1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Fallen Flags
  4.  ›
  5. Southern Pacific
  6.  ›
  7. Argonaut

The Argonaut

Last revised: May 6, 2023

By: Adam Burns

In time the Southern Pacific's Sunset Route earned near mythical status thanks to its beauty and the chance to travel via one train from New Orleans to Los Angeles with connections available to Florida. 

The top run on this route was, of course, the popular Sunset Limited, considered one of the railroad's most prominent on its entire system.  Its counterpart, running on a slower schedule with more economical ticket prices, was the Argonaut.  

This train, launched in the 1920s, was never streamlined nor offered the same level of amenities as the more prominent Sunset.  However, it nevertheless provided fine accommodations in typical Espee style. 

As ridership declined the train became a regional serving Texas and New Orleans until it was finally dropped altogether in the early 1960s.

The Sunset Limited was an interesting affair.  Here was a train considered by the Southern Pacific as its flagship to the Gulf Coast for many years and advertised as the, "Quickest, Safest and most pleasant route to the Coast.

As it grew in popularity Southern Pacific continued upgrading its services; during World War I it became a daily departure and in 1936 was given the recognition as trains #1 (westbound) and #2 (eastbound) on the timetable.  By then, the streamliner era was underway. 

Yet, while the Espee was an early proponent of this new craze, launching its first Daylight in 1937, the railroad was slow to upgrade its Sunset Limited with lightweight equipment until after World War II.  Once doing so, however, it could reasonably be argued it was worth the wait with the arrival of five new trainsets from the Budd Company and E7 diesels from Electro-Motive, all wearing the railroad's venerable Daylight livery.

The Argonaut was launched by SP in 1926 to complement the Sunset and offer passengers a less expensive alternative to the latter's first-class accommodations. 

It ran on a schedule of about 5 hours slower than the Sunset and offer a heavyweight consist of several head-end mail/express cars, standard coaches, sleepers, and a moderately priced diner.  With the introduction of the Argonaut the Espee began prominently advertising both the trains in print media. 

One particular piece had this to say about the train: 

"California sunshine all of the way via the Sunset Limited.  Old missions and churches, quaint and colorful, weave their magic spell over the Sunset Route between New Orleans and Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Here Spaniard, Indian and Mexican have contributed landmarks and customs which make this truly a foreign tour along our southern border."

"The Sunset Limited, a luxurious all-steel train, leaves New Orleans daily at 10:40 A.M. Club Car; Observation Car; Ladies' Lounge and Bath; Superb equipment throughout.  Another excellent train, the Argonaut, with wide vestibule Observation Car, and through sleeper for San Diego via Carriso Gorge, leaves New Orleans daily at 11:00 P.M."

"Liberal stopovers at New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, etc.  Convenient service for the Apache Trail motor side trip.  Sunset Route.  While in the West see the whole Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada - thriving cities, age-old missions, gigantic trees, majestic peaks, the romance and picturesqueness of the Orient - 1,300 miles of inspiration and beauty, at an additional cost of only $18."

