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California Zephyr "Silver Crescent"

The SILVER CRESCENT was heavily damaged by hurricane ANDREW. It is open on weekends, but the interior has not yet been refurbished. Below is a cutaway drawing of the Silver Crescent. Below the image is a virtual tour of the car which references numbers and locations in the drawing.

Refer to this drawing for "Tour Locations"



You are now entering railroading's finest example of the "Streamliner Era." This magnificent round end "Visa-Dome" car was one of seven which always graced the rear of every "California Zephyr" train. The numbers shown along with additional notices will guide you on your tour. We are sure that you will have an interesting time exploring "Silver Crescent" from America's "Most Talked About Train" - The California Zephyr.



When built in 1948, this streamliner embodied the most modern systems and controls: 8 wheel disc brakes, anti-slide braking system, on-board brake indicators, tight-lock safety couplers, demand load electrical system, micro-switch controlled vestibule step lights, specialized draftless central air conditioning, carbon dioxide monitoring, electrostatic air purification, and much more. All this to make your journey aboard the "California Zephyr" the best trip possible.



"Built by BUDD", Red Lion Plant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Year Built: December, 1948.

Order Date: October, 1945.

Lot Number: 9659-021.

Pullman Plan Number: 9511.

Length: 85 feet 0 inches (25.9 m).

Width: 10 feet 5 inches (3.12m).

Height: 15 feet 10 inches (4.82 m).

Weight: 159,000 pounds (72.121,1 k) 79-1/2 tons.

Construction: The body and frame are built of 18-8 stainless steel, assembled by a unique Budd patent called "Shotwelding" which eliminated the need for bolting or conventional welding.

Air Conditioning: 10 ton (176856,25 J/Wh), dual evaporator, water condenser, Frigidaire system.

Electrical Systems: 32 VDC from an axle driven generator.

32 VDC from 8 lead-acid storage batteries.

110 VAC from two motor alternators.

110 VAC from "shore power" connection.

220 VAC from "standby" shore power.

6 VDC from dry cell batteries.

Generator Capacity: 25,000 Watts, 32 VDC.

Electric Motors: 21.

Air Operated Motors: 6.

Light Bulbs: Incandescent - 106.

Fluorescent - 104.

Neon - 3.

Total All: 203.

Water Capacity: 500 Gallons (1.892,8 l) Potable.

150 Gallons (567,8 l) Air conditioning condenser.

Cost: $172,000.00.

Miles Logged: over 4,000,000 (6.437.360 + Km).

Time In Service: March 20,1949 to March 22, 1970.

Pullman Space Sold In This Car (alone): Over 15,000.



As you enjoy your tour of "Silver Crescent", you may hear music and announcements. The songs are all hits of the '50s and '60s - the period of "California Zephyr" service. The announcements on points of interest, equipment, and dining information are taken from the actual script of the "Zephyrette" hostess. Imagine that you are one of the First Class passengers traveling through the plains, deserts, deep gorges, and majestic mountains of the American West as you continue to explore one of the most famous trains in the history of railroading - the "California Zephyr".


This small seat was where your Pullman porter took short cat-naps during the 2-1/2 day trip through the West. A call enunciator panel across the aisle alerted him to the needs of his cabin passengers. He stored your luggage, put your beds down at night and up in the morning, and made your trip a pleasure. Also in this area are located the linen and folding table storage cabinets, public restroom, chilled water fountain, and the electrical locker.



As you now make a right and left turn you enter the aisle along which you will see a representative view of the type of accommodations available to First Class passengers onboard the "California Zephyr." Each room has individual controls for cooling, heating, three different channels of music, and a public address channel. There is a porter's call button in every room and a visitor's call button outside the door of each bedroom. Note that there is a large window in each room as well as another directly across the aisle on the opposite side of the car. This adds to the feeling of spaciousness.



All bedroom passengers had their own private bathroom. The bathrooms had all the normal amenities: sink with hot and cold water, soap, hand towels, circulating chilled water, cups, and flushing toilets. Only one public bedroom on the entire twelve car train had a shower. You will see it in the exclusive Drawing Room "D".



You may notice that these bedroom appear somewhat small, but remember that before this period in American rail history, public sleeping cars normally consisted of open-section accommodations with common bathrooms and little privacy. These bedrooms you are now viewing were the best compromise of space, revenue, privacy, and comfort. Their design has changed little over the past forty years. First Class passengers considered these rooms to be a wonderful improvement over what there had been before.



Most rooms were designed for one or two persons, but a few rooms had the ability to become a four person suite. This was possible by way of a folding wall partition dividing the two rooms. For traveling families, this was very convenient. Mom and Dad could enjoy their privacy at night by refolding the wall into place. They could still reach the other members of the family by means of a small lockable door located in the room divider.



