Zephyr Railcars in the Cuyahoga Valley


Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) marked a major accomplishment in its first-ever capital campaign with the acquisition of four historic Zephyr railcars. This addition to the fleet enables CVSR to provide new programming and experiences within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, including 360-degree views in two of the Vista Dome cars, and offer a new heritage rail experience that exemplifies cross-country travel during the 1940s-1960s.

“The acquisition of the Zephyr railcars was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said President and CEO Joe Mazur. “We not only are preserving history, but giving hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to have one more way to travel through and experience Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”

Dubbed “the most talked about train in America,” the California Zephyr made its inaugural eastbound run on March 20, 1949 with service between San Francisco and Chicago that covered 2,525 miles and took an average of 2.5 days to complete. The train offered an unparalleled leisure travel experience that is perhaps best demonstrated in a 1950s promotional film. The California Zephyr offered sophisticated dining experiences with linens and china; sleeping compartments that ranged from the elegant staterooms complete with bathrooms, showers, drawing rooms, and bedrooms, to the cozier “roomettes”; and Vista Dome cars with windows on every side—including the ceiling—to provide breathtaking panoramic views of the passing mountains, rivers, and countryside. The California Zephyr operated as a passenger train for 20 years, and its 77 cars were later sold to different companies and private owners. Over the years, the majority of these stainless-steel cars have all but disappeared from America’s railways, having been sold off (often to foreign countries), scrapped, or simply left in storage and fallen into complete disrepair.

The four-car Zephyr trainset consists of two Vista Dome cars, a sleeper car and a baggage car. CVSR already owns the Silver Bronco, another Vista Dome observation car that was part of the original California Zephyr trainset. With this acquisition, CVSR becomes one of the nation’s few railroads in possession of four cars from the original California Zephyr fleet.

The Silver Lariat was built in 1948 by the Budd Company for the Burlington Railroad as a dome coach for service on the California Zephyr. A large dining and lounge area seats 42 passengers (36 at tables) and is equipped with a full bar with a freezer capable of storing 200 pounds of ice. From this room, passengers can access the Vista Dome above, which provides panoramic views and seating for an additional 24 passengers at tables. A unique feature of this train car is The Pony Express, a restored original mural by Mary Louise Lawser that was commissioned by the Burlington Railroad when the car was built. Silver Lariat also features restrooms; a full commercial kitchen with two ranges and two half-size convection ovens; registered monogrammed china service; original white damask California Zephyr table linens; and a full sound system with CD, iPod, and PA.

The Silver Solarium was built in 1948 by the Budd Company for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. It was one of the six dome/sleeper/observation cars specifically built for the California Zephyr. Ownership of the car was transferred to Amtrak in 1970 after more than 20 years of service between Chicago and San Francisco, and Amtrak retired the car in 1980. Silver Solarium was placed in storage for decades and fell into disrepair until Amtrak sold it to a private owner. Today, Silver Solarium has been fully renovated and has been operating as a private car, delighting passengers with stunning views from its Vista Dome and observation lounge. The car also features three double bedrooms with enclosed toilets, sinks, and showers that sleep up to 11 guests, a drawing room, and a stateroom. The observation lounge seats 11 in classic railroad lounge chairs upholstered in frieze fabric, and the Vista Dome car seats 24 in booth seating at tables. The Silver Solarium also features a full commercial kitchen with a range that includes a half-size convection oven, an original bar with a carved linoleum façade, and a sound system with CD and iPod. 

The Silver Peak was built in 1940 by the Budd Company for Burlington Railroad and assigned to the Denver‐Ft. Worth “Texas Zephyr.” Originally built as a coach/dormitory/baggage car, the coach area was used as the Jim Crow section of the train. When the Jim Crow laws were found to be unconstitutional, it was converted to a full baggage car. The car is equipped with a great deal of storage space; a workshop section that features an 8‐foot work bench with a drill press, bench grinder, band‐type cutoff saw, table saw, and a variety of power and hand tools; and a commercial refrigerator and chest freezer.

The Silver Rapids was built in 1948 by the Budd Company and served as a transcontinental sleeper car that provided coast to coast transportation for almost 20 years. The car was removed from theCalifornia Zephyr service in the 1960s when most transcontinental sleepers were discontinued, and changed ownership from the Pennsylvania Railroad to Amtrak, which retired it in the early 1980s and sold the car to a private owner. After extensive restoration work that included interior and mechanical upgrades, Silver Rapids is now one of the most versatile sleeper cars in service. The car features eight one‐person roomettes, each with a small sofa, folding wash basin, a vanity and large mirror, and a bed that folds out of the wall. Further down the hall are six double bedrooms, each of which sleeps two (one in an upper berth and one in a lower berth), has its own enclosed restroom with folding sink and outlet, and is equipped with either a long sofa or a short sofa and folding chair for relaxing throughout the day. The six double bedrooms can also open up to form three suites that sleep up to four guests each. Other features include a general public toilet and large shower in the main area and a small galley style kitchen.

The Zephyr railcars will be used for CVSR’s excursions and special events.

“We are committed to preserving and improving our fleet so that visitors from Northeast Ohio and around the world continue to have the opportunity to create shared family memories while experiencing history aboard vintage train cars as they travel through Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” Mazur concluded.

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