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Home > Blog > Exhibit Train Blog, 2011-2012 > Los Angeles, December 10 and 11

Los Angeles, December 10 and 11

Posted by admin at Dec 15, 2011 09:45 AM |
In a city known world-wide for its star-power, Los Angeles Union Station and its welcoming staff stand out as class acts.
Los Angeles Union Station
Los Angeles Union Station interior
Amtrak employees greet visitors

Los Angeles Union Station
opened in 1939.

Art Deco and Spanish Revival blend
beautifully in the station

Employees Steve Ostrowski (engineer/photograper)
& Rob Eaton (Regional Director, Gov't. Affairs)
greeted visitors to the Exhibit train in L.A.

Southwest Chief classic menu
A pair of classics
Platform photo op in LA

Southwestern motifs from the
Southwest Chief's menu

Classics: Santa Fe 375
and Amtrak 406

Photo opportunity taken on
the platform in Los Angeles

Designed by the father and son duo of John and Donald Parkinson, Los Angeles Union Station opened in 1939 to bring together the city’s multiple passenger rail lines in one downtown location. The building, which blends elements of Art Deco design with Spanish Revival motifs, is often considered the last “great” Union Station constructed before passenger railroads entered a period of decline in the mid-20th century. The architectural marriage of an idealized, romantic past and a strong dose of modernity represented the allure of a Los Angeles that was on the rise as a political, economic, and cultural force.

Passengers still mill about the magnificent waiting room, which features original furnishings, tiled walls, a painted wood ceiling, and glowing glass and metal chandeliers. When the sun is shining, the outdoor patios and courtyards, filled with potted plants and embellished with tall palms, allow for a few moments of seclusion. Our exhibitors, including California Operation Lifesaver, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the South Coast Railroad Museum, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, and the California Locomotive Preserve, set up tables in the concourse so that travelers could take a few minutes to explore their offerings. It was also great to have so many members of the Amtrak family with us, including a sizeable group from our Riverside Call Center.

On Friday, we hosted a special employee open house since Los Angeles is a major hub for corridor and long distance trains such as the Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, and the Southwest Chief. Aboard the Display Cars, there are plenty of items related to each of these services, including schedules, route guides, collectible lapel pins, and colorful advertisements. One of my favorite items is a menu from the Southwest Chief, which features a colorful kachina on its cover.

When Amtrak took over the nation’s passenger rail service in 1971, one of the most famous lines it inherited out west was the Super Chief, operated by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway (the “Santa Fe”). Running between Chicago and Los Angeles, the streamlined train sported an all Pullman consist that was the height of luxury when it went into service in 1936. As the train sped across the gently rolling prairies and through the gorgeous desert landscapes of the Southwest, travelers could indulge on fine food in the Cochiti, a dining car run by the famed Fred Harvey Company. The Santa Fe and Fred Harvey both used southwestern designs to promote their services, and the arts and crafts of regional American Indian tribes—such as Navajo rugs and Mimbres pottery—provided much inspiration.

After Amtrak took over the route from the Santa Fe, it retained the Super Chief name until 1974 when it was changed to the Southwest Limited. With the introduction of new Superliner equipment in the early 1980s, the train gained its present name, which it still wears proudly. Following in the footsteps of the Santa Fe, Amtrak also employed regional motifs in its promotional materials for the Southwest Chief—including the kachina menu. Unique to the Hopi people of northeastern Arizona, kachinas (sometimes spelled katsinas) are religious icons carved from cottonwood root and painted to represent figures from Hopi mythology. True kachina craftsmen are not only skilled in woodworking and painting, but they also possess an intimate understanding of Hopi religious beliefs. Upon closer inspection, the Amtrak menu appears to feature Tawa, who is a representation of the spirit of the Sun.

The Santa Fe heritage remains strong in southern California, and visitors were in for a special treat as Santa Fe steam locomotive 3751 pulled up opposite the Exhibit Train. Built in 1927, the Baldwin 4-8-4 was festively dressed up with a wreath and colorful holiday garlands. For many people, steam locomotives retain a certain air of romance, but it’s hard to comprehend their power until you stand next to one and it towers over you and rumbles from deep within. Visitors were allowed to take a peek into the cab, and many posed for photos with the locomotive in the background.

The SF 3751 is owned and maintained by the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society (SBRHS), a non-profit, all-volunteer organization founded in 1981. In addition to caring for the locomotive and introducing the public to the history of steam railroading, the group also preserves Santa Fe operating and mechanical documentation. In 1986, the SBRHS purchased the rusting locomotive from the City of San Bernardino for $1.00 and carried out five years of restoration work. Maintained to a high standard, the SF 3751 makes appearances at rail events throughout the region, and it’s a big draw during the National Train Day celebrations each May at Los Angeles Union Station.

Well, they say that the railroad never stops—but we’ll be on a break until early January 2012 when you can find the Exhibit Train in Fort Worth, Texas. From everyone on the Exhibit Train team, we wish our readers a Happy and Joyful New Year! It’s been great meeting the more than 40,000 people who have come out so far to visit the displays, and we look forward to getting to know more of you as we head east.