• Pre-Amtrak "Dinner in the Diner"

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Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by Gilbert B Norman
Here is another thread pasted from the predecessor railroad.net Rail Travel Forum, which was made available through archive.org. As noted elsewhere, this site's owner holds all rights to material posted at the predecessor site; therefore, this pasting simply represents dissemination of material to which rights are held.

So, with that having been said, how about some additional discussion.

Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner

Posted by Gilbert B Norman ([email protected]) on Sun, Feb 20, 00 at 10:01

I still remember fondly the array of "dinner in the diner" trips that could be taken from Chicago during pre-Amtrak and also early Amtrak "Pioneer Days". Such a trip involved a dinner hour departure, a ride "down" or "out" the line and then a same evening return to Chicago on the last train.

Some of the rides I can recall were to Champaign on the Panama Ltd, return on the City of New Orleans. This of course was first-class parlor (pre 1967 downgrade), but the surcharge for riding such was absurdly low. The Panama's twin unit diner was a sight to behold, and I can still well remember the steak. As for the "City", the song is very descriptive.

Another trip was the MILW (UP) "City" train to Savanna, IL, then return on the BN "Afternoon Zephyr". Although this trip was possible right up to A-day (in fact it was my April,30 A-day eve trip), it was downgraded over the years. The "City of Everywhere" lost the dome diner during 1969- or'70 and the massive size of the train made for a crowded dining scene, but still it was the UP with the color photo menu's printed for each trip, and even their own UP stock red wine. The return on the Zephyr was also downgraded over time; the dome cars were scattered through the system, and food service (not that you needed any after that lovely UP dinner) was pretty spartan.

A popular dinner trip was the GM&O to Bloomington on the "Abe Lincoln" (or Pontiac if you were tense about the return connection). This trip was available into Amtrak and in fact was even an "upgrade" by Amtrak in that ex-CBQ stainless parlor and diner were on the pre-Amfleet/Horizion consist. I always thought the GM&O full service diner was good, but I don't think I would have wanted to look too closely around the kitchen (might be a few multipeeded deadheads aboard!).

And now for the best; "Super Chief" to Joliet, return on Rock Island commuter. That's right!, you could ride the Super Chicago-Joliet (pre-Amtrak), but I think even with first class rail, seat in roomette, and extra fare, it was only about $10 during the 60's. It was best to get seated right away, and let the crew know your intentions. Chgo-Joliet on the ATSF was not exactly a racetrack, and the dinner was not really that rushed.

Northward, there were not too many opportunities. C&NW intercity trains had largely become coach only, and on the MILW, once the "Afternoon" came off, no further ops there.

However, if all you wanted was dinner in the diner (as in "hold the train ride"), the Rock Island could take care of you. At La Salle St Station from shorly before and well into the Amtrak years, they had a stationary dining and lounge car. The operation was called Track One and used railroad-employed chefs, waiters, and stewards (I would rather guess those people were covered by labor protection agreements that were prevalent during the 60's & 70's).Menus were as offered aboard Rock Island diners.

In closing, there was also a "dinner in the diner" opportunity in the Washington area, that was well used by local fans. This was Washington-Alexandria on the Southern Crescent post Amtrak (circa 1976). During that time Southern did not join but agreed to cooperate with Amtrak. Their diner originated in Washington along with sevaral coaches and sleepers. You could board and be seated in the diner as soon as the equipment was spotted in the station. You usually were finished with dinner about the time you were crossing over the Potomac River.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Post Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: reggie atwell ([email protected]) on Sun, Feb 20, 00 at 20:08

there's not too much opportunity for same night return on amtrak but one possibility might be the lake shore out of nyp returning on the empire service. if there is a connection available it would be a rather late return to new york city. i just rode the lakeshore about 4 monthes ago & had a very good dinner as did all of my fellow travelers. another possibility would be the silver service trains out of nyp, phl & was. i know the silver meteor departs nyp @ 7pm which would allow a return from probably phl or wilmington. there are also many trains where you could do lunch for instance the starlight out of lax returning from santa barbara. yours reggie


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: GILBERT B NORMAN ([email protected]) on Mon, Feb 21, 00 at 10:35

Only problem with the 7PM NYP "Meteor" is that it does not handle passengers locally between NYP ans WAS.


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: GILBERT B NORMAN ([email protected]) on Wed, Jun 7, 00 at 15:34

May I add a thought to this thread.
When I was in military service and stationed in Ogden, I would drive to Evanston,WY, take #103 "City of LA" to Ogden, return on #6, drive back to Hill AFB. Dome diner through Weber Canyon at twilight was sight to behold.

Even once persuaded "what's a train" buddy to do trip with me.


