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The combined Super Chief / El Capitan
, led by locomotive #44C (an EMD F7
sporting Santa Fe's classic Warbonnet
paint scheme) pulls into Track 10 at Los Angeles' Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT
) on September 24, 1966.
El Capitan was one of the named passenger trains of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It was the only coach, or chair car (non-Pullman sleeper) train to operate the Santa Fe main line from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California on the same fast schedule as the road's premier Pullman Super Chief.
This all-coach, streamlined train (assigned Nos. 21 & 22) began operations in February 1938. Not unlike the Pennsylvania Railroad's Trail Blazer, it offered "low-cost passage with high-speed convenience." Originally conceived as the Economy Chief, the name El Capitan was ultimately chosen to honor the Spanish conquistadors and their influence on Southwestern culture, though it didn't hurt that the name seemed to outrank the Union Pacific's Challenger train, with which it was designed to compete. Unique in charging an extra-fare despite being a coach train, it pioneered such features as "RideMaster" seating optimized for sleeping.
The original consists were two new Budd Company-built trains of five cars each made of lightweight stainless steel. Each of the two luxury trains were capable of accommodating 188 passengers; fare Chicago to Los Angeles was $5.00 above the $39.50 regular coach fare (in 1938). The 80-foot cars had 52 seats on 41½-inch centers; postwar 85-foot coaches had 44 seats on 52-inch centers.
El Capitan was the first of Santa Fe's trains to utilize the "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 1955. These experimental units featured a quieter ride, increased seating capacities, and boasted better views of the Southwestern terrain El Cap passed through and made this train unique and revolutionary. Amtrak's Superliner equipment, which was placed in service along many of Amtrak's long distance routes, were based on the Santa Fe Hi-Level design. The Superliners were designed to be operated along with older Hi-Level cars.
As was common among most "named" long haul trains of the era, a lighted "Drumhead" sign was affixed to the rear of the observation car to identify the service. These signs included the name of the service in a distinctive logotype as well as the railroad's logo and sometimes a colorful illustration relating to the train's name.
In 1958 the train was combined with the Super Chief and operated under train numbers 17 and 18 through the end of Santa Fe passenger operations. Today the route formerly covered by El Capitan is served by Amtrak's Southwest Chief. Many of Amtrak's trains consisted of a combination of refurbished former Santa Fe Hi-Level cars along with newer Superliner railcar designs until the early 2000s.
In the late 1990s, six "mothballed" El Capitan lounge cars were removed from storage and placed into service on Amtrak's Coast Starlight as "Pacific Parlour" first-class lounge cars. One of the 6 (39971) was eventually sold off, and the remaining cars were refurbished and feature a service bar, booths, and chairs on the upper level, and a theater on the lower level.
" logos such as these three often adorned the ends of observation cars on El Capitan
- 1937: El Capitan is conceived and designed as an all-coach streamliner.
- February 20, 1938: two trainsets each start making a round trip each week; 40-hour schedule each way matches the Super Chief.
- 1942: Consist expands to 12 cars.
- 1946: El Capitan trains begin operating every other day, leaving each terminal on odd days of the month (but not on the 31st).
- February 29, 1948: El Capitan begins its daily schedule between Chicago and Los Angeles.
- October 30, 1949: Train No. 22 travels over a broken section of rail in Kincaid, California. Locomotives #19L/A/B/C derail and burst into flames, causing seven cars (including #2865 and #2878) to leave the tracks.
- July 6, 1950: Train No. 22 derails while traveling at 90 miles-per-hour through Monica, Illinois, and is subsequently struck by train No. 10 (the Kansas City Chief), traveling at 55 miles-per-hour. A general derailment ensues.
- 1952: The Budd Company unveils concepts for a double-decked coach based on similar commuter cars manufactured for the Chicago and North Western Railway and Burlington railroads. The Santa Fe plans to upgrade the cars on the Chief with the new design.
- December 14, 1953: The extra-fare charges are dropped from both El Capitan and the Chief.
- January 10, 1954: The Union Pacific Railroad reintroduces its Challenger train on a 39-and-a-half hour schedule to compete with El Capitan. The UP also announces that there will be no added fare for this train.
- March 1954: Six full-length dome-lounge cars (called "Big Domes" by Santa Fe's employees) are delivered for the El Capitan by the Budd Company.
- July 1954: Two experimental "Hi-Level" intercity coaches arrive and are placed on El Capitan instead of the Chief. The railroad trial tests the units for over a year.
- March 25, 1955: The Santa Fe orders 47 Hi-Level cars (25 chair cars, #700–725, 10 step down chair cars, #528–537; 6 diners, #650–655; and 6 lounge cars, #575–580) from Budd, enough rolling stock to equip El Capitan on a daily basis with a few cars as spares, making it the first widespread use of such cars to over-the-road streamliners.
- Summer 1956: El Capitan makes three demonstration runs to San Diego, California along the "Surf Line Route" to promote its new "Hi-Level" cars.
- July 8, 1956: Hi-Level trains commence running from both ends of the line. Ticket stubs bear the verbiage "I traveled the HI-LEVEL Santa Fe way" and "Every seat is on the scenic HI-LEVEL."
- January 12, 1958: The Super Chief and El Capitan are combined into one train during the off-peak travel season on a 39½-hour schedule.
