By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 22, 2020
Ronald Wilson Reagan, Chicago Cubs radio announcer in Iowa, World War II United States Army Air Forces Captain, black and white movies actor, 9th and 13th president of the Screen Actors Guild, black and white television host and announcer, 33rd Governor of California, 40th President of the United States ([Gasp!] America’s first divorced president) and dedicated rail fan.
Prior to his adapting to air travel, Mr. Reagan’s transcontinental travel of choice was by Union Pacific Railroad, on the City of Los Angeles. He enjoyed UP’s hospitality so much, he became an advertising spokesman for the railroad and UP promoted his presence on its trains and in its dining cars.
His fellow Hollywood friends and pals may have preferred to travel on Santa Fe’s Super Chief, noted for its service to Hollywood celebrities, but Mr. Reagan was loyal to the Union Pacific. There was one other Hollywood celebrity who eschewed the Super Chief; Jack Benny and his wife, Mary Livingstone, were said to prefer traveling on Santa Fe’s Chief, which operated slower than the Super Chief. They allegedly had a fear of the Super Chief’s super speeds.
When he was living in the White House, President Reagan appointed one of his California supporters – who was in the same age range as the president – to the Amtrak Board of Directors. This board member traveled from his home in California to Washington once a month to attend board meetings, never flying, always taking the train. Unimpeachable sources say when the president and Amtrak board member were together socially, they loved talking about traveling in a 10 roomette, 6 double bedroom sleeping car.
Union Pacific featured dome dining cars on the City of Los Angeles as well as some other trains. Speaking from experience, the unique dining experience of enjoying a superb meal while taking in the scenery in the dome bubble with unlimited viewing in every direction was breathtaking.
The City of Los Angeles, with its armor yellow and red pinstripe livery was all about perfect service, outstanding performance, and what it was like at the 20th Century zenith of streamlined passenger train transportation.
Not to be outdone by the Super Chief’s Turquoise Room or the Southern Pacific/Rock Island’s Golden State, Union Pacific had a specific Christmas season holiday menu in the mid-1960s.
Union Pacific City of Los Angeles Holiday Dinner Menu:
Dinner Table d’Hote
Choice of One: Chicken a La Reine, Consomme, Hot or Jellied, Pineapple Juice
• Broiled Pacific Coast Sword Fish, Maitre d’ Hotel; $3.85
• Tournedos of Beef Tenderloin, Mushroom Sauce; $4.00
• Breast of Spring Chicken, Supreme; $3.85
Demi French Fried Potatoes, Whipped Potatoes, Creamed Carrots and Peas, Buttered Krinkle Beets, Waldorf Salad
• Deluxe Dinner Salad Bowl (Including Choice of Appetizer); $3.35
With Shredded Chicken and Ham or with Fresh Jumbo Shrimp, Crisp French Rolls from the Basket
Steamed Pudding, Brandy Sauce; Pineapple Sundae, Wafers; Mince Pie, Hot or Cold; Chilled Grapefruit; Selection of Cheese, Toasted Crackers
Coffee, Tea, Milk, Buttermilk, Decaffeinated Coffee
Special Turkey Dinner; $3.75
Choice of Soup or Juice, Roast Select Young Turkey, Celery Dressing, Cranberry Sauce, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Choice of Vegetable, Salad, Selection of Dessert and Beverage
Charcoal Broiled Sirloin Steak; $5.25
With Soup, du Jour or Chilled Juice, Hashed and Browned Potatoes, Garlic Buttered French Bread Toasted, Head Lettuce, Thousand Island Dressing, Choice of Dessert, Coffee, Tea, Cocoa or Milk
Plus, the note at the bottom of the menu: “Steward will gladly arrange for any special diet.”
You are invited to envision any of the complete meals above, sitting at a table in the dome diner, a crisp white linen table cloth, crisp white linen napkins, lit candles on the table, surrounded by glass and the stars of the night twinkling above you as you cruise along comfortably ensconced on your streamliner in excess of 80 miles per hour. You are dressed casually for travel; with a casual necktie and sport jacket and a cocktail dress for ladies.
After dinner, you will move to the Pullman dome observation lounge for an after-dinner smoke and nightcap or return to your double bedroom or drawing room accommodations, where the Pullman porter will turn your daytime sitting room into your nighttime beds, complete with perfectly ironed white sheets, Pullman’s feather pillows, and necessary wool blankets. Your shoes will be placed in the shoe locker where the porter will retrieve them and apply a perfect shine so you look your best the next day.
Should you have any concerns the porter is unable to satisfy, the Pullman conductor will be pleased to assist you. When detraining at your destination, the porter will handle all of your luggage onto the station platform after he has brushed your suit jacket and/or outer coat and hat.
Who says Americans can’t be civilized?