(The below Argonaut timetable is dated effective December 13, 1936.)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #5) Milepost Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #6)
11:00 PM (Dp)0.0
New Orleans, LA (Union Station) (CT)
7:35 AM (Ar)
11:07 PM2
New Orleans, LA (Carrollton Avenue)
7:25 AM
11:17 PM6
East Bridge Junction, LA
7:18 AM
11:37 PM11
West Bridge Junction, LA
6:50 AM
F 1:17 AM80
Morgan City, LA
5:10 AM
F 1:50 AM101
Franklin, LA
4:34 AM
F 2:07 AM114
Jeanerette, LA
4:14 AM
F 2:24 AM126
New Iberia, LA
3:55 AM
2:54 AM (Ar)145
Lafayette, LA
3:26 AM (Dp)
2:59 AM (Dp)145
Lafayette, LA
3:21 AM (Ar)
3:24 AM160
Rayne, LA
3:38 AM167
Crowley, LA
2:41 AM
4:00 AM180
Mermentau, LA
4:11 AM185
Jennings, LA
F 2:10 AM
4:30 AM195
Welsh, LA
5:28 AM219
Lake Charles, LA
1:12 AM
5:43 AM229
Sulphur, LA
6:02 AM242
Vinton, LA
6:26 AM256
Orange, TX
12:12 AM
6:59 AM278
Beaumont, TX
11:40 PM
7:49 AM321
Liberty, TX
10:39 PM
9:00 AM (Ar)362
Houston, TX (Grand Central Station)
9:40 PM (Dp)
9:20 AM (Dp)362
Houston, TX (Grand Central Station)
9:10 PM (Ar)
10:18 AM399
Rosenberg, TX
8:10 PM
10:39 AM415
East Bernard, TX
11:02 AM432
Eagle Lake, TX
7:24 PM
11:26 AM448
Columbus, TX
6:59 PM
11:49 AM462
Weimar, TX
6:35 PM
11:59 AM471
Schulenburg, TX
6:24 PM
12:26 PM483
Flatonia, TX
6:02 PM
12:42 PM495
Waelder, TX
5:45 PM
1:00 PM508
Harwood, TX
1:15 PM517
Luling, TX
5:08 PM
1:46 PM537
Seguin, TX
4:38 PM
2:45 PM (Ar)573
San Antonio, TX (Southern Pacific Station)
3:40 PM (Dp)
3:05 PM (Dp)573
San Antonio, TX (Southern Pacific Station)
3:20 PM (Ar)
3:48 PM598
Lacoste, TX
F 2:31 PM
4:12 PM612
Dunlay, TX
F 2:06 PM
4:31 PM622
Hondo, TX
1:48 PM
4:43 PM630
D'Hanis, TX
F 1:35 PM
5:07 PM643
Sabinal, TX
1:14 PM
5:23 PM654
Knippa, TX
F 12:57 PM
5:45 PM665
Uvalde, TX
12:40 PM
6:11 PM683
Cline, TX
F 12:08 PM
6:47 PM705
Spofford, TX
11:37 AM
7:40 PM (Ar)742
Del Rio, TX
10:40 AM (Dp)
7:55 PM (Dp)742
Del Rio, TX
10:30 AM (Ar)
F 8:17 PM757
Devil's River, TX
F 10:06 AM
F 8:58 PM777
Comstock, TX
9:30 AM
F 9:55 PM806
Langtry, TX
8:25 AM
F 10:24 PM827
Pumpville, TX
F 7:53 AM
F 10:40 PM834
Lozier, TX
F 7:36 AM
F 11:00 PM844
Watkins, TX
F 7:16 AM
F 11:25 PM858
Dryden, TX
6:56 AM
12:10 AM (Ar)879
Sanderson, TX
6:20 AM (Dp)
12:20 AM (Dp)879
Sanderson, TX
6:10 AM (Ar)
F 12:53 AM896
Longfellow, TX
F 5:41 AM
F 1:29 AM911
Tesnus, TX
F 5:07 AM
F 1:42 AM924
Haymond, TX
F 4:54 AM
2:12 AM939
Marathon, TX
4:26 AM
3:12 AM971
Alpine, TX
3:35 AM
F 3:40 AM983
Paisano (Summit), TX
F 3:13 AM
4:05 AM996
Marfa, TX
2:51 AM
5:00 AM (Ar)1032
Valentine, TX
1:50 AM (Dp)
5:05 AM (Dp)1032
Valentine, TX
1:45 AM (Ar)
F 5:46 AM1059
