The CB&Q Mark Twain Zephyr
A history of the legendary streamliner
by David Lotz
originally published in the Spring 2002 RPO
click any of the photos to see the larger, high
with me for a while about the Burlington Railroad. Not
the Burlington Northern Santa Fe with locomotives
disguised as Great Northern "wanna-be's," nor
the Burlington Northern with its forest inspired Cascade
Green, but the Burlington Route of more than 30 years
ago. Conjure up vivid images in your mind of Chinese Red
GP and SD freight units of the 1960's, images of
quartets of whitish-gray F units, but most importantly
the Burlington's gleaming symphony in 18-8 stainless
steel, the legendary Zephyrs!
The largest fleet of named
streamliners in the United States were the Burlington's
Zephyrs. Competing in markets against the famed Eagles,
Chiefs, 400's, Cities and Hiawathas on almost every
route, the polished Zephyrs covered almost every route
on the mainline of the Burlington and for years held the
speed/distance title in the record books. It's hard to
believe that something as revolutionary as the Zephyrs
started almost seventy years ago with the tiny,
three-car Pioneer Zephyr. However today, we're not going
to remember oft-told history of the little 9900, we are
going to learn about the first Zephyr to serve St.
Louis, the Mark Twain Zephyr.
Let's begin in March of 1935, shortly before the
delivery of the Twin Zephyrs. The original Burlington
Zephyr had successfully raised patronage to overflow
levels on the Kansas City to Lincoln route, expectations
were high that the Twins would do the same for the
highly competitive, revenue-challenged route between
Chicago and the Twin Cities. The Mark Twain Zephyr too,
was specifically designed in hopes that it would be
successful on a third route - 442 miles round trip - St.
Louis to Burlington, Iowa.
The Mark Twain Zephyr's route would take it through
Hannibal, Missouri, the historic and romantic old-time
river town which was the home of the great American
author, Samuel Langhorne Clemens- the immortal
"Mark Twain." The tracks over which the
ultra-modern streamliner would run literally followed
the levee where his career as a Mississippi River
riverboat pilot was started. The Burlington's
advertising department took full advantage of the
centennial celebration of Clemens' birth, and named the
new train "Mark Twain Zephyr." Appropriately,
the cars of the train would bear the name of his
best-known characters, becoming the first Zephyr to have
names applied to each unit.
Design & Equipment
Built at the Edward G. Budd manufacturing plant in
Philadelphia, in partnership with the Electro Motive
Corporation, the newest Zephyr's four units would be
mounted on only five trucks. By articulating the 280'
foot long train, three trucks and 34 wheels were
eliminated from what a conventional train with a steam
locomotive and three cars would have, affecting a
considerable savings in weight. Articulation also
eliminated slack action by having the front part of one
car and the rear of the preceding one rest upon the same
truck, held together by a sleeve joint, allowing it to
round curves efficiently, yet unifying the whole train.
Roller bearings were applied to all axles reducing
friction, and maintenance.
The train was propelled by
a 660-horsepower, 8-cylinder, 2-cycle Winton 201A Diesel
engine designed by General Motors, and built by the
Electro Motive Corporation. It ran on ordinary fuel oil
and operated with no spark plugs or ignition system,
combustion being accomplished solely through high
compression. The engine directly powered a General
Electric GT-534 main generator, which provided current
to two, GE model 716 traction motors mounted on the
first truck. The lead truck had 36-inch wheels for
traction, while all the others only had 30-inch wheels.
The gear ratio of the power truck was 52:25 for a rated
maximum speed of 117 miles per hour. The Mark Twain also
had a belt-driven GT1177A-1 auxiliary generator, three
CP-127B-11 motor-driven air compressors and two radiator
cooling fans that were belt-driven from the engine. On
board the lead unit, the MTZ could carry 600 gallons of
diesel fuel, 80 gallons of lubricating oil, 140 gallons
of engine cooling water and 12 cubic feet of sand.
Loaded, with 92 passengers, the whole train weighed in
at 287,245 pounds, which is considerably less than two
ordinary heavyweight coaches!
The lead unit, containing the power plant, a 30'
Railway Post Office and a 15' mail storage area, used a
cleverly selected homonym for the word engine and was
named "Injun Joe." Almost identical to the
power unit of the 9900, it varied only by inches in it
dimensions and incorporated the cosmetic changes and
operating improvements already in place on the Twins.
