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The Chief in 1929 at the Dodge City, Kansas depot
The Chief in 1929 at the Dodge City, Kansas depot
A map depicting the "Grand Canyon Route" of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway circa 1901.
A map depicting the "Grand Canyon Route" of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway circa 1901.

The Chief was one of the named passenger trains of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Its route ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. From 1948 to 1967 the Chief provided a connection at Chicago to LA (and vice versa) for Pennsylvania Railroad overnight 16-hour (6pm Eastern time to 9am Central time) New York and Philadelphia to Chicago, all-Pullman sleepers Broadway Limited and the New York Central20th Century Limited / New England States from NY/Boston. The Chief left Chicago at 1.30pm from 1948 and at 10am from 1954 on an accelerated 37hr service with connecting sleepers from the 2Oth Limited and Broadway Limited (carried on the evening Super Chief in 1954-58, as a one-hour transfer between the Century's arrival and the Chief's departure was too tight for a through-car transfer) for Los Angeles and also Kansas City, Denver and Phoenix. Reaching Los Angeles before midnight the following day, the Chief was the only US train offering one night transit Chicago-Los Angeles westbound from 1954 and two night, transcontinental travel from NY to Los Angeles. The Chief was inaugurated as an all-Pullman limited train to supplement the road's California Limited, with a surcharge of USD $10.00 for an end-to-end trip. The heavyweight began its first run from both ends of the line, simultaneously, on November 14, 1926, scheduled 63 hours each way between Chicago and Los Angeles, five hours faster than the California Limited. (The Overland Limited (Union Pacific), Los Angeles Limited (Union Pacific) and Golden State Limited (Rock Island Railroad and Southern Pacific) began their extra-fare 63-hour schedules between Chicago and California the same day.)

The Chief was a success, dubbed "Extra Fast-Extra Fine-Extra Fare" though it failed to relieve traffic on the California Limited. The Chief became famous as a "rolling boudoir" for film stars and Hollywood executives. In combination with the 2Oth Century Limited, the Chief was a favored mode of transcontinental travel for Hollywood.[1] The stars and executives generally remained in their private room cars. Most of the Chief's patrons were middle class tourists or businessmen.[2] In 1954, the Chief improved its schedule to 37 hours, equal to its cousins the Super Chief and El Capitan, and would ultimately drop the extra fare requirement as well. The quality of dining, drinking and sleeping car comfort The Chief offered at a substantial price was far superior to later Amtrak trains. The Chief, leaving Chicago in the morning, ran through to Los Angeles in 2 days and 1 night.[3] The Super Chief passed through Kansas and Missouri at night, leaving Chicago in the evening and running through two nights with the La Junta-Raton Pass Colorado section in daylight, arriving in Los Angeles in the morning. The last 60-mile run through the Los Angeles suburbs was slow, and many passengers concluded the trip unnoticed at San Bernardino or Pasadena.

The Chief would have been the "crown jewel" of most railroads' passenger fleets. But it did not survive the national decline in passenger demand, due to the faster transport provided by the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 which overcame the airlines' previous inferior eight-hour Los Angeles-Chicago flights on propeller DC-6s, DC-7s and Constellations at 300 mph (480 km/h), only 3 miles high with a turbulent and dangerous crossing of the Grand Canyon. Ironically, fear of the Grand Canyon kept many stars on the Chief in the 1950s and early 1960s. However, the impact of jet aircraft; the exorbitant cost of train crew (who operated under old union rules of a day's pay for each 150 miles traveled while the Chief traveled 450 miles every 8 hours) and the loss in 1967 of most US rail companies' contracts for carriage of first class US mail Postal Department created a crisis for all US railroads. Santa Fe recommended that all but its Super Chief, San Francisco Chief, Texas Chief and San Diegans be discontinued. In particular, Santa Fe informed the ICC that it could no longer afford to run four daily Chicago-California services. To Santa Fe's shock, the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled that the all-stops, common carrier Grand Canyon be continued rather than the Chief, which made its last run on May 15, 1968. The Grand Canyon was somewhat upgraded, leaving Chicago at 9 am on a 45-hour run to Los Angeles. The San Francisco Chief was rescheduled into the Chief's 10 am departure slot out of Chicago, running on the different Amarillo/Belen Cutoff route but offering 44-hour transit to Los Angeles or 41.5 hours to a shuttle transfer from San Bernardino or Bakersfield.[4]



