U.S., California’s Coast Daylight History: ‘The Most Beautiful Train in the World’ had a Triple-Unit Dining, Coffee Shop and Kitchen Car, Plus Tavern on a Daytime Coach Train

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 18, 2020

Before today’s Coast Starlight, Amtrak’s glamour train from Los Angeles north to Seattle, there was an even more glamorous predecessor – the Coast Daylight, from Southern Pacific Lines. SP was the railroad which boasted the Sunset Limited – currently America’s longest continuously operating named passenger train, making its first run in 1894 from Los Angeles to New Orleans – and the Golden State, a Los Angeles to Chicago train operated jointly with Rock Island Lines.

The heart of the Southern Pacific was California; while trains from California headed east on the Overland Route, the Sunset Route and the Golden State Route, it was California where the SP dominated on the Coast Line (really, the Coast Line literally in some parts runs next to the beach and cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean) and its interior San Joaquin Valley lines.

The introduction of the Coast Daylight in 1937 was an invitation to the traveling public to enjoy new fully air conditioned pre-war Streamliners painted in a jaunty red, orange and black, and was quickly dubbed the “Most Beautiful Train in the World.” Its similarly-adorned, streamlined steam locomotives rivaled anything the east coast New York Central had designed for the 20th Century Limited. The Coast Daylight operated between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Not detail was overlooked, no innovation unused in this all-coach and parlor car train, designed to bring daytime luxury to California’s traveling public.

The Coast Daylight lasted until Amtrak Day on May 1, 1971 when the Coast Starlight was created to serve the route and provide same-train service to Seattle.

The Coast Daylight was designed for an upscale clientele, even though it was mostly an all-coach train. While the great majority of its passenger cars were coaches (If you were a lady or gentleman traveling alone or in pairs, you had to declare yourself in advance because articulated coach cars were designed to cut down on the number of necessary restrooms; gentlemen were assigned one end of an articulated car while ladies the opposite end.) there were also parlor cars and feature cars, such as the triple-unit articulated dining car which offered a full diner, coffee shop, and kitchen to accommodate both. Towards the rear of the train, there was also a tavern car next to the parlor car and a round-end parlor observation car. The parlor cars provided the first class accommodations and each parlor car included one private drawing room for five passengers, complete with a private lavatory.

The Coast Daylight was pure Southern Pacific; it operated the entire train. None of the first class or food and beverage services were handled by the Pullman Company.

There were two daily departures in each direction; the Morning Daylight and the Noon Daylight, departing their respective terminals in each direction at approximately the same time. The 471 mile intra-California trip was less than 10 hours. There was also the similar San Joaquin Daylight from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the San Joaquin Valley.

Southern Pacific wanted its passengers to be fully aware of their surroundings. A small onboard brochure for the Morning Daylight entitled “Your Daylight Trip” proclaimed:

“To our Morning Daylight passengers:

With this little folder we welcome you aboard the Morning Daylight. We hope you will make full use of the facilities provided for your comfort and enjoyment. You are invited to try the food and refreshments served in the coffee shop, tavern and dining car and are urged to call upon members of the train crew for assistance and information during the trip. We wish you a most pleasant journey. – Southern Pacific Company

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Dining Car (Open all day)

The dining car on the Daylight (about the center of the train) is open all day and service may be had at any time at the following prices:

Club Breakfasts from 50 cents to $1.00.

Meals Select (including soup, salad, entree, vegetables, bread and butter, dessert and beverage) 90 cents to $1.75.

Also a choice selection of a la carte suggestions.

Coffee Shop Car (Open all day)

The Coffee Shop (about center of train) is open continuously with service at popular prices.

Plate Breakfast from 35 cents to 65 cents.

Luncheon and Dinner, 55 cents–70 cents and 80 cents; including fish, fowl or meat entree, vegetables, bread and butter, beverage and dessert.

Also a popular-priced selection of a la carte items.

The Tavern Car (Open all day)

You are invited to visit the Tavern Car, enjoy its cozy nooks, its colored indirect lighting, and the atmosphere of good fellowship in the cocktail lounge. It’s near rear of the train.

News Agent

The News Agent on the Daylight is an S.P. employee. He is interested in serving you and making your trip a pleasant one.

During the day he will pass through the train offering candies, figs, gum, tobaccos, stamps and magazines for sale.

The News Agent has several items that are intended to make your trip more enjoyable and to serve as a souvenir: Playing Cards with views along S.P.’s Four Scenic Routes, fine quality with sturdy case (price $1.00, mailing 10 cents additional); Sun Glasses made of fine colored glass that will not distort the view (price for either “snap-ons” or regular $1.00).