The second unit (No. 506) was a 64' baggage and express
car named "Becky Thatcher." The third unit
(No. 551) named "Huckleberry Finn," held a
kitchen an pantry in the fore section with a service
counter separating it from a dinette comprised of 16
seats grouped in "foursomes" facing tables
that were set up at meal time and removed afterward.
Twenty additional chairs put the capacity of this car at
36 passengers. The final unit (No. 572) was named
"Tom Sawyer," had coach seats for 40
passengers in the fore section, while the aft contained
a solarium parlor-lounge with detached chairs for
another 16 passengers.
The design and interior
finish of the passenger compartments were characterized
by color harmony without elaborate ornamentation. Pastel
tints of blue and green for the side walls, and ceilings
finished in ivory formed a light and pleasing background
for the flash of the stainless steel window frames,
sills and trim. Coach seats were upholstered in green
mohair; window drapes also of green and carpet of taupe;
parlor-lounge chairs upholstered in Fenway blue fabric,
window drapes in lemon gold, and platinum grey carpet
made the Zephyr both pleasing and modern. Lighting was
from diffused overhead tubular ducts providing
scientific designed levels of intensity at eye level.
The passenger compartments were equipped with radio and
were climate controlled with thermostatically controlled
steam heat and air-conditioning.
Like the three preceding Zephyrs, the MTZ was
streamlined from front to rear, with satin-smooth
longitudinal surfaces gleaming like burnished silver.
The 18-8 stainless steel, a non-corrosive alloy
consisting of 18 percent chromium and eight percent
nickel, has a tensile strength three times that of
ordinary steel. The fluted outer skin was not only
decorative, but due to its shape and the electric
shotwelding process developed by the Budd Company, it
became an integral part of the train's structural
support. Even the underbodies of each car were encased
in the stainless steel to eliminate wind resistance.
Delivery & Inauguration
After a brief, but triumphant tour of the East, the
Mark Twain made its appearance on Burlington rails in
Chicago on Columbus Day in 1935. The Burlington
advertising department had already planned a series of
exhibition and speed-trial runs for the four-car train
before it entered revenue service. On October 14th the
9903 was shortened by crews at West Burlington by
removing the baggage car to prepare it for the speed
trials planned in conjunction with the Republican Valley
Jubilee at McCook, Nebraska.
A Western tour of Burlington Railroad directors and
officers (see note 1), other guests, (see note 2) as
well as a bevy of press representatives would leave
Chicago via a special steam train at 8:00 am on October
22nd. Reaching Creston in mid-afternoon, the entire
group transferred to the Mark Twain Zephyr. Heading
west, the train was scheduled to arrive in Omaha at 6:00
pm, where the railroad officials detrained for a dinner
at the Fontanelle Hotel with perhaps 300 civic and
business leaders of Omaha. The press representatives
would continue west on the 9903 and would pick up
additional newspapermen along the way to McCook, while
the officials dining in Omaha would arrive the next
The celebration, in conjunction with the great
Republican Valley Jubilee, was to recognize the
reconstruction of the Burlington's mainline throughout
200 miles of the Republican River Valley, and the
revival of trade and commerce of the region. A large
portion of this trackage had been washed away in the
Republican River flood earlier in May. There were two
half-hour, coast-to-coast broadcasts over the Columbia
Broadcast System at 9:30 am and at 4:00 pm. Speed trials
of the Zephyr were conducted on two-hour intervals
throughout the day between McCook and Oxford. During the
day, the following speed record was set over the newly
reconstructed right-of-way, built to the highest of
Standard Miles from Previous Station
miles per hour
|Left McCook, NE
|Passed Red Willow
* Maximum speed
attained for a distance of three miles
between Edison & Oxford, 122 m.p.h.
That afternoon, the Burlington executive directors
and guests departed on a steam special for Denver to be
dinner guests of Mr. W. L. Petrikin, Chairman of the
Board of the Great Western Sugar Company. The steam
special would then depart Denver at midnight to spend
the day of the 24th attending affairs regarding the
American Royal Live Stock Exposition at Kansas City.