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Doug Kydd ([email protected]) on Sun, Jan 28, 01 at 8:02

I used to ride the Penn Central MERCHANTS LIMMITED
(still a class act, if you wish to believe it) from Boston to Providence, and catch the UAC Turbotrain back, jump off at Back Bay Station, & go upstairs to an RRE meeting.
SADLY , there's an entire subculture that thinks dining cars were always wedged between F units, only run on Saturday nights, from nowhere to nowhere and return, and at 10 mph
and had no real life function!


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Craig Johnson ([email protected]) on Thu, Mar 29, 01 at 19:48

Memorable dinners I recall were: The eastbound NYC Wolverine from Chicago to Buffalo in 1963. Empire Service from Grand Central to Buffalo on the Central. Excellent food on the RF&P from DC to Richmond. The westbound Pennsy Penn Texas from Penn Station in NYC to Harrisburg. The filet migon was exceptional. Plus the famous PRR logo on the coffee pot. I even had the rare opportunity of meeting the VP for dining car services track side in Harrisburg while waiting for the car swapping to be finished so I could continue on to DC. I noted you don't serve a western egg dish. That morning they did on the southbound Dominion Express courtesy of my speaking up. I also recall some mighty fine dinners on the New Haven from Grand Central and Penn Station to Boston. Amtrak gave me an excellent dinner on the Lake Shore Limited from Boston to Chicago and the same on the return trip.


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Tim Stuy ([email protected]) on Thu, Apr 12, 01 at 16:16

I don't think it's still possible due to the lack of "inland route" NY-Boston trains, but I took the Lake Shore from Framingham, MA to Springfield to eat in the diner, spent an hour in Springfield, then back again. In the early 1990's this cost $18 round trip. I was on a business trip and happily submitted my $17 dinner tab from Amtrak!


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Alvin Lawrence ([email protected]) on Wed, Apr 18, 01 at 21:17

I recall that the finest "Dinner in the Diner" experience was back in the 1950s whenI would board the "Ohio State Limited" in Columbus, OH about 6 P.M. Have dinner on the way up to Cleveland, dessert passing Collinwood shops, Sleep from Painesville through to Albany, wake and have breakfast going down the Hudson. I'd hop off at 125th St. and catch a train to New Haven. Sigh..


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: steve hoyle ([email protected]) on Thu, May 10, 01 at 13:02

Let's not forget breakfast on the L&N's "Pan American," a great way to enjoy the ride from Nashville to Louisville, b4 catching the eastbound "George Washington" to DC.
I would agree with earlier posts re the New Haven's "Merchant's Limited." I also recall several fine meals on the PRR's "Broadway" which had a twin unit diner.

Also, the "Southern Crescent" used to have a good roast beef dinner.

As Al said, "sigh."

work safe - Steve Hoyle


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Randolph Resor ([email protected]) on Thu, May 31, 01 at 14:10

My dinner (and breakfast) memories are of the Seaboard and ACL trains to Florida. In particular:
For breakfast:

Fresh corn and bran muffins
Grits with butter

For dinner:

The first grilled shad roe I ever ate
A marvelous dinner on the Florida Special, featuring a pompano stuffed with tiny shrimp.

Amtrak has never heard of either shad roe or pompano, although you might get grits and fresh baked muffins.


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Tim Stuy ([email protected]) on Fri, Jun 1, 01 at 13:12

A group has been formed called the Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society. We are now at the point that a former EL 740-series dining car has been identified and will be inspected shortly. We kindly ask any of you interested in seeing an EL Diner restored and functioning as it did in regular service, please contact John Boehner ([email protected]) or myself off list. We need your support and financial donations to make this a reality!


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: GILBERT B NORMAN ([email protected]) on Fri, Jun 1, 01 at 15:49

Mr. Stuy--
740?, help me out.

Is that a DL&W Budd "Phoebe" diner, an Erie "modernized" heavyweight, or possibly something else like the DL&W diner-lounges assigned to the "New Yorker" and "New York Express".


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Tim Stuy ([email protected]) on Fri, Jun 1, 01 at 16:27

It is an Erie "modernized" diner/lounge (32 seat diner/10 seat lounge)


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: GILBERT B NORMAN ([email protected]) on Fri, Jun 1, 01 at 17:16

I remember a trip in such Hoboken-Binghamton Erie Limited June 1960, where lunch was "all the fried chicken you can eat", salad, and dessert for $1.95.


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: Tim Stuy ([email protected]) on Sat, Jun 2, 01 at 17:13

You know, I have seen a decent number of Lackawanna and Erie Lackawanna menus over the years, but I have seen only one Erie menu (and a breakfast one at that!) over the years. I am also looking for any paperwork, manuals, recipes, etc. for the Erie, DL&W or EL.


