livers (3 Eggs), $3.85
Choice of Two: Flaked Potatoes, Broccoli, Butter, Boiled Cabbage, Green Peas, Combination Salad – French Dressing
Choice of: Bleu Cheese with Crackers, Ice Cream, Cookies, Strawberry Shortcake
Choice of: Coffee, Tea, Milk
Charcoal Broiled Special Sirloin Steak, $6.50
Cut of Soup or Tomato Juice, Choice of Two Vegetables, Head Lettuce, Choice of Dressing (Thousand Island, Roquefort, French and Italian), Bread, Choice of Dessert, Coffee, Tea or Milk
Dinner a la Carte
• Chilled Tomato Juice, 50¢
• Chilled Grapefruit Juice, 50¢
• Sliced Tomatoes, 65¢
• Southern Vegetable Soup (Cup), 55¢
• Jellied or Hot Consomme (Cup), 55¢
• Flaked Potatoes, 45¢
• Boiled Cabbage, 45¢
• Broccoli, Butter, 45¢
• Green Peas, 45¢
• Lettuce and Tomato, $1.20
• Head Lettuce, $1.10
• Combination Salad, $1.25
• Chicken Salad – Crackers, $2.10
Choice of Dressing: (French, Thousand Island, Italian, Roquefort)
• Lettuce and Tomato, $1.15
• American Cheese, $1.25
• Baked Ham, $1.25
• Combination Ham and Cheese, $1.50
• Ham and Egg, $1.85
• Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato, $1.50
• Chicken Salad on Toasted Bread, $1.90
• Hot Rolls, 40¢
• Flake Crackers, 25¢
• Toast, Dry or Buttered, 40¢
• Bleu Cheese, Crackers, 60¢
• Ice Cream, Cookies, 55¢
• Strawberry Shortcake, 75¢
• Coffee (Pot), 45¢
• Ice Tea (Pot), 45¢
• Cocoa (Pot), 45¢
• Hot Tea (Pot), 45¢
• Milk, 30¢
• Postum, Sanka Coffee (Pot for One), 45¢
Notes at the bottom of the menu: “Meals served in Sleeping Car Space 50 cents extra per person; available when waiter can be spared from dining car.” “L.J. Moore, Dining and Sleeping Cars, Southern Railway System, Atlanta, Georgia 30303″
The Crescent is a workhorse train; while in its history it may have been a limited or express train, today’s Crescent is more reflective of a multi-stops local train. It serves major markets like New York City, Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Birmingham and New Orleans, yet also does yeoman work at smaller stops such as Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Tuscaloosa, Alabama as well as Danville, Virginia.