- June 18, 1957: Train No. 21 crosses over a loose tie plate while traveling at 79 miles-per-hour, causing the 8th and 9th cars to uncouple; the rear section of the train then collides with the front section.
- February 1963: Santa Fe orders an additional 24 Hi-Level cars (12 chair cars, #725–736; 12 step-down chair cars, #538–549) bringing the total inventory to 71 units (enough for a 12-unit consist per train).
- May 1, 1971: Amtrak is formed and takes over operation of the nation's passenger service, thus ending the reign of El Capitan. Amtrak retains the use of the Super Chief / El Cap names, with the Santa Fe's concurrence. Amtrak subsequently acquires a number of Santa Fe passenger cars, including the Hi-Level coaches; the revolutionary cars serve as the inspiration for Amtrak's Superliner fleet of coaches, sleepers, diners, and lounge cars in the late 1970s.
- 1973: Amtrak drops the El Capitan designation.
The initial equipment roster (two separate "pocket streamliner" consists) was as follows:
- EMC E1A Locomotives #5 – #6
- Baggage-Dormitory-Chair car (32 seats) #3480 – #3481
- Chair car (52 seats) #3103 – #3104
- Lunch Counter-Diner #3105 – #3106
- Chair car (52 seats for women and children) #3105 – #3106
- Round-end Chair car / Observation (50 seats) #3198 – #3199
A typical El Capitan consist in the late 1940s:
- EMD F3A Locomotive #23L
- EMD F3B Locomotive #23A
- EMD F3B Locomotive #23B
- EMD F3A Locomotive #23C
- Baggage-Mail #3405
- Chair car (44 seats) #2891
- Chair car (44 seats) #2864
- Lunch Counter-Diner #1599
- Chair car (44 seats) #2911
- Chair car (44 seats) #2888
- Club-Lounge #1347
- Chair car (44 seats) #2865
- Chair car (44 seats) #2905
- Lunch Counter-Diner #1553
- Chair car (44 seats) #2876
- Round-end Chair car / Observation (38 seats) #3197
Between 1954 and 1956, El Cap ran with virtually the same consist as is shown immediately above, save for the "Big Dome"-Lounge that replaced the mid-train club-lounge car.
On July 15, 1956 a new, "Hi-Level" streamliner consist debuted:
- EMD F7A Locomotive #327L
- EMD F7B Locomotive #327A
- EMD F7B Locomotive #327B
- EMD F7B Locomotive #44A
- EMD F7A Locomotive #44L
- Baggage #3521
- Baggage-Dormitory "Transition Car" 3480
- Hi-Level Step-down Chair car (68 seats) #536
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #714
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #722
- Hi-Level Diner (80 seats) #653
- Hi-Level "Top Of The Cap" Lounge (88 seats) #577
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #700
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #709
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #717
- Hi-Level Step-down Chair car (68 seats) #529
Santa Fe purchased enough "Hi-Level" equipment to create six complete, nine-car consists. Additionally, six of the railroad's older baggage-dormitory cars had a cosmetic fairing applied to the rear roofline in order 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 special six-wheel trucks due to their massive weight (all other cars rode on conventional four-wheel trucks). The "Big Domes" were transferred to the Chief pool.
A typical El Capitan consist from the late 1960s (combined with the Super Chief):
- EMD FP45 Locomotive #104
- EMD FP45 Locomotive #101
- Baggage #3671
- Baggage #3553
- Baggage-Dormitory "Transition Car" #3478
- Hi-Level Step-down Chair car (68 seats) #549
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #731
- Hi-Level Diner (80 seats) #654
- Hi-Level Lounge (88 seats) #575
- Hi-Level Chair car (72 seats) #725
- Hi-Level Step-down Chair car (68 seats) #542
- Sleeper Pine Cove (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Indian Mesa (11 double bedrooms)
- "Turquoise Room"-"Pleasure Dome"-Lounge #504
- Fred Harvey Company Diner #600 (48 seats)
- Sleeper Indian Flute (11 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Palm Leaf (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
- ^ "ABC's of Railroading: Terms of the trade". Trains (Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing): p 22. June 1991.
- ^ Glischinski, Steve. "Santa Fe Railway" St. Paul. MN: MBI Publishing Company, 1997 p. 89
- ^ Cooper, Bruce Clement. "The Classic Western American Railroad Routes". New York: Chartwell Books/Worth Press, 2010. p. 175
- ^ a b c d Anon. (January 1960). The Official Register of Passenger Train Equipment. New York, New York: The Railway Equipment and Publication Company. p. 1.
- Duke, Donald (1997). Santa Fe...The Railroad Gateway to the American West, Volume 2. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books. ISBN 0-87095-110-6.
- Frailey, Fred W. (1974). A Quarter Century of Santa Fe Consists. Godfrey, IL: RPC Publications.
- Schafer, Mike & Joe Welsh (2002). Streamliners: History of a Railroad Icon. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7603-1371-7.
- Strein, Robert, et al. (2001). Santa Fe: The Chief Way. New Mexico Magazine. ISBN 0-937206-71-7.
- Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972). Car Names, Numbers and Consists. New York, NY: Wayner Publications.
- Zimmerman, Karl (1987). Santa Fe Streamliners: The Chiefs and Their Tribesman. Quadrant Press, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-915276-41-0.