Departure for the special again was at midnight for
arrival in St. Louis at 8:00 a.m. October 25th, to be
joined by a group of St. Louis businessmen (See NOTE 3)
and depart for Hannibal at 8:30. In the mean time, the
Mark Twain had been taken back to West Burlington to be
reconnected to its fourth car and be prepared for the
christening and dedication in Hannibal.
The Chamber of
Commerce of Hannibal hosted a luncheon for the railroad
officials and guests at the Mark Twain Hotel. A thematic
menu provided such items as Life on the Mississippi Cat
Fish and Aunt Polly's New Apple Pie with Cheese - music
was provided by the Bates Ensemble. Special guests were
Ossip Gabrilowitsch, then conductor of the famed Detroit
Symphony Orchestra, his wife Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch,
daughter of Samuel Clemens and their daughter, Miss Nina
At 2:00 p.m., October 25th, the coast to coast
broadcast over CBS began and so did the dedication
ceremonies. The honors of christening the new Mark Twain
Zephyr fell to Clemens' granddaughter, Nina, also the
great-granddaughter of John M. Clemens, a key player in
the creation of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad
in 1846. The famed "Hannibal & St. Joe,"
started in Hannibal in 1851 and was completed to St. Joe
in 1859, the first railroad to reach the Missouri River,
and the first and only railroad to carry the U.S. Mail
for transfer to the Pony Express at St. Joseph. This
same railroad was one of the earliest predecessors of
the railroad that was dedicating it's new Zephyr in
Hannibal that day, the Burlington.
There was an eleven-city competition in which three
children dressed to represent Mark Twain's three
most-famous characters Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and
Becky Thatcher. Trios from Burlington, Ft. Madison,
Keokuk, Hannibal, Canton, LaGrange, Quincy, Louisiana,
Clarksville, Elsberry and St. Louis were escorts to Miss
Gabrilowitsch throughout the day.
regular service trip of the Mark Twain was made from
Hannibal to St. Louis on Sunday, October 27th. The
scheduled trip for the Mark Twain was a round-trip
journey from St. Louis to Burlington, however the
railroad thought it appropriate to split the schedule
for the first day and begin service at Hannibal. The
normal schedule began Monday morning, October 28th at
Operating the MTZ was not without it's challenges.
Turning a train at Burlington was never a problem, until
the Operating Department began preparing for the
fixed-consist, 280-foot long train. The solution would
be to construct a wye at Burlington. Those familiar with
Burlington's yard know that it hugs the Mississippi
River to the East and has businesses directly to the
west. So the question was, where do you build a new wye?
A ravine was discovered about a mile south of the K
Line's junction with the Chicago-to-Denver mainline
that, with minor effort, a wye could be constructed
westward from the mainline into the limestone faced
ravine at Cascade. Upon arrival from St. Louis, the MTZ
would wye at Cascade and back into the station at
Burlington on Track 1. After made connections at
Burlington, Iowa with the CB&Q's Chicago-Denver
Aristocrat from both directions, the MTZ was facing the
right way for a direct departure.
On the other
terminus of the MTZ, common operating practice was to be
backed into the St. Louis trainshed by a T.R.R.A. crew
and switcher. Since the Zephyr was built for streamline
operation, the front coupler was designed to be
retractable, however, its design was flawed and it would
not always work correctly. Sometimes it would collapse
while it was engaged, or fail to remain in its proper
working position at all times. Such problems with the
cantankerous coupler while a T.R.R.A. switcher was
standing by to pull the train could easily throw a
wrench into the tightly scheduled routine at the tower.
The solution was to have the train pull into the station
head-first, and then after it had been emptied, the
T.R.R.A. switcher would pull the train out using the
coupler on the rear of the observation car.
Servicing the Zephyr also created a unique procedure
in St. Louis. The normal operation was to separate the
power and take it to Fourteenth Street for servicing and
the remainder of the train to one of the other yards for
servicing and cleaning. However, with the fixed consist
of the MTZ, this was not possible. For the 9903 and her
sisters, they were taken complete to the T.R.R.A.'s
North Rankin Yard where the locomotive unit was
refueled, lubbed, sanded and watered by means of a
diesel tank truck stationed at the yard just for the
Zephyrs, while at the same time the rest of the train
was being cleaned. After being refueled and washed, the
entire train was taken back to the train shed by a
T.R.R.A. switcher, observation car going first.
