U.S., California Zephyr Informal Dining History: One Luxurious Train, Three Railroads

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 17, 2021

The original California Zephyr, a joint operation of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad and the Western Pacific Railroad, ran between Chicago and Oakland, California. The transit time, terminal to terminal was just under 40 hours, and the three railroads dubbed the California Zephyr “the most talked about train in America.” It was inaugurated in 1949 and lasted until 1970. The Amtrak version would reappear in 1983; today it is a Superliner train.

The train consist was heavy with dome cars for both coach and Pullman sleeping car passengers and food service was offered in the formal dining car as well as the San Francisco Cable Car Room dome lounge car.

The informal Cable Car Room menu was offered from breakfast until 10 p.m. at night. There was a distinctive breakfast menu and a joint luncheon/dinner/late evening menu. Here is the July 1963 luncheon/dinner/late evening menu:

San Francisco Cable Car Room
Aboard the Vista-Dome California Zephyr

California Zephyr

Buffet Offerings

Waiters are not permitted to take oral orders. To insure prompt service, please write each item on Meal Check.

Combination Suggestions
(Served until 10 P.M.)
(Price opposite each Combination includes tomato juice or soup, Dessert and Beverage)

• Chilled Red Salmon Plate, Garni, with Potato Salad, Bread and Butter, $1.70

• Baked Ham with Spaghetti, Peas in Butter, Spanish Cole Slaw, Break and Butter, $1.75

• Hot Turkey Sandwich, Giblet Gravy, Whipped Potatoes, $1.65

• Chilled Fruit Salad Plate with Cottage Cheese, Melba Toast, $1.55

Ice Cream with Wafers

Coffee, Tea, Milk

Sandwich Combinations – $1.55
(Each Combination includes Tomato Juice or Soup, Dessert and Beverage)
(Single Deck on Toast)

Choice of:

Corned Beef
Baked Ham
Sliced Turkey

Ice Cream with Wafers

Coffee, Tea, Milk

Ala Carte


Tomato Juice, 30¢

Prune Juice, 30¢

Grapefruit Juice, 30¢

Orange Juice, 30¢

Vegetable Juice, 30¢

Soup – Cup:

Minestrone, 30¢

Chili with Beans, 45¢


Single Deck

Peanut Butter and Jelly, 50¢

Liver Sausage, 85¢

Double Deck

Corned Beef, $1.15

Baked Ham on Toast, $1.20

Sliced Turkey on Toast, $1.25

Tuna Fish Salad, $1.00

American or Swiss Cheese, 85¢


Potato Salad, 45¢

Tuna Fish Salad, $1.10

Iceberg Lettuce, Mayonnaise, Half Portion, 35¢

Chilled Fruit Salad Plate with Cottage Cheese, Melba Toast, $1.10


Ice Cream with Wafers, 35¢

Chocolate or Strawberry Sundae with Wafers, 40¢

Chilled Grapefruit, 40¢

Peaches in Syrup, 35¢

Sweet Roll, 20¢

Plain Doughnut, 10¢

Pears in Syrup, 35¢


Coffee per Cup, 20¢

Hot Chocolate per Cup, 20¢

Individual Bottle Milk or Buttermilk, 20¢

Postum per Cup, 20¢

Tea per Cup, 20¢

Each of the three operating railroads laid claim to the California Zephyr by jointly contributing passenger rolling stock. For dining car and food service, at the bottom of the breakfast menu listed each railroad separately for providing dining car service:

Managers of Dining Car Service
P.M. Scott, Burlington, Chicago
F.J. Corrigan, Rio Grande, Denver
H.G. Wyman, Western Pacific, Oakland

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