While the Wabash Railroad was never a large carrier its legendary status far surpasses its size.
The railroad was a Midwestern system connecting Buffalo with
cities such as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Omaha. At
its peak it was only a little over 2,000 miles in length but its bridge
line status, markets it served, and high speed freight service
made it quite successful, especially during its latter
years. Eventually the Wabash was swept up in the merger mania
beginning in the late 1950s and after a long stint under Pennsylvania
Railroad ownership it eventually became part of the sprawling, and growing, Norfolk
& Western system in the 1960s.
The Wabash never had an extensive passenger fleet although it did provide high-quality service with names like the Banner Blue Limited and Midnight Special. Perhaps most legendary, however, was the Wabash Cannon Ball, which operated between Detroit and St. Louis. The irony here is that this train began as a fictional name, which became popular in the American folk song first credited to J. A. Roff in 1882 entitled "The Great Rock Island Route." Over the years the legend of this train endured to the point that the Wabash renamed its daytime train between Detroit - St. Louis as the Wabash Cannon Ball. Even more incredible is the fact that the train remained so popular with the general public that it survived right up until Amtrak in 1971 after the N&W attempted to discontinue it in the 1960s.
The Blue Bird was the Wabash’s late entrance into the streamliner
revolution, with the railroad debuting the St. Louis-Chicago train on February 26, 1950. Prior its launching the railroad had long been known for providing quality service amongst a long list of named trains such as the St. Louis Limited, Detroit Special, Pacific Coast Limited, Kansas City Express, St. Louis Special, Chicago Arrow, Red Bird, and numerous others. The Wabash apparently wasn't particularly attracted to the pizazz of the streamliner movement prior to World War II; its first such lightweight train was Union Pacific's City of St. Louis, which began using the Wabash between Kansas City and St. Louis in 1946. The railroad's first streamliner of its own was the City of Kansas City introduced a year later running between the same cities.
The uniqueness of the Blue Bird, a factor that ultimately
very successful, was the use of four Budd-built Vista-Dome cars
including three coaches and a parlor-lounge. To keep up with demand
the Wabash eventually purchased a fifth dome-lounge, which featured the
famous "Blue Bird Room." This dome along with the train's other
consist, a baggage-lunch counter-lounge, and diner lounge were all built
by Pullman-Standard. For power the train featured E7A diesel
from Electro-Motive and later also acquired a large batch of the
builder's upgraded E8 model. An interesting aspect of the train's
success can almost certainly be attributed to the use of those domes as,
according to Mike Schafer and Joe Welsh's book Streamliners: History Of A Railroad Icon, the Wabash's "...route between Chicago and St. Louis traversed some of the flattest countryside in all of Mid-America."
(The below Blue Bird timetable is dated effective April of 1950. For additional timetable and consist information please click here.)
|Read Down Time/Leave (Train #24)
Time/Arrive (Train #21)
|8:55 AM (Dp)||0.0||St. Louis, MO (Union Station) (CT)||10:00 PM (Ar)|
|9:08 AM||5.6||St. Louis, MO (Delmar Boulevard)||9:42 PM|
|F 9:32 AM||8.3||Granite City, IL||F 9:16 PM|
|52.3||Litchfield, IL||F 8:31 PM|
|F 10:39 AM||84.8||Taylorville, IL||F 8:01 PM|
|11:07 AM (Ar)||113.2||Decatur, IL||7:33 PM (Dp)|
|11:10 AM (Dp)||113.2||Decatur, IL||7:30 PM (Ar)|
|193.3||Forrest, IL||6:14 PM|
|1:50 PM||279.1||Chicago, IL (Englewood Station/63rd Street)||F 4:49 PM|
|2:05 PM (Ar)||285.7||Chicago, IL (Dearborn Station) (CT)||4:35 PM (Dp)|
For a regional operation the train was very stylish featuring a
striking livery of dark blue and gray in conjunction with the stainless
steel of the Budd cars (which also sported the blue and gray paint).
The interior of the train was just as elegant and classy with various
blues used throughout. While the Illinois Central
is often credited with offering some of the finest passenger operations
in the Midwest the Wabash actually did quite well competing against it
between Chicago and St. Louis. The train made a round trip each day
between the two cities and had a sister train, the Banner Blue,
which carried out daytime services (until 1960 it normally operated with
heavyweight equipment). According to the railroad's official 1950
Trains #24 (northbound) and #21 (southbound) could make the run between
the two cities in just over 5 hours carrying an average train speed
around 55 mph. For more reading about the Wabash's passenger services please click here.
The Blue Bird became so popular that the railroad was forced to add an additional dome-parlor to meet demand for first-class service. Interestingly,
the Wabash’s trains outlived their owner. In 1964 the railroad became
part of the Norfolk & Western, which, not known for extensive
passenger operations itself was disinterested in continuing to run most
of the Wabash’s trains. As a result, much of the railroad's passenger equipment was
used on other N&W trains although a semblance of the Blue Bird remained on the scheduled timetable after the merger. In 1968 the train was cutback to Decatur, Illinois and renamed the City of Decatur. It remained on N&W's timetable until the end when Amtrak took over intercity passenger rail operations on May 1, 1971.
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The Blue Bird