Here in bedroom "C" is the same cabin layout you saw in cabin "A" but now configured for sleeping. Your porter most likely made up the beds while the occupants were at dinner in the diner. Just as the splendor of the Rockies and Feather River were scheduled for daytime, so the Nevada Deserts and Great Plains were timed for nighttime crossings. If the passengers had placed their shoes in the locker provided in each room, the porter would have shined them during the late night hours and returned them to the locker by dawn.



Drawing Room "D" was the most unique accommodation on the entire "California Zephyr." It was the largest bedroom, sleeping three persons. It was the bedroom closest to the bar (very important for some). But its most popular feature was the full functioning shower. No other bedroom on the CZ had one. All this luxury did not come cheap - the Pullman fare in 1970 was $98 per person for the 2-1/2 day, 2,525 mile (4,063.5 Km) trip between Chicago and Oakland. Despite the cost, this room was very popular, and difficult to reserve. But what a way to go!



Here in the Bar/Lounge, First Class passengers could relax enjoying tavern service before meals or spend the late night hours socializing with fellow passengers. Diner reservations could be made with the bartender who would then call them in to the Dining Car Steward. An enunciator panel located near the radio would alert the Bartender to the needs of passenger service both here, and in the rear observation lounge. The tavern area contains a sink, freezer, refrigerator, glassware, and dry storage. No food service was provided at the bar.



Three original works of art appear in the tavern:

1. Gold-backed, etched bar-back mirrors of songbirds by David Harriton.

2. Carved linoleum bar-front of wild game birds by Pierre Bourdelle. (Shown below)

3. Western Impressionistic wall paintings by Russell Patterson.

Each of the seven observation taverns, such as this one, had different variations on the above themes. Each was an original work.



This lounge was "THE" social meeting room for First Class "California Zephyr" passengers. Deep cushioned chairs and the high curved ceiling gave a wonderful air of quiet relaxation as passengers watched the miles retreat behind the graceful curves of this graceful rear observation car. While chatting with fellow travelers, one could summon the courteous attendant simply by pressing one of the call buttons located within easy reach of every chair. A writing desk was available with a good supply of post cards and stationary. A mail drop was located in the desk. Magazines supplied varied reading matter: Look, Colliers, Life, and the "Post" were always on hand.



When the "California Zephyr" concept was formed in 1945 by the Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific, it was decided to use the car naming system then being used by the Burlington for its stainless steel trains: a car name always prefixed by the word "Silver." The "CZ" used 77 "Silver" names in its fleet of beautiful stainless steel cars. "Silver Crescent" has six sister observation cars. They are: "Silver Horizon", "Silver Penthouse", "Silver Sky", "Silver Planet", "Silver Solarium", and "Silver Lookout."



Almost all of the "CZ's" 77 car fleet survives, but virtually every one has been modified by their new owners. Most are in Amtrak, Canadian, Mexican, or private service. An unrestored diner rests in a California museum. "Silver Crescent" and "Silver Stag" reside here at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. "Silver Crescent" is the only "CZ" passenger car to survive in its "in-service' appearance. You see her now just as you would had you been riding her in the 1960's. She is the finest example of the "Golden (or should we say "Silver") age of the Streamliners".



While most trains of the '50s and '60s provided great on-board services, the "California Zephyr" added unmatched daylight scenery. The fabulous climb up the Front Range of the Rockies; paralleling the grand Colorado River while passing through the great canyons of Byers, Gore, Glenwood, and Ruby. The beautiful passage through the Sierras and the wonder of Feather River Canyon. All this great scenery was timed to be passed in daylight, both West and East bound. The best of the West at "See" level on the "California Zephyr."



For brief times, the "CZ" needed to be operated in reverse as when backing into Denver Union Station. By opening the top of the cabinet at the right rear of the observation lounge, the brakeman had access to full braking and signaling controls. The controls:

Orange handled "Air Horn."

Blue handled "Trainline Signal Valve."

Brass handled "Air Brake Control Valve."

The hand operated windshield wiper kept the rear window clear on those rare rainy days.



It was common for trains to carry their name on the rear car. The "CZ" was no different. On the rear of each of the seven Dome Observation Lounge cars of the "CZ" was installed a stainless steel box with the words "California Zephyr" emblazoned in red tubular neon. Between the words was an enameled painting of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. You may see the sign illuminated on occasional weekends. A beautiful finale bringing up the rear of America's most popular "Cruise" train.



