U.S., Pre-Amtrak Streamliner History: What It Was Like to Ride Seaboard’s Silver Star

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; January 12, 2021

Note: This narrative was first written in 2019.

It’s late May in 1967. The long-awaited merger between the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad has just been announced; the decades-long rivalry between two fierce competitors is ending, and employees are trying to figure out how, after competing for decades, everyone is about to become cheerful co-workers.

The last passenger timetable for the Seaboard has been issued just a few weeks earlier, and it went into effect on April 30, 1967 as the Spring timetable. As was the custom of the time, there were seasonal timetables issued each year. There is a prominent note on the front of the timetable that the railroad shows all times in Eastern Standard Time because there is no federal law mandating the entire country must change from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time. To avoid confusion, the railroads just keep on Standard Time the entire year.

You are about to board the Silver Star in Richmond, Virginia, destined for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Silver Star is known to the Seaboard and Pullman Company as southbound train number 21, and northbound train number 22.

You are traveling in a Pullman roomette on the Richmond sleeping car, which is added to the train at Broad Street Station. It is the trailing car on the train.

Departure time is the traditional time for the Star, 4:10 p.m., EST. This has been the Star’s schedule for years, and it rarely varies from timetable to timetable change by more than 30 minutes.

The train had originated on the Pennsylvania Railroad at the New York Pennsylvania station, departing at 9:30 a.m. that morning. In 1963, the destruction of the magnificent Pennsylvania Station in New York had begun, and in 1967, construction was still ongoing for the replacement station. Passengers were constantly navigating through an uncomfortable warren of construction activities.

The Star’s consist is:

Baggage/Dormitory, Washington-Miami
52 seat coach, Washington-Miami
6, 52 seat coaches, New York-Miami
Dining car, New York-Miami
Mid-train tavern/observation lounge, Washington-Miami
Second dining car, Washington-Miami
10 Roomette, 6 double bedroom Pullman sleeper
11 Double bedroom Pullman sleeper
10 Roomette, 6 double bedroom Pullman Richmond sleeper

It’s a 14 car consist. The maximum passenger capacity is 430 passengers, plus crew. All crew is housed in the baggage/dormitory car or, for the Pullman Porters, in the porter’s cramped and claustrophobic compartment in their car. For any “down time” during the day when the white-jacketed porter wasn’t assisting passengers, there was a small pull-down seat attached to the wall in the hallway, directly next to the porter call button panel.

The train ran under the Pennsylvania Railroad’s catenary to Washington, pulled by an iconic GG1 Tuscan Red locomotive. From Washington to Richmond, it was handled by the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and a traditional diesel locomotive of the day. In Richmond, the Seaboard will add its own locomotives (always elephant style, front to back) painted in a light green that appears white when freshly washed, with red stripes and lettering. The familiar round Seaboard logo with “Through the Heart of the South” emblazoned in a heart shape in the middle of the logo adorns the nose of the locomotive below the headlight.

You are a passenger traveling in a roomette. Because of the late afternoon hour, the complimentary orange juice hour in the dining car is over, and the stewards and their crews are prepping for dinner. Your tickets will be lifted by the Pullman conductor. Each sleeping car has its own porter who will handle your luggage for you both when entraining and detraining. In each sleeping car hallway there is a rack for printed timetables, a full-size copy of the Red Book, the national directory of hotels (A 1967 version of the internet) and related travel services, and a pad of Western Union telegram blanks. Passengers may initiate a telegram from their accommodation and the train crew will see to it that it is handed to the nearest station agent and transmitted.

Your roomette is masterfully designed. Many have combined the design features of Pullman Standard and Budd sleeping cars with those of a navy submarine. Features are not measured in square footage, but, rather in square inches. Every inch counts, and every inch is accounted for in the design. The 10 roomettes are in the front end of the car, immediately inside the vestibule. As you enter the car, there is a porter’s compartment and a public toilet, then the 10 roomettes, followed by the six bedrooms.

All roomettes face forward. In each roomette, there is a luggage rack on the front wall, above a mirror which stretches from one side of the roomette to the other. The back wall of the roomette has a one-person couchette, and behind that is a murphy bed which is folded down, and takes up the entire roomette. There are fold-down armrests on each side of the couchette, and on the exterior wall next to the window is a reading light; in the same light fixture there is a night-time low-wattage blue light which may be used. There is also room to store luggage under the couchette. The bed has a deep, comfortable mattress over springs, and is encased in a metal frame on all sides. On the wall above your pillows and head are pockets for placing watches, glasses, or other necessities needed while you sleep. The bed can be lowered by either the passenger or the Pullman Porter, and is already made-up and ready for occupancy. The pillows are feather pillows, and there are at least three of them. All of the sheets, pillow cases have a Pullman Company logo stamped on them, and the orange Pullman Company blanket has a large logo, as well. There are usually two blankets; the extra blanket is rolled up and placed on the side of the bed next to the window.

