Pioneer Zephyr, ca 1934
The Pioneer Zephyr, a corrugated stainless steel, diesel-powered passenger train, was built in the early 1930s. The extensive use of stainless steel made the train lighter than the traditional wooden cars and regular hardened steel. In addition to being lighter it also was corrosion resistant and did not need to be painted for weather protection. The cars shared the trucks and their wheels, called Jacobs bogies. The cars could not be uncoupled but were permanently articulated together. This meant that the cars could be closer together and offer a smoother ride. The type of welding used, called shotwelding, plus the articulation also helped reduce the overall weight and therefore allowed for an increase in the speed. As part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, the Zephyr set a speed record for travel between Denver, Colorado and Chicago in 1934. It was a non-stop dawn to dusk dash of 13 hours and 5 minutes to cover a distance of 1,015 miles. The normal time on the other Burlington trains for the same distance took approximately 25 hours. The Zephyr’s average speed was 77 mph with one section at a top speed of 112 mph. This historic event inspired a 1934 film that resulted in the train receiving the nickname “The Silver Streak.”
Passengers on that first record setting run included Ralph Budd, the president of Burlington, H.L. Hamilton, president of Winton Motor Company (part of General Motors at that time), reporters, some Burlington employees, a few members of the public and Zeph, a burro contributed by the Rocky Mountain News as mascot for the train. After arriving in Chicago the train was on public display at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair, called the Century of Progress. Following the end of the fair the train completed a 31-state, 222-city publicity tour where more than 2 million people saw it before it entered service as a passenger train. The design proved so popular that it started the Zephyr series.
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