Protection of its trains from rear end mishaps was always on the minds of the railroads. As one effective deterrent, a unique anti-collision light was designed by the Mars Signal Light Company. A bright red beacon which swept the sky with a horizontal figure eight pattern was used on the rear of all "California Zephyr" trains. In addition, the unit could be electrically rotated to become a solid white headlight to aide in backing into stations such as Denver. This light is still operational on "Silver Crescent."



As you will notice, the handrails of the stairway leading to the famous Vista-Dome are made of solid clear Lucite plastic. Of the 31 Vista-Domes of the "California Zephyr", only the seven dome observation cars had this unusual feature. During evening hours, lights at the top and bottom of the stairway transmitted a soft amber glow through these beautiful handrails. It produced a wonderful effect while ascending into the star filled night of the "Vista-Dome". It still functions today at it did on those nights long since passed.



During the first ten years of the "CZ" the space over the writing desk was a bare painted wall. In the early '60s a large, beautiful photograph of the famous "Golden Gate" and San Francisco was installed. A reminder to the Westbound passengers of the magnificent Bay Area soon to be their destination - to the Eastbound, fond memories of "The City By The Bay."



The "Vista-Dome" was developed for the great scenic route over which the "California Zephyr" operated between Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland, California. The "CZ" was equipped with five "Vista-Domes" on each of its six trainsets - more domes than any other train in the world. The first three domes in each train were for coach passengers and the last two, including this one, were for Pullman sleeping car passengers. None of the dome seats were individually reserved. Imagine those fabulous views that were seen from these most famous of the "Vista-Domes!"



You now stand in the only "Vista-Dome" showing its complete "In-Service" appearance. The seats, carpets, and paint are just as you would have seen them when the "CZ" cruised the Rockies and Sierra. Each of the train's five "Vista-Domes" had 24 chairs, a total of 120 unreserved dome seats. The chairs have the ability to swivel, so that parties of four could sit facing one another. Looking forward along the roof, you see the AM radio antenna. This was used with the signal seeking radio located in the tavern.



When the "CZ," America's most famous "Cruise" train was launched in March, 1949, windshield wipers were considered necessary to keep the front and rear dome windows clean. But very soon it was realized that the locomotive exhaust mixed with splattered bugs and a little rain made an impossible mess when the wipers were turned on. Also the blades of the wipers became damaged when the cars were being washed with the rotary brushes. Soon after the "CZ" was introduced, the wipers were removed, never to be used again. Well, not until now. You are standing in the only "Vista-Dome" to have its windshield wipers restored to its 1949 appearance. Four of the six air actuated "Trico" wiper motors are the originals installed in 1948!



Now that you have toured this unique streamliner, "See" the "California Zephyr" in actual action! Two complete trips from Chicago to Oakland, taken in the '50s and '60s are available on one VHS cassette. These professionally produced films give you a beautiful ride through the towering Rockies and beautiful Sierras. You'll see the "CZ" from inside out. You'll see the coaches, diner, sleepers, and the famous observation lounge, all in actual service. Watch the "CZ" as it climbs the Rockies as filmed from the roof of the cars! See why the "CZ" was called "The Most Talked About Train In The Country", and why at one time it was considered for "National Landmark" status.



"Silver Crescent" was on the rear of the final Westbound "CZ" run, March 20, 1970. This was the end of passenger service on the Western Pacific. A short time later, the WP sold off its "CZ" cars. William Harmsen bought "Silver Crescent" and "Silver Stag" in July 1972 and moved them to his business in west Denver. He used the cars for business meetings and gatherings over the next nine years. On March 1, 1981, he offered the cars to the "Gold Coast Railroad." Extensive preparation for the move took five months. On August 20, 1981, they arrived at the museum. Restoration work began immediately.



The pre-hurricane, fine condition of "Silver Crescent" was due to the untiring efforts of the "Gold Coast" volunteers who devoted their time and money to this unique car. Since acquisition in 1981, countless hours and thousands of donated dollars have gone into this on-going restoration which you have enjoyed seeing today. Your TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS help these efforts to continue.


Narrative written by John F. McLean, Curator, SILVER CRESCENT

For more information on the California Zephyr trains, history, and equipment, visit The California Zephyr Museum Online at

Please click on the following links to order books about the California Zephyr:

Order Cz: The Story of the California Zephyr Today!

Order Portrait of a Silver Lady: The Train They Called the California Zephyr Right Now!

Order Zephyr: Tracking A Dream Across America Today!

A portion of the sale price every book purchased from AMAZON.COM through these links is donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.



Type: Round-end observation, bar lounge.

Built: 1948.

Status: Open, On display.

Acquisition Date: August 20, 1981.