The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad: Way of the Zephyrs

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, better remembered as The Burlington Route, is best remembered for its Zephyr lightweight streamlined trainsets which were revolutionary and very successful when they debuted in 1934. Perhaps less recognized is the company itself, which because of sound business practices throughout its history was never in financial distress. The Burlington was also quite close with the communities it served making it beloved like few other railroads.  During the road's height it spanned across most of the Midwest and thanks to acquisitions like the Colorado & Southern and Fort Worth & Denver was able to reach into Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.  Its legend continues to live on today through its Zephyr trains and Chicago main line which sees hundreds of freight trains daily operated by successor BNSF Railway.

An A-B-A lahsup of CB&Q covered wagons led by F7A #165 lead their manifest freight through Milledgeville, Illinois September 14, 1964. Interestingly enough, the Burlington had a unique designation for how it classified sets of F units; a standard A-B-A lashup was labeled A-B-C, an A-B-B-A was listed as A-B-C-D, and so forth.

Like most now-famous fallen flags, the Burlington can trace its existence to a predecessor railroad, which was chartered in 1849 to connect Aurora, Illinois with another railroad at Turner Junction, Illinois, the Aurora Branch Railroad. After an earlier name change in 1855 the railroad was renamed the final time as the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. After this the railroad began rapidly expanding across the Midwest through construction and outright takeover of other small or startup railroads. By 1864 the CB&Q had reached Chicago, the very same line that today sees hundreds of BNSF Railway freights daily. Throughout the rest of the 19th century the railroad continued building and growing, reaching cities like St. Louis (1894), Omaha (1871), Kansas City (1869), Denver (1882), Minneapolis/St. Paul (1886), and by the early 20th century it reached its final length when it had extended to the states of Wyoming, Montana, Texas, and New Mexico.

It was during this time that the railroad was sold to legendary tycoon James J. Hill. The Burlington already connected with Hill’s Great Northern and Northern Pacific at several locations allowing for increased traffic to flow along all three lines, not mention a boost in profits. It was also under Hill’s reign that the Burlington increased its reach into states such as Wyoming, Kentucky, Colorado, and Texas.  Perhaps, though, the railroad’s most influential president was Ralph Budd. Under his direction the railroad would become an efficient, lean operation that earned substantial revenues while also remembering its roots. Budd, unlike most railroad presidents and management, did not hold onto outdated and ignorant practices (which, even today continues, albeit to a much lesser extent). He realized as early as the 1930s that railroads would need to continually come up with innovative ways to retain traffic, including passengers.

It was during this time that, in conjunction with the then Electro-Motive Corporation the Zephyr was born, which would revolutionize train travel. These articulated trainsets were streamlined, lightweight designs that would be powered by the new diesel engine, which allowed for efficiencies far beyond what steam could provide. The first of these trainsets, cast in all stainless steel, was the Zephyr #9900 and after touring across the country made its famous nonstop trip between Denver and Chicago in mere hours, an unheard of accomplishment for its day. Not surprisingly this alone coupled with the trains high speeds made the Zephyr an instant hit with the public and the Burlington would go on to order several of these trainsets. Of course, the Burlington loved the streamliners as well due to their extremely inexpensive costs to both build and maintain.

While the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy operated a number of Zephyrs including the Twin Cities Zephyr, Mark Twain Zephyr, Denver Zephyr, and Ozark State Zephyr perhaps the railroad’s most famous was the California Zephyr which was jointly run with the Rio Grande and Western Pacific. The train traveled through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and it was not surprising that it continued to do well even when train travel by the 1960s and 1970s was waning with the public. The train would eventually be operated only by the Rio Grande (which was then renamed as the Rio Grande Zephyr) and after it relinquished the train to Amtrak in the 1980s it was not only retained but also returned to its original name.

An assortment of Burlington Geeps led by GP30 #968 are clipping right along with their manifest freight in tow through Lisle, Illinois on May 24, 1964.

While Budd retired from the CB&Q in 1949 his legacy was far reaching. Always looking for ways to cut costs and improve service he oversaw the beginnings of switching the railroad to diesel power and the Burlington had nearly 2,000 miles of track under Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) by the mid-1960s! The railroad, however, was destined to be merged with its allying roads the Great Northern (which controlled the CB&Q); Spokane, Portland & Seattle; and Northern Pacific. It was simply a matter of when, as many speculated.

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CB&Q VO-1000 #9367 wears the road's classic Everywhere West slogan as the unit sits at the Western Avenue Yard in Chicago on September 14, 1965.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The Burlington became popular in the 1960s for hosting numerous steam-powered excursions by sparing a few units from retirement to do so. Seen here is Class O-5a 4-8-4 #5632 speeding westbound through Hinsdale, Illinois on April 28, 1963.

