The Mainstreeter

The Mainstreeter is sometimes forgotten as one of the Pacific Northwest's important transcontinental streamliners for a few reasons: first, the Northern Pacific simply did not offer that many trains between Seattle and Chicago due to the fact that allying road Great Northern offered the bulk of these services; and second, the train was a late unveiling by the NP as it did not begin operations until the early 1950s. Despite the train's lack of publicity it proved a very important run for the railroad. While the North Coast Limited always made headlines its second-tier sibling worked quietly earning the NP steady profits through the movement of mail and seasonal vacationers to the popular Yellowstone National Park.  Overall, the Mainstreeter operated for nearly 20 years, through the Burlington Northern merger, and up until the start of Amtrak in the spring of 1971 when it was finally discontinued.

An all-matching Northern Pacific passenger train with F3A #6505A, adorned in the road's beautiful two-tone green livery, departs Portland Union Station in April of 1964.

Before the Northern Pacific launched the Mainstreeter there was another train serving its territory, known as the Alaskan. This run had a history that closely paralleled the NP's crack North Coast Limited, which was launched in late April of 1900. As a secondary consist the Alaskan's primary responsibility was to provide local and intermediate service between Chicago and Seattle whereas the flagship was a fast express, limited stop train. Reaching the two cities required help from allying roads; the Burlington between Minneapolis and Chicago as well as the Seattle, Portland & Spokane for the connecting section to Portland (via Spokane). For a half-century little changed with either train except improved transit times, faster and more powerful steam locomotives, and all-steel heavyweight cars. However, all of this changed with the streamliner age that dawned in 1934 when the Union Pacific and Burlington both successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of the gleaming, colorful, and fast trains.

In 1946 the North Coast Limited was entirely reequipped with new, lightweight equipment from Pullman-Standard, which had been ordered two years earlier in 1944. The train was bedecked in a stunning two-tone green livery with white trim. Despite the NCL's new look it still did not offer comparable running times with either the Great Northern's Empire Builder or the Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha.  This changed in November of 1952 when the Northern Pacific cut the NCL's schedule to just over 37 hours but doing so reduced many stops along the way. To  continue providing local service the NP inaugurated the Mainstreeter, named after the railroad's slogan as "Main Street of the Northwest." Using a mix of rebuilt heavyweight cars and newer lightweight equipment the train ran a schedule nearly 10 hours longer than its big sister (46.5 hours).

This beautiful Northern Pacific consist includes lead F3A #6506C, two F7Bs (#6511B and #6513B), and F7A #6507A as they lead their passenger train out of St. Paul, Minnesota on the evening of June 14, 1964.

From the outset the train was always listed as #1 (westbound) and #2 (eastbound) on NP's official timetable, replacing the NCL's numbers which gained the slots of #25 (westbound) and #24 (eastbound). Despite the fact that the train  ran a slow schedule, even in comparison to the GN's Western Star (the secondary run to the Builder), and was only semi-streamlined it was nevertheless adorned in NP's classic two-tone green passenger scheme as well. The Mainstreeter's consist comprised  a wide range of equipment depending on needs and demand. However, typically, one could find its makeup including a half-dozen heavyweight baggage cars (especially in the later years), a standard Railway Post Office (RPO), a handful of reclining seat coaches, one sleeper, and a diner (between St. Paul and Pasco, Washington).  Power for the train during the diesel era could be one of a number of early Electro-Motive Division F models from F3s and F7s to FP7s and F9s.

