By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; January 8, 2021
James J. Hill was the Empire Builder by reputation and accomplishment in the late 19th Century, and one of the railroads of his empire was the Great Northern Railway, a transcontinental railroad spanning from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington. The GN was the northernmost full transcontinental railroad in the U.S., which also branched into Canada in several locations. Historians tell us the Great Northern was the only successful privately funded and built transcontinental railroad in the history of the United States and was built with no federal subsidies.
Of the Great Northern’s dozens of named and unnamed passenger trains, its premier train was aptly named the Empire Builder. The Great Northern name has disappeared into history through two major mergers, first the Great Northern joining the Northern Pacific Railway, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad and later in 1995 merging the BN with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, now the BNSF Railway, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. Today’s BNSF has a rail network of 32,500 route miles in 28 states and three Canadian provinces and is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, far away from the 19th Century and early 20th Century hubs of railroad financiers.
One piece of Great Northern history that has remained consistent through today is the Empire Builder passenger train, operating from Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon by Amtrak. Inaugurated as a daily train in June of 1929, twice under Amtrak the train has been reduced to less than daily service, first as the result of ill-fated consultant recommendations due to budget cutbacks for a short period of time, and since the fall of 2020 is tri-weekly because of the pandemic.
In 1954, the Great Northern offered a luncheon menu of soups, sandwiches, stew and salads:
Chef’s Suggestion – Plate Meal $1.60
Cup Soup – Meat or Fish – Potatoes and One Other Vegetable
Bread and Butter – Pie or Ice Cream
Coffee, Tea Hot or Iced, Milk
Soup En Cup, 20¢, Tureen, 30¢
Fruit or Vegetable Juice, 25¢
• Chicken Salad Sandwich, 70¢
• Hamburger with Fried Onions, 45¢
• Cold Roast Beef Sandwich, 60¢
• Bacon, 45¢
• Cheese or Ham, 45¢
• Sliced Chicken, 60¢
• Fried Egg, 35¢
• Denver, 50¢
• Bacon and Tomato, 60¢
• Club House (Toasted), 90¢
• Ham and Cheese Combination, 65¢
• Ham and Egg Sandwich, 75¢
• Lettuce and Tomato, 55¢
• Peanut Butter and Jelly Combination, 45¢
Sandwiches on Toast, 5¢ extra
Hitching Post Sandwich
Sliced Chicken, Ham and Swiss Cheese on White and Whole Wheat Bread
Chuck Wagon Beef Stew – En Casserole
Tender Beef Simmered in Natural Juice, Enhanced with Flavor of String Beans, Celery, Green Peas and Onions.
(Including Bread – Butter – Choice of Beverage)
Chilled Juice – Welsh Rabbit – Assorted Crackers – Small Salad – Coffee or Tea – $1.10
Chili Con Carne Substituted for Welsh Rabbit if Desired
With French Dressing
• Grapefruit and Orange, 60¢
• Head Lettuce, 45¢
• Lettuce and Tomato, 50¢
Crackers Served with all Salads
• Ice Cream, 25¢
• Pie Ala Mode, 45¢
• Ice Cream and Cookies, 35¢
• Assorted Pies, 35¢
• American Cheese – Crackers, 40¢
• Grapefruit (half), 25¢
• Preserved Peaches or Pears, 35¢
• Toast, Dry (2 Slices), 20¢
• Ry-Krisp, 20¢
• Assorted Cold Bread, 20¢
• Tea, Pot, Hot or Iced, 30¢
• Postum, Cup, 15¢
• Coffee, Cup, 15¢
• Sanka Coffee, 15¢
• Cocoa or Coffee, Pot, 30¢
• Milk Shake with Chocolate, 40¢
• Milk Shake, Plain, 35¢
• Milk, Ind., 20¢
• Postum or Sanka, Pot, 30¢
• Malted Milk, Plain or Flavored, 40¢
A.W. Deleen, General Superintendent Dining Cars
Great Northern Railway
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Will appreciate any errors or omissions in service being called to his attention.
Two items on this menu jump out: If patrons ordered their sandwich toasted, the Great Northern levied and extra charge of 5¢.
Then, there is the interesting item of Welsh Rabbit. While one is led to wonder if this dish may contain parts of a distant relative of the Easter Bunny, Welsh Rabbit is actually an alternate name for the popular dish of the era, Welsh Rarebit.
Welsh Rarebit often appeared on other railroad menus, in all parts of the country. The dish is a hot cheese-based sauce served over slices of toasted bread and originated in the 18th Century as Welsh Rabbit, even though historians claim the dish did not originate in Wales.
One presumes since the recipe calls for toasted bread, the extra 5¢ cost of the toast was incorporated into the total cost of the meal.