Lobo, TX
F 1:04 AM
F 6:17 AM1073
Dalberg, TX
Hot Wells, TX
F 12:33 AM
6:55 AM1101
Sierra Blanca, TX
11:59 PM
F 7:27 AM1123
Small, TX
F 11:21 PM
F 7:35 AM1123
Finlay, TX
F 11:12 PM
F 7:58 AM1135
McNary, TX
F 10:50 PM
F 8:07 AM1140
Fort Hancock, TX
F 10:43 PM
F 8:35 AM1158
Tornillo, TX
F 10:15 PM
8:45 AM1164
Fabens, TX
F 10:07 PM
F 8:56 AM1171
Clint, TX
F 9:57 PM
F 9:11 AM1181
Ysleta, TX (CT)
F 9:44 PM
8:45 AM (Ar)1193
El Paso, TX (MT)
8:15 PM (Dp)
9:05 AM (Dp)1193
El Paso, TX (MT)
7:45 PM (Ar)
F 10:05 AM1229
Afton, NM
F 6:42 PM
F 10:36 AM1254
Cambray, NM
F 6:11 PM
11:11 AM1280
Deming, NM
5:38 PM
F 11:41 AM1300
Gage, NM
F 5:07 PM
F 12:07 AM1320
Separ, NM
F 4:42 PM
12:37 PM (Ar)1340
Lordsburg, NM
4:08 PM (Dp)
12:45 PM (Dp)1340
Lordsburg, NM
4:15 PM (AR)
F 1:14 PM1357
Steins, NM
F 3:38 PM
1:38 PM1374
San Simon, AZ
3:04 PM
2:10 PM1390
Bowie, AZ
2:40 PM
2:55 PM1414
Wilcox, AZ
1:50 PM
3:10 PM1424
Cochise, AZ
1:34 PM
3:27 PM1434
Dragoon, AZ
1:19 PM
4:11 PM1456
Benson, AZ
12:30 PM
F 4:30 PM1465
Mescal, AZ
F 12:11 PM
F 4:52 PM1476
Empire, AZ
Pantano, AZ
F 11:50 AM
F 4:57 PM1485
Vail, AZ
F 11:32 AM
F 5:11 PM1498
Cruz, AZ
Esmond, AZ
F 11:24 AM
5:30 PM (Ar)1505
Tucson, AZ
10:55 AM (Dp)
5:55 PM (Dp)1505
Tucson, AZ
10:35 AM (Ar)
F 6:16 PM1517
Cortaro, AZ
F 10:14 AM
F 6:23 PM1522
Rillito, AZ
F 10:05 AM
F 6:30 PM1527
Marana, AZ
F 9:56 AM
F 6:44 PM1538
Red Rock, AZ
F 9:41 AM
F 7:05 PM1551
Picacho, AZ
F 9:19 AM
F 7:11 PM1556
Eloy, AZ
F 9:13 AM
7:33 PM1570
Casa Grande, AZ
8:55 AM
8:05 PM1590
Maricopa, AZ
F 8:23 AM
9:20 PM1633
Gila, AZ
7:20 AM
10:07 PM1662
Sentinel, AZ
6:30 AM
F 10:30 PM1676
Aztec, AZ
F 6:08 AM
F 10:59 PM1696
Mohawk, AZ
F 5:38 AM
F 11:24 PM1713
Tacna, AZ
11:40 PM1718
Wellton, AZ
F 5:05 AM
Dome, AZ
F 4:43 AM
12:40 AM (Ar)1756
Yuma, AZ (MT)
4:10 AM (Dp)
12:01 AM (Dp)1756
Yuma, AZ (PT)
3:30 AM (Ar)
F 12:24 AM1772
Ogilby, CA
F 12:48 AM1791
Glamis, CA
1:32 AM1821
Niland, CA
1:15 AM
2:21 AM1865
Mecca, CA
12:22 AM
2:28 AM1871
Thermal, CA
12:14 AM
2:34 AM1875
Coachella, CA
2:48 AM1878
Indio, CA
12:01 AM
F 3:40 AM1906
Palm Springs, CA
11:16 PM
4:05 AM1915
Cabazon, CA
F 4:23 AM1921
Banning, CA
F 10:53 PM
F 4:39 AM1927
Beaumont, CA
F 10:43 PM
5:08 AM1943
Redlands, CA
10:07 PM
F 5:15 AM1946
Loma Linda, CA
5:21 AM1950
Colton, CA
9:55 PM
5:37 AM1954
Bloomington, CA
5:43 AM1959
South Fontana, CA
5:52 AM1965
Guasti, CA
9:27 PM
F 5:59 AM1969
Ontario (To Upland), CA
9:21 PM
F 6:12 AM1975
Pomona, CA
9:10 PM
Bassett, CA
8:42 PM
El Monte, CA
8:38 PM
San Gabriel, CA
8:33 PM
6:55 AM2001
Alhambra, CA
8:28 PM
7:30 AM (Ar)2008
Los Angeles, CA (Union Passenger Terminal)
8:00 PM (Dp)

