The Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, famously known as The Rebel Route, gained its celebrated slogan from the small fleet of passenger trains known as Rebels, with the most famous of these trains called simply the Rebel. The GM&O is not well remembered for its passenger services. This is likely due to the fact that it bailed out of the Deep South passenger market in the 1950s due to stiff competition from the Illinois Central and Louisville & Nashville despite the fact that the railroad was one of the earliest to begin experimenting with the streamliner concept in the mid-1930s. Regardless, its small fleet of Rebels made enough of an impression that they are still remembered today by many in the railroading ranks and those who were lucky enough to ride aboard them.
Similar to the Chessie System in the east, the Gulf Mobile and Ohio of the Midwest and South was a short-lived railroad whose legend continues to live on today. The GM&O wasn’t created until the early days of diesel power and it was gone by the early 1970s. However, during its roughly 40 years of operation it was a fierce competitor and although always surrounded by giants it held its own in many of the markets it served, which is not surprising as the railroad is also known as The Rebel Route. What became the classic Rebel passenger train actually has its beginnings dating back to GM&O predecessor, Gulf, Mobile & Northern which has the distinction of inaugurating the first southern streamliner, the Rebel in 1935.
While this train may not be as well known as the Super Chief or Empire Builder it brought about two drastic upgrades to passenger rail operations. First, the original Rebel was a three-car streamlined “trainset,” similar to that of the Burlington’s famous Zephyr 9900. However, along with including more boxy streamlining than the Zephyr, the Rebel also had the ability to interchange or add cars (unlike the Zephyr and many other articulated, streamlined trainsets debuting around the country during that time which were rigid, semi-permanently coupled trains). The Rebel also featured on board hostesses, perhaps the very first train to introduce such services.
The original three-car Rebel streamliner was built by American Car & Foundry with the power car provided by the American Locomotive Company (Alco). While the train’s initial route connected Jackson, Tennessee, with either New Orleans or Mobile, Alabama (the train split at Union, Mississippi), in 1942 it was stretched to St. Louis after the merger between the M&O and GM&N, and the trainsets were pulled off line in favor of true, streamlined passenger equipment.
The original Rebel could connect Jackson with New Orleans in just over fourteen hours while it reach Mobile in under thirteen hours. Both trips carried an average train speed of between 32 and 34 mph. Being an articulated trainset the consist was rather simple and included just a few cars; the shovelnose powered car with baggage compartment, coach/buffet, and lounge/sleeper observation. The train was also designed by famed industrial designer Otto Kuhler who helped improve the looks of numerous famous streamliners such as the Baltimore & Ohio's Royal Blue, Milwaukee Road's Hiawathas, and the Lehigh Valley's Black Diamond. For more information regarding the Rebel please click here.
The updated version of the Rebel featured a beautiful livery of red and silver with power provided by GE-Alco in the way of a DL-series, slant-nosed diesel locomotive (similar in looks and length of an EMD E series model). When the GM&O merged with the Alton Railroad it ordered new, lightweight equipment and furthered its reach to both Chicago and St. Louis. While the Rebel was the railroad’s most famous passenger train it did provide other services including the Gulf Coast Rebel (St. Louis – Mobile, Alabama), the Abraham Lincoln (Chicago – St. Louis), Alton Limited (Chicago – Mobile), and Ann Rutledge (Chicago – St. Louis).
Of note, it should be mentioned that the latter three trains were Alton Railroad services continued on after the merger. In any event, the GM&O simply could not effectively compete with the more luxurious and faster running times of trains like the Panama Limited and City of New Orleans offered by rival Illinois Central. So, as it were, the GM&O decided to focus more on freight services and less on passenger operations and pulled all of its trains operating south of St. Louis in 1958 (which included all of the Rebel services).