Whether you are in the bed or sitting on the couchette, you are able to look out of the large window, and the opaque cloth shade for the window pulls down from the top of the window. Also on the exterior wall, reachable at all times, is the ashtray. The ashtray has a trap door in the top that when the button is depressed, the ashes fall harmless inside the metal ashtray.

Each roomette has its own, individual air conditioning or heating control and a small fan in the upper corner of the room with rubber blades.

The interior wall of the roomette has the coat closet, shoe box where you place your shoes overnight and the porter will take them and return them in the morning freshly polished and shined, the sliding door with a full size mirror, and the roomette’s plumbing. There is the pull-down sink above the toilet, and the drinking water. Some cars have a removable pitcher for water which the porter refills, and others have a drinking water spigot. All rooms have a paper drinking cup dispenser. Each room is stocked with white Pullman towels with a blue stripe down the middle with the Pullman name embroidered into the stripe. The toilet is a direct-dump toilet to the tracks; when flushed, fresh water runs into the toilet after the trap closes. The top of the toilet is a large square cover, some with vinyl, some with a faux leather. When the top is closed on the toilet it completely hides the plumbing and fixture.

When the bed is lowered, the toilet is completely covered. And, because the bed is large enough to take up the entire roomette, the Pullman Standard designers came up with a clever system to protect the modesty of passengers who choose to lower the bed themselves.

Each roomette has heavy zippered curtains over the outside of the door. For daytime use, the curtains have straps which hold the curtains back on each side of the door. For night use, the curtains are let down and zippered up the middle. This allows the passenger to have space to back demurely into the hallway and raise or lower the bed without the rest of the car seeing their sleeping costume. The curtains are left in place when the sliding metal door is closed and locked from the inside.

Should you require use of the toilet facilities during the night, you must reverse the process and raise the bed, and the lower it again after you are refreshed.

If you are a passenger in a double bedroom, or bedroom suite, the arrangements are similar. Facing forward bedrooms are A, C, and E; each has a couch which runs the entire width of the room. Riding backwards bedrooms are B, D, and F; each has a couchette similar to the roomette and a plush cushioned chair which is moveable.

In the A, C, and E bedrooms, the couch folds down for the bottom bunk, and the top bed folds down from the upper wall of the room. Think of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the Twentieth Century Limited in 1959’s Alfred Hitchcock thriller, North by Northwest. As with the roomettes, the full size twin beds have deep mattresses on springs contained in a surrounding medal bedframe. Each bed also has three feather pillows.

The opposing bedrooms, B, D, and F, have a similar murphy bed like in the roomette which folds down from the wall behind the couchette for the lower bunk, and the upper bunk drops down from the ceiling. The chair folds under the lower bed for the night.

Passengers in A, C, and E can only see out of the window if they look towards the end of their bed; passengers in B, D, and F have a similar side view out the window as the roomette.

Each bedroom has an enclosed lavatory with fold down sink, toilet, and mirror behind a metal door. The different configurations of the two bedrooms allow for the maximum use of floor space for the maximum amount of passengers carried. As with the roomettes, each bedroom has individual air condition and heating controls and a small fan, as well as the coat closet and shoe box. In each bedroom and roomette, the Pullman Company has thoughtfully provided a large paper bag for passengers to place their hats in overnight to keep them from being soiled.

The bedrooms had a collapsible wall between them, allowing two bedrooms to open up en suite for three or four passengers.

All sleeping cars have wool rugs throughout, except for the lavatories. The metal interior walls are painted beige, a light blue, or a light green, with blue or green upholstery. The upholstery on the couches and couchettes is a sturdy material with something of a rough finish, designed to take thousands of miles of wear and tear. There are white headrest cloths at each seating position. There are tables for roomettes and bedrooms which the porter furnishes on request. They attach to the wall under the windows, and have a single folding leg at the outer end. Sleeping car passengers may have their meals served in their accommodations if they so choose.

In each sleeping car at the end of the hallway are reversible Pullman Company blue signs with white lettering. On one side the sign says “Dining car in opposite direction.” The reverse side says “QUIET is requested for the benefit of those who have retired.”

There are no showers anywhere on the train. Bathing is strictly done in the pull-down sink bowls.

If you are a coach passenger on the Silver Star, you are in a 52 seat coach, with two-by-two seating, all facing forward. All seats are reserved. There are luggage racks above the seats as well as luggage storage at the end of the car. The restrooms are large and designed to be dressing rooms as well as toilet facilities. There are no unisex restrooms. There is a car attendant assigned to each coach.