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
FTA100A-115A, 100D-115D194432
FTB100B-115B, 100C-115C194432
F2A150A-154A, 156C-159C19469
F3A116A-128A, 116D-129D, 130A-138A, 130D-138D, 160A-162A, 9960A-9962A, 9960D-9962D1947-194954
F3B116B-138B, 116C-138C, 160B-162B, 160C-162C, 9960B-9962B1947-194955
NW2150-153 (C&S)1947-19484
SW7154 (C&S)19501
SW1200156-160 (C&S)19595
F7A163A-169A, 167C-169C195010
GP40170-189, 620-6391966-196840
SD7300-324, 400-4111952-195337
SD9325-374, 430-4591954-195780
NW2603, 605-606 (FW&DC)1941-19463
SW1200607-610 (FW&DC)19594
F7A700A-702A, 700D-702D (C&S)19506
F7B700B-702B, 700C-702C (C&S)19506
F9A700D (C&S)19591
F9A750A (FW&DC)19591
F7A750A-752A, 750D-752D (FW&DC)19506
F7B750B-752B, 750C-752C (FW&DC)19506
SD7810-819 (C&S)195310
SD9820-846 (C&S)1957-195927
SD7850-860 (FW&DC)195311
SD40875-887 (C&S)1967-196813
TR29400A-9413A, 9400B-9413B1947-194928
Zephyr Trainset9900-9905, 9906A-9907A, 9906B-9907B, 99081934-193911
E5A9909, 9910A-9912A, 9913, 9914A, 9914B, 9915A, 9915B1940-19418
E7A9916A-9937A, 9916B-9936B, 99491945-194944
E8A9937B, 9938A-9949A, 9938B-9948B, 9964-99691950-195230
E5A9950A (C&S)19401
E5B9950B (C&S)19401
E5A9980A (FW&DC)19401
E5B9980B (FW&DC)19401
E8A9981A, 9981B (FW&DC)19522
E9A9985A-9989A, 9985B-9989B, 9990-99951954-195616

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
U28B106-115, 140-1491966-196720
U30C890-893 (C&S)19684

Burlington Class O-1a 2-8-2 Mike #4960 is all shined up as she leads an excursion through Zearing, Illinois on a cool March 21, 1965.

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
A-1 Through A-6American4-4-0
D-1 Through D-7Consolidation2-8-0
F-1, F-2Switcher0-8-0
G-1 Through G-10Switcher0-6-0
H Through H-4Mogul2-6-0
I-1Saddle Tank0-6-2T
K-1 Through K-10American4-6-0
M-1 Through M-3Santa Fe2-10-2
O-1 Through O-4Mikado2-8-2
P-1 Through P-6Atlantic4-4-2
R-1 Through R-5Prairie2-6-2
S-1 Through S-3Pacific4-6-2
T-1, T-2Articulated2-6-6-2

Another view of 4-8-4 #5632 shows the unit wearing a special all-gold livery on May 24, 1964 in celebration of the opening of Burlington's main line between Chicago and Aurora.

Notable Passenger Trains

California Zephyr

Denver Zephyr

Empire Builder

North Coast Limited

Pioneer Zephyr

Afternoon Zephyr: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr: (Chicago - Lincoln)

American Royal Zephyr: (Chicago - Kansas City)

Blackhawk: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Exposition Flyer: Operated in Junction with the Western Pacific and Rio Grande between Chicago and Oakland until the debut of the California Zephyr in 1949.

Running elephant-style are three CB&Q E8As led by #9973 as they hustle a passenger train under the signal tower at Westmont, Illinois on July 30, 1965.

Kansas City Zephyr: (Chicago - Kansas City)

Mainstreeter: Operated between Chicago and Seattle via allying roads Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland & Seattle.

Morning Zephyr: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Nebraska Zephyr: (Chicago - Lincoln)

Pioneer Zephyr: (West Quincy - Hannibal, Missouri)

Sam Houston Zephyr: (Dallas - Houston)

Texas Zephyr: (Denver - Dallas)

Western Star: Operated between Chicago and Seattle via allying roads Great Northern and Spokane, Portland & Seattle.

Zephyr Rocket: Operated between Minneapolis and St. Louis in conjunction with the Rock Island.

While never one of EMD's more popular models, the Burlington owned 16 SD24s; pictured here is #501 leading three GP30s as they zip a freight train through Downers Grove, Illinois on July 2, 1965. Note the numerous classic cars in the scene.

While trying for years this did not come to fruition until 1970 when the ICC finally granted permission to do so forming the then Burlington Northern. The BN, however, would last only 25 years before merging with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe to become the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, today known as simply the BNSF Railway.   Even though the Burlington is no more today it continues to live on as almost all of its main lines are still important routes for its successor. Forever recognized as one of the best managed railroads of all time perhaps it is best remembered by the communities it served as a down home company who deeply cared about its roots, something all but lost in today’s Class I systems.

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