By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; April 13, 2022
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on December 14, 2020; the final run and end of the Orange Blossom Special took place 69 years ago this week on April 13, 1953. The Florida Special lived on into the early years of Amtrak in the 1970s.
Seaboard Air Line’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star by 1953 had established themselves as new, post-war streamliner year-around favorites from New York Pennsylvania Station to Miami and Seaboard management decided the Orange Blossom Special had outlived its usefulness. The Orange Blossom Special was never streamlined; it’s entire consist was heavyweight equipment from the Pullman Company pool, painted annually in specially chosen colors for the train. – Corridorrail.com Editor
The era of all-Pullman sleeping car winter season New York to Miami trains, from steam to diesel.
Atlantic Coast Line’s Florida Special.
Seaboard Air Line’s Orange Blossom Special.
Fierce express train/limited stops rivals with competing dining cars.
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad thought itself – and, told the world – it was the Standard Railroad of the South. It’s favorite color was purple, adorning it’s diesel locomotives in purple paint and the band along the streamlined passenger cars’ letterboards in purple. Timetables were printed in purple ink – lots of it. Based in Wilmington, North Carolina until the headquarters move to Jacksonville, Florida in 1960, the Coast Line, which proclaimed “Thanks for Using Coast Line” on the exterior of its boxcars, was never known for or regarded for splashy corporate management.
Seaboard Air Line Railroad styled itself The Route of Courteous Service and was the scrappy half of the rivalry. The Seaboard was seen as the underdog to the ACL, but they were in fact fairly evenly matched. Seaboard’s original diesels were painted in a stylish citrus theme of yellow, green and orange, later to change to a very light green with red highlights. The Seaboard logo on the front of every locomotive proclaimed “Through the Heart of the South,” and they took that seriously, serving the state capital of every state that was part of the railroad’s network. Seaboard’s timetables were bright red and featured stylized renderings of its streamliner passenger trains.
The Florida Special operated from 1938 and into the first winter season of Amtrak by the Coast Line, then the combined Seaboard Coast Line after the July 1, 1967 merger and then handed off to Amtrak in 1971. It began as a heavyweight train and was converted to a streamliner after the war. It did benefit from an imaginative advertising campaign, and was dubbed “The Champagne Train” for its dining and lounge cars. The Florida Special also featured onboard fashion shows, highlighting bathing suits found on Miami Beach for the balmy Florida weather. The Florida Special took the World War II years off so the equipment could be better utilized for troop and critical personnel movements.
The Orange Blossom Special operated from 1925 to 1953, also with a World War II hiatus. It only operated as a heavyweight train, and began as a way to bring northerners to Florida during the Florida Land Boom. In 1930, five years after the train’s inauguration, the Seaboard slipped into bankruptcy, and would continue until exiting nearly 15 years later at the end of World War II. The Orange Blossom Special was the flagship of the Seaboard during the winter season, and, even in bankruptcy maintained its luxury and status. By 1953 the streamliner Silver Meteor had enough new equipment to handle the extra winter season snowbird business and the Orange Blossom Special faded into history in favor of the Meteor and Silver Star. It did become famous beyond its trek for a bluegrass music song written in 1938 titled Orange Blossom Special which became known as the fiddle player’s national anthem. Johnny Cash recorded the song and named his 1965 album Orange Blossom Special.
From Wikipedia: “Spurred by the success of Henry Flagler and his rival Florida East Coast Railway in attracting travelers, the Orange Blossom Special became famous in its own right.
“It was renowned for its speed and luxury. E. M. Frimbo, “The World’s Greatest Railway Buff,” offered this account of a dining car chef who had worked aboard the train:
‘Our chef...spent nine of his forty-three years with the Pennsylvania Railroad as chef on the celebrated all-Pullman New York-to-Florida train the Orange Blossom Special – the most luxurious winter-season train ever devised by man. Nothing even remotely resembling a can opener was allowed on the premises. All the pies, cakes, rolls, birthday cakes were baked on board under his supervision. Cut flowers and fresh fish were taken on at every revictualing stop, and the train carried thirty-five hundred dollars' worth of wine, liquor and champagne – these at pre-Prohibition prices – for each run.’”