The Mark Twain Zephyr was well received by patrons
and passenger traffic increased remarkably. However,
less than a year into it's new service, the management
of the CB&Q had other plans for the MTZ and its
sister, the original Zephyr. The increases in passenger
levels on the three Zephyr routes made an impression on
management, for example, in July and August of 1935,
over 5000 passengers could not be accommodated on the
Zephyrs. To meet the demand, the Chicago - Twin Cities
service was doubled, each train set making two complete
round trips per day, but that proved to be insufficient.
The solution was to increase the size of the trains, but
the 600 hp Winton engines would not handle the number of
cars that was projected to handle the demand. The
Burlington decided to try a Zephyr on the Chicago to
Denver route. Two ten-car trainsets were placed on order
that would be pulled by two detached shovel nose
diesels. Shortly thereafter, two new six-car train sets
were ordered for the Twin Zephyrs, also with detached
power units. So what does this have to do with the Mark
To publicize the new Denver
Zephyrs, and to start building a larger passenger base,
the Burlington reassigned the MTZ and the 9900 to be the
Advanced Denver Zephyrs, one running each direction
between Chicago and Denver on a 16-hour schedule daily.
This service, to capitalize on summer business and to
protect the US Mail contract, began on May 31, 1936 and
operated until the permanent Denver Zephyr equipment was
placed in service. Although there were no sleepers on
either train, the timetable provided a 5:30 PM departure
from Chicago with arrival in Denver at 8:30 AM the next
morning, 1034 miles at an average speed of 64.63 miles
per hour. Departure from Denver as at 4:00 PM with a
9:00 AM arrival in Chicago.
Business on the Advanced Denver Zephyrs was 100% of
capacity with between 70 and 75% through traffic. The
trains operated consistently on time and attracted not
only passengers, but trackside viewers as well. It is
recorded that as many as 200 people per day came to see
the Zephyrs each day at stations like Galesburg and
For a short time between November 8, 1936 and
December 18, 1936, the MTZ provided Chicago to Twin
returned to its intended route out of St. Louis to
Burlington that December, but would be reassigned again
in September of 1938 to the St. Louis to Kansas City
route of the Ozark State Zephyr. While in this service,
the familiar Burlington Route herald on the nose of the
9903 was altered to read "Alton Burlington"
reflecting the joint route with the Alton between St.
Louis and KC. However, other markings on the MTZ
remained and the passenger timetables still show this
train as the Mark Twain Zephyr even though it was not
running to Burlington.
In January of 1953, after three and a half years, the
MTZ was assigned to service with the 9900 between
Galesburg, Illinois and St. Joseph, Missouri, via
Quincy. The Mark Twain Zephyr's last assignment starting
in May of 1957, would bring it back home to serve the
St. Louis to Burlington market until its retirement in
May of 1963. An interesting side note is while the
Zephyrs were designed for speed, the Mark Twain Zephyr,
with its 60 stops on its original 442-mile round trip,
averaged only 40 miles per hour, even though top speed
on the run was 80 miles per hour. Compare this to the
66.3 mile per hour average of the Twin Zephyrs with only
retirement, the Mark Twain Zephyr was stored at the West
Burlington shops until it was purchased by Mr. Frank
Dashner of Glenwood, Iowa in June of 1960. His untimely
death halted plans to make the trainset into a
restaurant, so the train remained at West Burlington.
In June of
1962, the train was acquired by Ernie Hays for $6,500
and placed on exhibit at the Midwest Old Thresher
Association grounds in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. In 1972,
after many years of neglect, the train was sold to Alex
Barkett of the Building Leasing Corporation, and moved
to Kansas City. The other articulated Zephyr equipment
also bought by BLC was later sold to Saudi Arabia, but
the Mark Twain remained stored in KC and continued to
deteriorate. After Mr. Barkett died, title transferred
to the Civic Plaza National Bank and in September of
1987 the train was moved to the Mid America Car
Corporation. In 1984, Dave Stimson a player for the
Kansas City Chiefs purchased the equipment. After
declaring bankruptcy late in 1987, the train was sold to
John C. Lowe. He and two other individuals have formed
the Mark Twain Corporation, which is headed by Mr.
Ronald Lorenzini. This group has started the monumental
task of trying to restore the train, but have run into
challenges along the way. The train is currently stored
in the Joliet area awaiting additional investors to help
fund its completion
Burlington Directors on Trip to Omaha/Denver/St.
