El Capitan (train)

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ATSF El Capitan combined x3.png
El Capitan
El Capitan 1950s.JPG
The El Capitan depicted on a 1950s postcard at some point after receiving its Hi-Level equipment.
Overview
First service February 22, 1938
Last service April 30, 1971
Former operator(s) Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway

The El Capitan was a streamlined passenger train operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway ("Santa Fe") between Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California. It operated from 1938 to 1971; Amtrak retained the name until 1973. The El Capitan was the only all-coach or "chair car" (non-Pullman sleeper) to operate on the Santa Fe main line between Chicago and Los Angeles on the same fast schedule as the railroad's premier all-Pullman Super Chief. It was also the first train to receive the pioneering Hi-Level equipment with which it would become synonymous.

History[edit]

The train at Albuquerque in 1938.
The combined Super Chief / El Capitan, led by EMD F7s in Santa Fe's Warbonnet paint scheme pulls into Track 10 at Los Angeles' Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) on September 24, 1966.

The El Capitan debuted on February 22, 1938 on a twice-weekly schedule, using two five-car sets of streamlined equipment built by the Budd Company.[1]:90 Like the Pennsylvania Railroad's Trail Blazer, it offered "low-cost passage with high-speed convenience." Fare Chicago to Los Angeles was $5.00 above the $39.50 regular coach fare in 1938.

Originally conceived as the Economy Chief, the name El Capitan was chosen to honor the Spanish conquistadors, though it didn't hurt that the name seemed to outrank the Union Pacific's Challenger train with which it was to compete. Unique in charging an extra-fare despite being a coach train, it pioneered such features as "RideMaster" seats optimized for sleeping.

On its inaugural run the El Capitan left the main line at Williams and traveled up the Grand Canyon Railway to Grand Canyon Depot. In regular operation passengers bound for the Grand Canyon would connect at Williams.[2]:10

In its first year and a half the El Capitan ran at 80% capacity, superior to similar services. Reservations had to made weeks in advance.[3]:49 In 1942 the consist expanded to 12 cars.[citation needed] On September 29, 1946 the El Capitan began running every other day, departing Los Angeles and Chicago on odd-numbered days (except the 31st). Together with the Super Chief on even-numbered days, the two trains formed what the Santa Fe billed as "the first and only daily 39 3/4 hour service between Chicago and California."[4] In 1948 the Santa Fe received additional equipment which permitted the Super Chief and El Capitan to start operating daily; the new schedules went into effect on February 29.[1]:90 The extra-fare charges were dropped from both El Capitan and the Chief on December 14, 1953.[citation needed]

El Capitan was one of the first Santa Fe trains to use the Budd-built "Big Dome"-Lounge cars, though these were soon given to the Chief in favor of new double-decker "Hi-Level" chair cars (coaches) developed by Budd and the railroad in 1954–1956. These experimental cars had a quieter ride, increased seating capacities, and better views.[1]:91[5]:153

In 1958 the train was combined with the Super Chief under train numbers 17 and 18 through the end of Santa Fe passenger operations.[citation needed] On its formation Amtrak continued the combined Super Chief/El Capitan designation until 1973, when it dropped the El Capitan portion. Today the route of the El Capitan is served by Amtrak's Southwest Chief. Many Amtrak trains used a combination of refurbished former Santa Fe Hi-Level cars with newer Superliner railcars until the early 2000s.[citation needed]

Equipment[edit]

Sample consists
February 1938
Train Original consists
  • Locomotive: EMC E1 Locomotive #5 / #6
  • Baggage-Dormitory-Chair car (32 seats) #3480 / #3481
  • Chair car (52 seats) #3103 / #3104
  • Lunch Counter-Diner #1505 / #1506
  • Chair car (52 seats) #3105 / #3106
  • Round-end Chair car / Observation (50 seats) #3198 / #3199
[6]
Summer 1956
Train Westbound #21
  • Locomotives: 4 x EMD F3/EMD F7
  • Baggage (storage mail)
  • Baggage
  • Baggage-Dormitory (transition car)
  • Hi-Level Step Down Chair Car (68 seats)
  • Hi-Level Chair Car (72 seats)
  • Hi-Level Chair Car (72 seats)
  • Hi-Level Diner
  • Hi-Level Lounge
  • Hi-Level Chair Car (72 seats)
  • Hi-Level Chair Car (72 seats)
  • Hi-Level Chair Car (72 seats)
  • Hi-Level Step Down Chair Car (68 seats)
[7]

The El Capitan debuted in February 1938 with two all-lightweight consist manufactured by the Budd Company. Each consist included a baggage-dormitory-coach, two coaches, a lunch counter-dining car, and coach-observation car. The baggage-dormitory-coach had a small baggage area forward, followed by bunks for the train's crew and 32 coach seats. Both coaches seated 52 and featured men's and women's restrooms at opposite ends. In the observation car the restrooms were located forward, followed by 50 coach seats. During periods of high demand additional cars were added from the Scout's pool.[8]:189

Between 1946–1948 the Santa Fe increased the size of the El Capitan and added new cars built during and after World War II. The new El Capitan included a storage mail car, baggage-dormitory, eight 44-seat "leg-rest" coaches, two lunch counter-dining cars, a club-lounge, and a coach-observation car. Most of the coaches were built by Pullman-Standard.[8]:192

Between 1954 and 1956 the El Capitan's consist included the "Big Dome"-Lounge that replaced the mid-train club-lounge car. On July 15, 1956 the new, "Hi-Level" streamliner consist debuted. Santa Fe purchased enough "Hi-Level" equipment for five nine-car consists. Six of the railroad's older baggage-dormitory cars had a cosmetic fairing applied to the rear roofline to create the distinctive "transition" cars and maintain a streamlined appearance on El Capitan. The real transition cars were the 68-seat step down chair cars, which had a regular-height diaphragm at one end and a high-level at the other. The dining cars rode on six-wheel trucks due to their massive weight (all other cars rode on four-wheel trucks). The "Big Domes" were transferred to the Chief pool.[1]:91[5]:153

As on many "named" long haul trains of the era, a lighted "Drumhead" sign was on the rear of the observation car.[9] These signs included "El Capitan" in a distinctive logotype with the railroad's logo.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Glischinski, Steve (1997). Santa Fe Railway. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International. ISBN 0760303800. OCLC 37567382. 
  2. ^ Richmond, Al (April–June 2005). "The Other El Tovar" (pdf). The Ol' Pioneer (Grand Canyon Historical Society) 16 (2): 3, 10. 
  3. ^ "Day Coach Limited". Life. August 21, 1939. Retrieved August 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Super Chief and El Capitan every other day to California". Pittsburgh Press. September 12, 1946. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  5. ^ a b Wegman, Mark (2008). American Passenger Trains and Locomotives Illustrated. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press. ISBN 9780760334751. OCLC 192109816. 
  6. ^ "El Capitan - September, 1938". Streamliner Schedules. Retrieved 2013-05-17. 
  7. ^ "Santa Fe El Capitan". Walthers Model Railroading. Retrieved 2013-05-17. 
  8. ^ a b Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972). Car Names, Numbers and Consists. New York: Wayner Publications. OCLC 8848690. 
  9. ^ "ABC's of Railroading: Terms of the trade". Trains (Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing): p 22. June 1991. 
  10. ^ Cooper, Bruce Clement. "The Classic Western American Railroad Routes". New York: Chartwell Books/Worth Press, 2010. p. 175

External links[edit]