(The below Mainstreeter timetable from the Official Guide is dated effective 1969.)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #51/Chicago, Burlington & Quincy) Milepost Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #10/Chicago, Burlington & Quincy)
10:45 PM (Dp)0.0
Chicagi, IL (Union Station) (CT)
11:15 PM (Ar)
11:22 PM38
Aurora, IL
10:30 PM
12:02 AM83
Rochelle, IL
9:50 PM
12:18 AM98
Oregon, IL
9:34 PM
1:30 AM145
Savanna, IL
8:50 PM
2:33 AM186
East Dubuque, IL
8:11 PM
3:31 AM239
Prairie du Chien, WI
7:18 PM
4:30 AM297
La Crosse, WI
6:26 PM
5:15 AM328
Winona Junction, MN
5:52 PM
7:15 AM (Ar)427
St. Paul, MN
4:30 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #1/Northern Pacific) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #2/Northern Pacific)
7:45 AM (Dp)0.0
St. Paul, MN
2:55 PM (Ar)
8:10 AM (Ar)11
Minneapolis, MN
2:30 PM (Dp)
8:20 AM (Dp)11
Minneapolis, MN
2:20 PM (Ar)
F 8:54 AM40
Elk River, MN
F 1:40 PM
9:29 AM76
St. Cloud, MN
1:02 PM
10:04 AM107
Little Falls, MN
12:23 PM
10:39 AM (Ar)141
Staples, MN
11:45 AM (Dp)
10:43 AM (Dp)141
Staples, MN
11:40 AM (Ar)
11:04 AM159
Wadena, MN
11:17 AM
11:27 AM182
Perham, MN
10:50 AM
11:47 AM203
Detroit Lakes, MN
10:28 AM
12:11 PM (Ar)228
Hawley, MN
9:57 AM (Dp)
12:11 PM (Dp)228
Hawley, MN
9:57 AM (Ar)
12:42 PM251
Moorhead, MN
9:25 AM
12:50 PM (Ar)252
Fargo, ND
9:23 AM (Dp)
1:05 PM (Dp)252
Fargo, ND
9:13 AM (Ar)
1:23 PM272
Casselton, ND
8:46 AM
1:56 PM310
Valley City, ND
8:13 AM
2:38 PM (Ar)344
Jamestown, ND
7:38 AM (Dp)
2:44 PM (Dp)344
Jamestown, ND
7:33 AM (Ar)
F 3:36 PM402
Steele, ND
6:32 AM
4:19 PM (Ar)446
Bismarck, ND
5:53 AM (Dp)
4:19 PM (Dp)446
Bismarck, ND
5:53 AM (Ar)
4:34 PM (Ar)451
Mandan, ND (CT)
5:40 AM (Dp)
4:49 PM (Dp)451
Mandan, ND (CT)
5:25 AM (Ar)
3:49 PM (Dp)451
Mandan, ND (MT)
4:25 AM (Ar)
4:14 PM473
Judson, ND
F 3:45 AM
4:20 PM479
New Salem, ND
F 3:37 AM
F 4:29 PM484
North Almont, ND
F 3:31 AM
4:42 PM500
Glen Ullin, ND
F 3:17 AM
5:02 PM512
Hebron, ND
3:00 AM
5:21 PM527
Richardton, ND
F 2:46 AM
5:30 PM532
Taylor, ND
F 2:40 AM
5:42 PM540
Gladstone, ND
F 2:32 AM
6:03 PM (Ar)552
Dickinson, ND
2:20 AM (Dp)
6:18 PM (Dp)552
Dickinson, ND
2:05 AM (Ar)
6:32 PM562
South Heart, ND
F 1:47 AM
6:49 PM572
Belfield, ND
1:37 AM
7:20 PM591
Medora, ND
F 1:14 AM
7:41 PM608
Sentinel Butte, ND
F 12:57 AM
7:56 PM616
Beach, ND
12:47 AM
8:06 PM627
Wibaux, MT
F 12:33 AM
8:55 PM (Ar)657
Glendive, MT
12:02 AM (Dp)
9:15 PM (Dp)657
Glendive, MT
11:42 PM (Ar)
687
Fallon, MT
F 11:05 PM
F 9:53 PM697
Terry, MT
F 10:56 PM
10:49 PM736
Miles City, MT
9:55 PM
11:44 PM (Ar)781
Forsyth, MT
9:11 PM (Dp)
11:47 PM (Dp)781
Forsyth, MT
9:08 PM (Ar)
F 12:14 AM809
Hysham, MT
F 8:38 PM
F 12:36 AM830
Custer, MT
F 8:13 PM
1:32 AM (Ar)883
Billings, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
7:22 PM (Dp)
1:47 AM (Dp)883
Billings, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
7:07 PM (Ar)
2:07 AM898
Laurel, MT
6:43 PM
2:31 AM923
Columbus, MT
F 6:18 PM
3:15 AM964
Big Timber, MT
5:36 PM
3:57 AM (Ar)999
Livingston, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
5:05 PM (Dp)
4:05 AM (Dp)999
Livingston, MT (Bus Connection To Yellowstone National Park Via Mammoth.)
4:55 PM (Ar)
4:50 AM (Ar)1023
Bozeman, MT
4:16 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #1/Via Helena) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #2/Via Helena)
4:50 AM (Dp)1023
Bozeman, MT
4:16 PM (Dp)
5:00 AM1032
Belgrade, MT
5:10 AM1041
Manhattan, MT
5:19 AM1047
Logan, MT
3:45 PM
F 5:29 AM1053
Trident, MT
F 6:00 AM1077
Toston, MT
F 2:54 PM
6:16 AM1088
Townsend, MT
2:40 PM
7:00 AM (Ar)1121
Helena, MT
1:56 PM (Dp)
7:05 AM (Dp)1121
Helena, MT
1:51 PM (Ar)
F 7:29 AM1134
Austin, MT
7:51 AM1150
Elliston, MT
F 1:04 PM
8:07 AM1159
Avon, MT
F 12:55 PM
8:29 AM (Ar)1172
Garrison, MT
12:38 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #1) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #2)
8:34 AM (Dp)1170
Garrison, MT
12:30 PM (Ar)
8:58 AM1190
Drummond, MT
12:04 PM
9:48 AM (Ar)1238
Missoula, MT
11:17 AM (Dp)
10:01 AM (Dp)1238
Missoula, MT
11:02 AM (Ar)
11:02 AM1276
Ravalli, MT
9:57 AM
F 11:24 AM1297
Perma, MT
F 9:36 AM
11:41 AM (Ar)1309
Paradise, MT (MT)
9:20 AM (Dp)
10:44 AM (Dp)1309
Paradise, MT (PT)
8:15 AM (Ar)
11:24 AM1341
Thompson Falls, MT
7:25 AM
12:04 PM1379
Noxon, MT
6:40 AM
12:54 PM1428
Sandpoint, ID
5:45 AM
F 1:24 PM1456
Athol, ID
F 5:15 AM
2:09 PM (Ar)1496
Spokane, WA
4:35 AM (Dp)
2:19 PM (Dp)1496
Spokane, WA
4:25 AM (Ar)
2:44 PM1512
Cheney, WA
3:52 AM
F 3:29 PM1561
Ritzville, WA
F 2:58 AM
F 4:26 PM1606
Connell, WA
F 1:56 AM
5:08 PM (Ar)1642
Pasco, WA
1:15 AM (Dp)
5:23 PM (Dp)1642
Pasco, WA
1:05 AM (Ar)
5:33 PM1644
Kennewick, WA
12:55 AM
6:18 PM1681
Prosser, WA
F 12:15 AM
6:49 PM1712
Toppenish, WA
11:46 PM
7:23 PM (Ar)1731
Yakima, WA
11:24 PM (Dp)
7:28 PM (Dp)1731
Yakima, WA
11:19 PM (Ar)
8:23 PM1768
Ellensburg, WA
10:21 PM
F 8:55 PM1792
Cle Elum, WA
9:53 PM
F 9:59 PM1827
Lester, WA
F 8:53 PM
F 10:08 PM1835
Maywood, WA
F 8:40 PM
10:33 PM1850
Kanaskat, WA
8:16 PM
11:05 PM (Ar)1869
East Auburn, WA
7:50 PM (Dp)
11:10 PM (Dp)1869
East Auburn, WA
7:45 PM (Ar)
11:45 PM (Ar)1892
Seattle, WA (King Street Station)
7:15 PM (Dp)