The post-war 1949 Orange Blossom Special dinner menu had something for every taste, from plain to refined:
Chilled Blended Orange and Grapefruit Juice, Crab Flake Cocktail, Bisque of Sea Food, Consomme, Dumont
Sweet Pickle Strips
Broiled Southern Shad with Roe, Creamed Crab Meat on Toast, Broiled or Fried Milk Fed Spring Chicken, Baked Sugar Cured Ham, Sultana Sauce, Roast Leg of Spring Lamb, Mint Jelly, or Grilled Sirloin Steak with Onion Rings (An additional cost for $3.75)
Choice of two: Baked Potato, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli, Hollandaise, Fried Egg Plant
Pineapple and Cottage Cheese Salad
Assorted Bread, Sally Lunn Muffins
Ice Cream with Wafers, Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Cream, Fruit Tapioca Pudding, Custard Sauce, Chilled Florida Grapefruit
Coffee, Tea, Milk
A La Carte
Juices, each for 25 cents: Chilled Blended Orange and Grapefruit Juice, Chilled Florida Tangerine Juice, Chilled Florida Grapefruit Juice, Chilled Florida Orange Juice, Tomato Juice Cocktail, and Chilled Apple Juice
Relishes: Chilled Florida Celery; 35 cents, Pickles; 25 cents, Queen Olives; 35 cents
Soup: Chicken, Cup 30; cents, Tureen; 45 cents; Consomme, Hot or Cold, Cup; 30 cents, Tomato, Cup; 30 cents; Tureen; 45 cents, Turtle Soup with Sherry, Cup; 30 cents; Tureen; 45 cents
Fish and Oysters: Broiled or Fried Fish; $1.00, Oysters, Fried, Tartar Sauce; 85 cents, Stewed with Milk; 70 cents; with cream; 85 cents
Grilled, Etc.: Lamb Chop, each; 75 cents, Bacon and Eggs; $1.00, Ham and Eggs; $1.00, Broiled or Fried Ham; $1.00, Broiled or Fried Milk Fed Chicken; $1.15
Vegetables: Potatoes – Hashed Browned, Lyonnaise or French Fried; 30 cents, Boiled or Mashed; 30 cents, Baked Beans, Hot or Cold; 40 cents, Asparagus, Drawn Butter; 35 cents
Sandwiches: Ham; 60 cents, Tongue; 60 cents, Lettuce and Tomato; 50 cents, Club; $1.25, Chicken (Toasted); 85 cents, Chicken Salad Sandwich; 85 cents
Cold Meats, Salads, Etc.: Imported Sardines; 60 cents, Assorted Cold Meats, Potato Salad; $1.35, Head Lettuce, Choicer of Dressing; 50 cents, Ham, $1.25, with Potato Salad; $1.35, Sliced Tomatoes; 40 cents, Sliced Chicken; $1.15, Chicken Salad; $1.10, Lettuce and Tomato; 60 cents
Bread: Assorted; 15 cents, Milk Toast; 40 cents, Hot Rolls; 20 cents, Toast; 20 cents, Cream Toast; 60 cents, Crackers; 10 cents
Fruits, Desserts, Etc.: Sliced Pineapple; 30 cents, Florida Guava Jelly; 30 cents, Florida Grapefruit; 25 cents, Prunes with Cream; 35 cents, Orange Blossom Honey; 30 cents, Florida Orange Marmalade; 30 cents, Ice Cream with Wafers; 35 cents, Wafers; 10 cents
Cheese With Crackers: Cream; 35 cents, with Guava Jelly; 45 cents, Roquefort; 40 cents, Camembert; 40 cents
Beverages: Demi Tasse; 15 cents, Ice Tea or Coffee, Pot; 25 cents, Coffee, Pot; 25 cents, Tea, Pot; 25 cents, Decaffeinated Coffee, Pot; 25 cents, Instant Postum, Pot; 25 cents, Cocoa, Pot; 25 cents, Milk, Individual; 20 cents, Buttermilk, Individual; 20 cents
During the Great Depression, it wasn’t unusual for each day’s Florida Special or Orange Blossom Special to operate in several sections because of the popularity of the trains and high passenger demand.
South of Jacksonville, the Florida Special operated to Miami over the Florida East Coast Railway, and continued to do so until the FEC strike in 1963; it then moved over to the Seaboard main line south of Auburndale.
The Orange Blossom Special operated through the middle of Florida’s peninsula on Seaboard’s main line through Wildwood, with a west coast section splitting there for Tampa and points south. To take advantage of the Florida Land Boom, S. Warfield Davies, the president of the Seaboard (and, uncle to Wallis Warfield Simpson, who would marry the King of England and become the Duchess of Windsor) extended the railroad’s reach to West Palm Beach and Miami. The former Seaboard tracks from West Palm Beach or Miami are today’s Tri-Rail commuter rail tracks.