Grenville Kane New-York, R. Douglas Stuart Chicago,
Charles F. Glore Chicago, Frank B. Kellogg St. Paul,
Wallace C. Winter Chicago, Charles 0. Jenks St. Paul,
Laird Bell Chicago, Charles Donnelly St. Paul, Gen.
Robert E. Wood Chicago.
Burlington Officers on Trip to Omaha/Denver/St.
Ralph Budd, President; Edward Flynn, Executive Vice
President; Bruce Scott, Vice President & General
Counsel; H. H. Holcomb, Vice President, Traffic; C. I.
Sturgis, Vice President, Secretary & Treasurer; W.
F. Thiehoff, General Manager; B. H. Taylors, Assistant
Vice President; F. G. Gurley, Assistant to Executive
Vice President; A. W. Newton, Chief Engineer; T. J.
Thomas, Assistant to President; Dr. D. B. Moss, Chief
Medical Officer; A. Cotsworth, Jr., Passenger Traffic
Manager; W. J. Lahr, General Freight Agent; J. H. Finn,
Publicity Representative; H. F. McLaury, Advertising
Other Guests on Trip to Omaha/Denver/St.
General Charles G. Dawes, Chairman, City National Bank,
Chicago; Edward G. Budd, Sr., President, Edw. G. Budd
Mfg. Co., Philadelphia; A. H. Swayne, Vice President,
General Motors Corp., New York; F. C. Horner, Ass't. to
V.P., General Motors Corp., New York; E. R. Breech,
Ass't to V.P., General Motors Corp., New York; G. W.
Codrington, President, Winton Engine Go., Cleveland; A.
N. Williams, President, Belt Railway Co., Chicago; H. H.
Brown, Vice President, Great Northern Ry., St. Paul;
Sheldon Clark, Vice President, Sinclair Refining Co.
Guests on Trip from St. Louis to Hannibal
John G. Lonsdale, Chairman of Board, Mercantile-Commerce
Bank & Trust Co.; W. L. Hemingway, President,
Mercantile-Commerce Bank & Trust Co.; Duncan I.
Meier, Secy-Treas., Ludlow Saylor Wire Co.; Harry B.
Wallace, President, Cupples Company; Sidney Maestre,
President, Mississippi Valley Trust Co.; Thomas R.
Dysart, President, St. Louis Chamber of Commerce; L. W.
Childress, President, Columbia Terminals Co.; Howard I.
Young, President ,American Zinc, Lead & Smelting
Co.; Henry Miller, President, Terminal Railroad
Association; Bernard F. Dickman, Mayor, City of St.
Louis; Scott Wilson, Chairman, Missouri State Highway
Dept; Walter W. Head, President, General American
Photos & Captions
The Mark Twain Zephyr as delivered in October of
1936. CB&Q Photo - BRHS Archives.
Map from the CB&Q promotional brochure.
The 660-HP, 8-cylinder, 2-cycle Diesel engine
designed especially for the Zephyrs by general Motors.
CB&Q Photo - BRHS Archives.
With the diesel era so new, fueling facilities were
not often available off-line. Here, the Mark Twain on
its exhibition tour of the east, stops for fuel on a
siding near Erie, Pennsylvania on November 12, 1935.
CB&Q Photo - BRHS Archives.
Photo of the 10th Anniversary of the Mark Twain
Zephyr at Hannibal, Missouri on October 25, 1945.
CB&Q Photo - BRHS Archives.
Departing St. Louis on its daily round trip journey
to Burlington, Iowa, the MTZ rounds the east leg of the
wye. Ray Tobey Photograph - Courtesy BRHS Archives.
Front of a postcard advertising the Advance Denver
Zephyr whose equipment was the 9900 and the 9903.
A heavily airbrushed image of the Mark Twain Zephyr
as altered for service over the Ozark State Zephyr route
between St. Louis and Kansas City via the joint
CB&Q/Alton trackage. CB&Q Photo - BRHS Archives.
The Mark Twain Zephyr always used track 1 at
Burlington. Shown here, late in its career, Injun Joe
sports the oscillating Mars light in a casing added
above the original headlight. Jim Ewinger Photo - David
The tail car carried a large bronze medallion with
the bust of Mark Twain positioned above his signature.