Competing trains

In summer 1926 the fastest schedules between Chicago and San Francisco/Los Angeles were 68 hours. That November four extra-fare ($10) all-Pullman trains started running on 63-hour schedules: the Chief, the Los Angeles Limited via Salt Lake, the Golden State Limited via El Paso, and the Overland Limited to San Francisco. In 1928 the four eastward trains dropped to 61 hours 15 minutes to improve connections at Chicago. In June 1929 the Chief and Overland Limited schedules dropped to 58 hours each way, leaving Chicago at 11:15 AM/11:50 AM and Los Angeles/San Francisco at 9:45 PM/9:40 PM. The standard-fare schedule then became 63 hours westward and 61 1/4 hours eastward on seven routes from Chicago to the Coast (trains to Seattle now matching the standard-fare California trains). The Los Angeles Limited and Golden State Limited retained their 1928 schedules and so dropped their extra fares.

In 1931 the Overland Limited dropped its extra fare and combined with the 63-hour train on its route; the Chief was the only extra fare trans-continental train thereafter, until the streamliners. In February 1936 it was scheduled at 53 hours 45 minutes to Los Angeles, compared to 61 hours for the Los Angeles Limited, Golden State Limited and California Limited.

In May 1936 Union Pacific Railroad opened high speed Chicago - Los Angeles service with its City of Los Angeles Diesel streamliner. In December 1937 the original City of Los Angeles train was replaced by a full-sized 14 car train. The schedule was doubled to 10 times monthly in July 1938.

In 1954, for a continuous East Coast to Los Angeles trip (and the reverse), on the New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad or Baltimore and Ohio trains, this opportunity was shifted from the Chief to the Santa Fe's Super Chief.[9][10]

Equipment used

Locomotive #3460, the Blue Goose, which was the streamlined steam locomotive for the Chief
Locomotive #3460, the Blue Goose, which was the streamlined steam locomotive for the Chief

A typical heavyweight Chief consist in Winter, 1937:

A typical "mixed" Chief consist as of January 31, 1938 (the Chief regularly included heavyweight head-end cars in its consist, even into the late 1940s):

Transcontinental Sleeping Car Service was inaugurated in Spring 1946, and the Chief began regularly carrying three such cars in its consist: two originating in New York City, and the other in Washington, D.C. (most often these were smooth-sided cars painted two-tone Pullman grey). By the following summer, the Chief had retired all of its steam-driven motive power and was usually pulled behind A-B-B-A sets of EMD FT locomotives or A-B-A sets of the new ALCO PAs).

The following is a typical all-lightweight Chief consist as of late 1947:

EMD F7-led San Francisco Chief crossing the Muir Trestle near Martinez, California in the 1950s
EMD F7-led San Francisco Chief crossing the Muir Trestle near Martinez, California in the 1950s

A typical Chief consist in the mid-1950s (note the absence of an observation car, which was eliminated as per Santa Fe policy):

*NOTE: The nineteen "10-2-3" sleepers in the Blue series had a floorplan configuration unique to the Santa Fe.

See also


  1. ^ Donovan (2020), p. 66.
  2. ^ Donovan (2020), pp. 66–71, 96–106.
  3. ^ Santa Fe Railway (February 16, 1968). Condensed Schedule Passenger Services. pp. 1–4.
  4. ^ Santa Fe Railway (18 June 1969). Condensed Schedule Passenger Services. p. 2.
  5. ^ "Santa Fe timetable, January 1, 1953, Table 3" (PDF). Streamliner Memories.
  6. ^ Frailey (1998), p. 56.
  7. ^ "Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Tables O, 3". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 87 (7). December 1954.
  8. ^ Beitler, Stu (November 6, 2007). "Springer, NM Flier And Mail Trains Collide, Sep 1956". GenDisasters. Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 27, 2012.
  9. ^ "Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, Table A". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 87 (7). December 1954.
  10. ^ "Santa Fe Transcontinental Passenger Service". The Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society.