Interestingly, the NP, aside from the two FP7s it owned, never fleeted any passenger-specific diesels such as EMD's E models or American Locomotive Company PAs.  In later years the sleeper was dropped for a Slumbercoach and dining service was discontinued for an economy buffet car. In spite of  declining traffic through the 1950s and 1960s the train remained a somewhat profitable operation, at least until the United States Postal Service cancelled mail contracts after 1967. Even then the Mainstreeter remained on the timetable through the 1970 Burlington Northern merger. By this point its scheduling had declined to the point that it required 48 hours to complete the journey between Chicago and Seattle.  Further cutbacks took place just prior to Amtrak Day when the train was truncated no further east than St. Paul.  It continued running this schedule until privately operated passenger services ceased after April 30, 1971.


An A-B-B set of Northern Pacific F3s, led by #6503C, run light through the yard at St. Paul on the evening of June 3, 1964.

For more on the NP you might want to consider the book Northern Pacific Railway Photo Archive by John Kelly. The author gives a superb pictorial history of the railroad from the 1930s through the 1960s and features both freight and passenger operations If you have any kind of an interest in the Northern Pacific you are sure to enjoy Sullivan's book. Also, consider the book Dining Car to the Pacific: The "Famously Good" Food of the Northern Pacific Railway by author William McKenzie. The book is over 160 pages in length and details the exquisite food served aboard the Northern Pacific's plush passenger trains. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

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