The Argonaut was listed on Southern Pacific's table as #5, westbound, and #6 eastbound with a connection available to San Diego via Carriso Gorge along subsidiary San Diego & Arizona Eastern (this setup was later discontinued). 

While it was never streamlined it was pulled by either the railroad's beautifully styled Class GS 4-8-4 "Golden States" or Class MT 4-8-2s.  During the diesel era the train could often by found led by Alco's beautiful PA model, of which the Espee was one of the few roads to own many of these often troublesome (mechanically) locomotives. 

A 1950 consist of the Argonaut mentions it offered chair cars, a pair of standard Pullman sleepers (one running through and the other a connection to San Antonio), a diner, and a full lounge.  It's also interesting to note that as a secondary train you would be surprised to learn what the Argonaut sometimes carried, according to Don Hofsommer in his book, The Southern Pacific, 1901-1985

In one instance during World War II, a California assembly plant was in desperate need of fighter plane landing gear and the SP quickly transferred a boxcar load to the Argonaut's express car on train #5 to arrive in time. 

On another occasion the author mentions an incident in 1927 when a train's steward arranged for a unscheduled stop to have a bottle of goat's milk delivered on a hot summer's day to aide a sick baby.   Two of the most notable incidents, sadly, involved the loss of life. 

On May 7, 1951 a second section of the westbound Argonaut, a troop-train carrying Korean War soldiers, was traveling along the Texas & New Orleans about 86 miles west of Valentine, outside of the tiny hamlet of Small, when it entered a curve at excessive speed and derailed.  

Another derailment occurred on September 20, 1938 when the same train #5 slammed into the rear of the Californian on a siding at Niland, California due to a "faulty switch."  In all, 11 persons were killed and another 100 injured. 

As the 1950s wore on the Southern Pacific became increasingly disinterested in passenger operations when it was clear that the ridership witnessed during World War II would not endure. 

As a result cutbacks began all across its system, including the Argonaut which in 1958 was truncated to a regional Houston-New Orleans run only leaving the Sunset Limited as the only transcontinental on the Sunset Route.  It continued on in this regard until 1963 when the Southern Pacific discontinued the train entirely.

Recent Articles

  1. The Wootten Firebox: Designed By John E. Wootten

    Jun 14, 24 11:34 PM

    The Wootten Firebox was designed by John Wootten in 1877 to burn low-grade, anthracite coal slag known as culm, which led to the creation of the Mother Hubbard or Camelback locomotive.

    Read More

  2. Nickel Plate Road #765: Hosting Excursions Since 1979

    Jun 14, 24 10:43 PM

    Nickel Plate Road 765 is a 2-8-4 Berkshire. Today, it is owned and operated by the Fort Wayne Railway Historical Society.

    Read More

  3. The "Fleet of Modernism": PRR's 'Blue Ribbon' Streamliners

    Jun 14, 24 09:43 PM

    The Fleet of Modernism was a term describing the Pennsy's first streamliners from the General to the Liberty Limited.

    Read More