Passenger Agent

A train passenger agent is on the train for your convenience and to render you assistance when needed. He is glad to answer questions and to help with your travel problems.

Maid

Mothers with small children will find the maid on the Daylight helpful. She will prepare food, warm milk, and care for children for short periods.

New Train Features

We take this opportunity to tell you about several unique features of this train.

Each car is equipped with a public address system. During the day descriptions of scenes along the route and other information will be announced by the train passenger agent.

The baggage elevators at the ends of cars speed up the handling of baggage. They are an exclusive feature on the Morning, Noon, and San Joaquin Daylights.

The train is completely equipped with fluorescent lighting which provides soft illumination.

Remember the Morning Daylight’s companion trains, the Noon Daylight, leaving Los Angeles and San Francisco 12:00 Noon via the Coast Line, and the San Joaquin Daylight between Los Angeles and San Francisco via the San Joaquin Valley.”

Southern Pacific’s Dining Cars, Hotels, Restaurants and News Service Department, headquartered in San Francisco offered a wide variety of choices for passengers both in the Coffee Shop and Dining Car.

Here is the Coast Daylight Coffee Shop entree menu from 1945 (Entrees only; the menu also included a full listing of A la Carte offerings):

PLATE COMBINATIONS
No Substitutions
Please order by number and write selection on meal check. Waiters are not permitted to take verbal orders.

No. 1 – 75 Cents
Baked Select Fish, Mission Style
Garden Vegetable, Potatoes
Assorted Bread
Fresh Fruit Cobbler, Fruit Sauce
Coffee (Cup), Milk, Tea

No. 2 – 90 Cents
Spaghetti with Meat Patty
Garden Vegetable, Potatoes
Assorted Bread
Fresh Fruit Cobbler, Fruit Sauce or Ice Cream
Coffee (Cup), Milk, Tea

No. 3 – $1.00
Braised Young Beef, a la Mode
Garden Vegetable, Potatoes
Assorted Bread
Fresh Fruit Cobbler, Fruit Sauce or Ice Cream
Coffee (Cup), Milk, Tea

The 1937 Dining Car Meals Select entree menu (Entrees only; the menu also included a full listing of A la Carte offerings):

Please order by number and write on meal check each item desired. Waiters are not permitted to take verbal orders.

SELECTIONS

1 – Filet of Flounder, Remoulade; 80 cents
2 – The Casserole (per person); 90 cents
(Choice Cuts of Spring Lamb, Saute, Fresh Vegetables, Browned Potatoes)
3 – Omelette with Fresh Shrimp, Financiere; $1.00
4 – Creamed Sliced Calf’s Sweetbreads, a la King; $1.10
(on Canape of Minced Virginia Ham)
5 – Fried Spring Chicken (half), Barlet Pear Fritter; $1.10
6 – Grilled Sirloin or Tenderloin Steak, Maitre d’Hotel; $1.25

COLD SELECTIONS

7 – Avocado, Cream Cheese Bar-le-duc, Toasted Raisin Bread; $1.00
8 – Sliced Chicken, Asparagus Tips, Mayonnaise; $1.25
9 – Assortment of Cold Meats, Potato and Egg Salad; $1.25

HALF BOTTLE OF WINE (Red or White-Special Bottling for Southern Pacific) SERVED WITH MEALS 50 CENTS EXTRA

EACH SELECTION INCLUDES CHOICE OF FOLLOWING:

SOUPS
Puree of Fresh Lima Bean, aux Croutons, Consomme, Chiffonade

VEGETABLES
Fresh Asparagus, Cauliflower, Delmonico

POTATOES
New Potatoes, Rissole, Candied Sweets

THE SALAD BOWL

Hot Corn Bread, Bran Muffins, Assorted Bread, Hot Rolls

DESSERTS
Fresh Rhubarb Pie, Ice Cream with Cake, Green Apple Tartlet, Chantilly, Fresh Berry Parfait, The Cheese Crock, Iced Coffee, Iced Tea

Tea, Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, Cocoa, Milk

CHILDREN – Parents may share their portions with children without extra charge. Half portions served at half price to children under 12 years of age.

NEW RECIPE BOOK – We have just issued a new 32 page recipe book containing some of the choice recipes that are served in our dining cars. The recipes were prepared by Paul Reiss, Internationally famous supervising chef of Southern Pacific Company. If you would like one of these recipe books we will be glad to send you one.

And, here is something not seen on modern menus: “If you desire an additional helping, your waiter will be glad to serve it without charge.”

Southern Pacific Lines, which disappeared into Union Pacific through merger at the end of the 20th Century, understood that to many people, its passenger trains WERE Southern Pacific Lines, no matter how many freight trains plied its system. Corporate pride was not a foreign concept to the SP.

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