U.S., New York/Florida Service History: The Palmland was practical, convenient and had a popular heavyweight-era dining car

Holiday Season Rewind: During this holiday season we are occasionally featuring past articles from earlier this year which were reader favorites. This article was originally published November 28, 2020 and has been minimally updated. – Corridorrail.com Editor

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 13, 2021

In January of 1962, Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s New York-Florida Palmland was an all-stops local, secondary, but full-service train with a leisurely schedule, running 12 hours longer than it’s more-famous streamlined cousins, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

The Palmland was primarily a mail and express train, with multiple head-end heavyweight cars stuffed with mailbags and packages. Behind the head-end business was an array of heavyweight coaches, a heavyweight diner, and streamlined Pullman sleeping cars.

Because the Seaboard took it’s corporate moniker The Route of Courteous Service seriously, even on its secondary mainline trains, it offered a dining car with a hearty – though, not pretentious – menu of passenger favorites of the day. Seaboard management understood that even for its secondary trains, passengers should be treated with respect and an understanding of basic needs such as dependable food service.

The Palmland menu offered a variety of choices for dinner, including:

• Italian Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
• Hot Roast Beef Sandwich (Open style)
• Grilled Sugar Cured Ham with Baked Beans
• Broiled Halibut Steak
• Fried Half Spring Chicken
• Pot Roast of Beef

For each of the Table d’Hote Dinners, included was a choice of four appetizers, four side/vegetable dishes, two types of bread, and five dessert choices, including a cheese platter. Coffee, tea, or milk was also included.

The wide a la carte menu offered juices, soups, salads, ham or bacon and eggs, another fish choice, oysters, six types of sandwiches, nine desserts, and a full beverage assortment.

An interesting note at the bottom on the menu read: “It will be our pleasure to serve any dish not listed if it is available.”

A second interesting note followed: “We solicit your use of the Dining Car facilities for beverage service before and after meal periods. This service will be discontinued at 9:30 p.m.”

In January of 1962 the Seaboard was still in heated competition with its arch rival, the Atlantic Coast Line, between New York and Florida. Both the Coast Line and Seaboard trains were handled by the Pennsylvania Railroad (over what was to become the Northeast Corridor) from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to Washington Union Station, and handed off to the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad from Washington to Richmond, Virginia. South of Richmond, both railroads had their own tracks into Florida and elsewhere. At Jacksonville, the Coast Line trains for Miami were handed off to the Florida East Coast Railway for carriage to Miami. Interestingly, the Florida East Coast Railway Miami terminal station was in the exact same location as today’s Brightline MiamiCentral Station. Other Coast Line trains serving the small county seat of Orlando and the west coast of Florida traveled over Coast Line tracks.

The Seaboard and Atlantic Coast line were in competition for passengers, even on the several secondary trains both railroads operated. Competition meant more than comparative ticket pricing, it also meant station and onboard services as well as amenities. There was still an air of importance of travel in the early 1960s that demanded comfort and convenience in many ways. People still “dressed” for travel.

When there is no competition and only monolithic service from a single provider, often there is little urgency for basics like passenger comforts and conveniences; it’s take what is being offered or leave it and make another travel choice.

What is further notable is in 1962 the railroads were still fully federally regulated, including passenger services. Yet, with regulations, competition, the cost of maintaining and operating stations, rigid union contracts and aggressive, competition-focused marketing, many trains in 1962 were still making money and the only federal funds flowing into the trains was by the way of charges for Post Office mail and Railway Express Agency packages.

Notable in 1962, the Seaboard’s heavyweight fleet was probably similar in age to Amtrak’s single-level Amfleet I and Amfleet II NEC and long distance fleets, and the Pullman-Standard and Budd Pullman sleeping cars were most likely younger than the Viewliner I sleeping cars.

The pre-World War II heavyweight fleet was maintained for daily use on secondary trains, as emergency backups for bad-ordered stainless steel equipment and special train and excursion movements.

Many heavyweight passenger cars would soldier-on until Amtrak day in 1971, and those which were not scrapped were sent to Mexico or elsewhere. What many people do not know, in early designs for steel heavyweight cars, the theory was the heavier the car, the smoother the ride. To help add weight to these cars, the floors of these cars were made of poured concrete, adding thousands of pounds to the weight of each car.

Please share with others