RE: Pre Amtrak Dinner in the Diner
Posted by: BJ Chelgren ([email protected]) on Sun, Jun 3, 01 at 11:25

No mention of the B&O's class of service with their service and excellent dinner? The National Limited and Capital used to stop in the suburbs of D.C. to a giant holly tree at Christmas so that all the ladies could have one. Signs along the route would say "Merry Christmas B&O" Their railroad was the only one the Santa Fe recommended for Chicago transfers from their west coast trains and their passengers to transfer to the east coast


Post a Follow-Up

  by Aa3rt
I'd posted this reminisence in the Erie Lackawanna forum in the previous incarnation of this site but will share it again.

In the summer of 1966 the discontinuance of the Erie Lackawanna's Phoebe Snow had been announced. My maternal grandparents wanted to ride the train before it was discontinued, so they took my parents, my brother and I on a day trip from Jamestown to Corning, New York. We detrained in Corning and took a cab to the Corning Glass Works for a tour.

The highlight of the trip though, was riding the westbound Phoebe home, and my only pre-Amtrak dining car experience. I don't remember much about the meal, except for the fact that my younger brother ate all the lemon wedges, that were served as garnishes with the shrimp cocktail we had as an appetizer. This obviously amused our waiter who sliced up two entire lemons and brought them on a saucer to my brother. And, yes, he ate them all.

The EL certainly lived up to it's slogan "The Friendly Service Route" on that trip!
  by Hostler
I vaguely remember a trip from Newark to Boston in Fall 1954. My parents and myself had dinner in the Diner. I remember the porter sounding the chimes and announcing that 'Diner was being served" or something like that. For a young boy, this was a special treat, I don't recall what I ate, but whatever it was, it was all great fun. Unfotunately I never had the chance to do it again when I was much older.
  by John_Perkowski
As a youth, I was a member of the Pacific Railroad Society.

They left the Super Chief alone, at least on A Day, other than not calling it the SC/El Capitan anymore.

Two of our members went out to ride the last City of Los Angeles in to LAUPT. They started on the night of May 1 by riding to either San Bernadino or Barstow on the Super and having dinner in the diner.

The descriptions of those sirloins is STILL with me... 30 plus years later.

  by John_Perkowski
I still remember breakfast at Victorville in a UP dome diner. It was the summer of 1967, and I was coming home from a trip to Grandma's.

That was some French Toast!

  by CarterB
Some of my memorable diner dinners were, The Broadway Ltd to and from Chicago - Philly- NYP, Empire Builder Chgo to Seattle, Panama Ltd. Chgo-Champaign, and the Super Continental in Canada. I vaguely remember dinner on the Silver Meteor and Southerner, but since I was about 7 yrs old at the time, I seem to remember the chimes "first call for dinner" more than the dinner itself!! Those days, it was railroad silver, real chefs, great food, and a fresh rose bud in the vase on the table. The bar/lounges weren't bad either!!

  by EastCleveland
Whenever my family traveled on the New York Central's Cleveland Limited during the 50s and 60s, we always traveled in coach. And "dined" at our seats.

On the westbound train, a weird little railroad employee would board at Albany. His job was to quickly make his way through the coaches, selling "refreshments" right in the aisle from a kind of metal picnic basket.

As I recall, the typical menu consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches (on Wonder Bread, of course) and a choice of Pepsi Cola, Sunny Boy orange drink, or hot coffee poured from a Thermos.

You had to decide quickly. It seems that the guy had to complete his business during the 20 minutes it took us to reach Schenectady, where he hopped off the train and (presumably) caught the next eastbound run back to Albany.

As for dinner in the diner. . . my family was on an extremely tight budget. So I never got to see the inside of a dining car.

Come to think of it, I'm not certain I knew that such cars even existed.
  by Gilbert B Norman
The at seat "news butchers" were a feature on many a road, especially in the Northeast.

The New Haven had this service on practically any Shore Line train; they used an outside contractor named New Haven Foods. I believe most runs originated at, surprise, New Haven.

I'm not certain whether the fellow observed by Mr. Cleveland was a railroad employee or an outside contractor.

The PRR also had "butchers" on their end of the Corridor; however, P-Road used railroad employees for the service.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Mon Jul 26, 2004 6:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by John_Perkowski
BUT!!! Their news butchers hawked good food!!! (Of course, the service was provided by DSG).

They had a marble pound cake I just loved.

When I remember the standard Germanic tray breakfast, I still think to happy memories. No cheap imitation flavored corn syrup ... honey, real fruit jams, and Danish butter.