On some of the Seaboard coaches there is a mid-car lounge area, designed for smokers, with just a few seats. However, all coach seats have ashtrays. There are no seat-back tray tables, but there are individual reading lights above each seat. All of the seats are reclining, and each seat has an adjustable footrest attached to the back of the seat in front of the passenger. Because portable technology has not yet been invented, and the highest tech anyone brings on the train is a transistor radio with an ear bud (most likely still AM in 1967), there are no electrical outlets for passenger use.

There is a Passenger Service Agent and a registered nurse on each train. The Passenger Service Agent is primarily there to assist the coach passengers, as there is a Pullman conductor for the sleeping car passengers. The train and engine crews – conductors and engineers – will travel the traditional average 100 miles and then be relieved by the next T&E crew. All onboard services and T&E crews on the Silver Star are high-seniority employees, working one of the two best trains in the Seaboard fleet.

Meals are not included in the price of Pullman sleeping car accommodations. There are no complimentary morning newspapers, and there is no morning coffee or juice service.

The dining cars serve all three meals, and the meals are moderately priced for all passengers. The Seaboard has its own distinctive menu. There is no booth seating in dining cars; every table has four chairs. Dining cars stay busy because the tavern lounge cars only sell a limited amount of “bar food” such as peanuts and pretzels, and perhaps a sweet roll.

Every dining car table is covered in a crisp, white linen tablecloth, changed after each use by a passenger(s). The Seaboard has heavy silver knives, forks and spoons each engraved with the railroad name, as well as plates, cups, and saucers with the railroad name. The coffee service and sugar bowl all are engraved with the railroad name. All food is freshly prepared; there are no “pre-packaged or pre-prepared” meals or ingredients used. Each table has fresh flowers.

Food service is designed to drive passengers to the dining car, not the lounge car, even though the lounge, as always, does a brisk business in alcohol and soft beverages. Cigarettes are for sale in the tavern lounge cars.

The route of the Silver Star south of Richmond is exclusively over the Seaboard’s main line and calling at stations for:

Richmond, Virginia
Raleigh, North Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
Savannah, Georgia
Thalmann, Georgia (Brunswick-Sea Island)
Jacksonville, Florida
Ocala, Florida (Silver Springs)
Wildwood, Florida (Homosassa Springs)
Winter Haven, Florida (Cypress Gardens)
Sebring, Florida
West Palm Beach, Florida
Deerfield Beach, Florida (Boca Raton Club)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Hollywood, Florida
Miami, Florida

Arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 9:50 a.m., EST the next morning, looking out the left side (fireman’s side) of the southbound train, there is major construction going on next to the Seaboard’s tracks. Dirt is being moved around for the initial version of Interstate 95 being built.

If you are in a roomette or bedroom, your Pullman Porter will knock on your door and offer to take your luggage and brush off your coat with a small whisk broom so you will look your sharpest when detraining.

HEP/head-end power has not yet been invented in the spring of 1967, so each diesel locomotive has large water boilers providing steam to the consist. Each car has its own power generator. Large batteries hang under each car, providing lights and power for air conditioning. The batteries are recharged through a generator by the turning of the wheels of each car as it moves, perpetually charging the batteries whenever the train is moving.

There are no smoking restrictions anywhere on the train. Pipes, cigars, and cigarettes are all allowed.

The Seaboard has a corporate pride in the Silver Star, as it does in its premier train, the Silver Meteor, as well as the Silver Comet.

All of the Seaboard major passenger trains, the Meteor, Star, Comet, Palmland, Gulf Wind, Sunland, and Tidewater offer dining car service (even though on the Palmland, Gulf Wind, and Sunland dining cars are switched on and off the consists enroute, but always providing food service during traditional meal periods). The Tidewater also provides snack service during daytime hours.

By 1967 the Boeing 707 had begun to take its toll on passenger trains, but Seaboard’s load factor remained strong, and corporate executives understood it was their company’s name on the side of the trains, meaning the reputation of the company was at stake with each terminal departure of the Silver Star. No one would have thought of reducing service levels to those of today. The Star was heavily competing with other Seaboard trains over its route, as well as those of rival Atlantic Coast Line, which included the Champions, Gulf Coast Special, Everglades, seasonal Florida Special, and more.

A valid argument can be made that corporate pride often produces direct results, even in these modern times. Corporate pride often had profits as a direct result, because standards of performance, reliability, and customer/passenger service were important. If a passenger wasn’t satisfied, there was competition to sample. With a monopoly, there is no worry about competition, and customers/passengers can “take it or leave it.” That’s a primary difference between private enterprise and government monopoly.

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