They'd have a cart on D-Zugs, the porter would have a kitchen on Trans-Euro-Nacht (TEN) sleepers, and the same stuff was on the menu in diners and Quik-Pik (lunch counter diners) of InterCity trains and the TEE Rheingold.


  by AmtrakFan
I wish I was born to see those days I was born about 35 Yrs too late. Amtrak Can be good but not what it was like back then.


  by Ken W2KB
For a, albeir slow moving, but current experience, try one of the upscale dinner train operations. For example, the Newport, RI Dinner Train.
  by Noel Weaver
Especially good meals:
Baltimore and Ohio, New York Central, Seaboard Coast Line, Erie-Lackawanna and the two Canadian Railways.
Poorest meals: Penn Central snack bar coaches.
In many cases, the railroads showed off their passenger service and
indeed their company immage in their dining cars. Virtually all of the
railroads west of Chicago had excellent dining car service and food.
I recall one trip in the mid to late 1960's, I rode both the Kansas City
Southern and the Frisco in the last days of Frisco passenger service. The
food on the KCS was outstanding although not fancy. The food on the
Frisco? I doubt if my cat would even eat it, a dried up hamburger and
some terrible potato chips, the gentleman who served it to me was decent,
it was not his fault, it was what the railroad provided him.
My home railroad, the New Haven??, in the last year or two, their dining
cars were not in good shape and were staffed in some cases by only a
total of two people, one in the kitchen and one server. There were water
and steam leaks all over the place and the cars were dirty. It went from
bad to worse, however, after the Penn-Central, the diners came off, every
one of them for snack bar coaches in which the only safe food was in cans
and bottles.
As for the news butchers on the New Haven Railroad in the 1960's, some
were employed and supplied by the Union News Company and they sold
candy bars, soda and in some cases sandwiches. The better ones were
railroad employees who sold sandwiches and soda for the most part.
The sandwiches were made in a small compact kitchen located at the east
end of track 7-9 in the New Haven Station. This was one of the very first
things eliminated by Penn-Central and the little kitchen was gutted and
turned into of all things, a place to keep the stuff they use to dump the
toilets in the M-2 cars. I do not know if it is still there today or not.
I still remember the paper label on the ham sandwiches, they said:
NEW HAVEN RAILROAD - Prepared in our own New Haven, Connecticut
kitchen containing bread, butter, ham and mustard.
Some of the people doing this ended up working the bar cars in later years, don't know if any of them still work for Metro-North or not.
Noel Weaver
Noel Weaver

  by LI Loco
While I never ate in a dining car prior to "A-Day," I enjoyed several fine meals on the Southern's famed "Southern Crescent" when I lived in South Carolina in the mid-1970s. The dinner entree I tried - prime rib, fried chicken, turkey - were excellent. However, my most memorable was a breakfast I had heading from Greenville to Gainesville.

This day, the train was mobbed with railfans en route to catch a two-day Atlanta-Washington excursion being hauled by Southern Pacific #4449, a Daylight 4-8-4 steam locomotive being used to pull the American Freedom Train. Because of a drawbridge problem in Connecticut, SOU #1 was running two hours late, forcing us to make the connection in Gainesville instead of Atlanta.

Breakfast began with the sweetest piece of cantaloupe I had ever tasted, followed by scrambled eggs with chopped ham, grits and the Southern's famous bran muffins. The quality of the food and service were top notch and helped relieve the sting of a late running train and over 100 miles of lost travel (between Gainesville and Atlanta).

P.S. #4449 was great, too.
  by bill haithcoat
I remember the Southern Crescent had a truly delicious baked chicken dinner. I would ride it over from ATl to BHM in the morning, just to ride it back BHM to ATL that night and eat that particular dinner.
  by walt
Gilbert B Norman wrote:The at seat "news butchers" were a feature on many a road, especially in the Northeast.

The New Haven had this service on practically any Shore Line train; they used an outside contractor named New Haven Foods. I believe most runs originated at, surprise, New Haven.
The New Haven, as late as 1965, retained "standard" dining car service on at least some of those trains. I remember a trip in the summer of 1965 on the "Merchant's Limited" during which I rode on my cousin's pass--- He was a chief dining car steward and the Merchant's was his train. I had to wait until they "fed the train" ( fed all of the paying passengers) then someone came and got me and took me into the dining car. They apologized because they couldn't give me the steak, but I had some of the best roast beef I've ever had, with corn on the cob, and as much as I could eat ( which at 19 years old, was plenty). I spent the rest of the trip into Grand Central in the dining car with my cousin who explained the operation of the service to me at some length. Was a very good trip.