Last revised: May 28, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Kansas railroading has always been known for its agricultural business, both historically and today. In the classic era it was served primarily by Union Pacific, Rock Island, and especially the Santa Fe.
These railroads all operated crack passenger trains though the Sunflower State with names like the City of St. Louis (St. Louis - Kansas City - Los Angeles), Rocky Mountain Rocket (Chicago - Denver), Kansas City Rocket (Minneapolis - Kansas City), Twin Star Rocket (Minneapolis - Houston), Super Chief (Chicago - Los Angeles), El Capitan (Chicago - Los Angeles), San Francisco Chief (Chicago - San Francisco), Texas Chief (Chicago - Houston), and many more.
The on-board food services these trains offered was exemplary and rivaled the best cuisine one could find at any restaurant. The Super Chief was Santa Fe's flagship service and Hollywood's elite of the era could often be found aboard the train. A sampling of its menu from 1961 included the following main courses:
The Santa Fe's other top trains previously mentioned offered similar dining options. Union Pacific rivaled the AT&SF in terms of first-class passenger services and one could find just as many Hollywood stars aboard its trains.
Both railroads were quite prosperous and they spared no expense in their long-distance trains. Union Pacific's main courses aboard its City of St. Louis in 1952 included:
The railroad, of course, also had a full serving of side dishes, lunch and breakfast menus, and a la carte options. Today, the heritage railroads Abilene & Smoky Valley and Midland Railway attempt to recreate these experiences with train rides offering dinner during the trip.
By: Steven Smethers
The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad runs weekend dinner trains from Memorial Day weekend through the last weekend in September.
Passengers dine in vintage coaches pulled by Kansas’ only steam locomotive, a 1919 Santa Fe Pacific engine, over rails that were initially laid in 1886 by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
Area restaurants and caterers provide meals that represent Kansas dining at its best. Kansas grown beef and fried chicken are staples of A&SV dinner train menus, but the railroad also features German, Cajun, and other types of cuisine that give A&SV dinner trains a special flair.
And to salute the days when railroad cuisine was at its finest, A&SV staff historians have researched the menus of some of the Midwest’s finest railroad dining experiences, compiling recipes from the Santa Fe, M-K-T, C&NW and the Rock Island, that are recreated and served by area caterers on special “Heritage Dining Car” designated trains.
The A&SV does its best to preserve the atmosphere of the classic days of railroad dining. Two antique passenger coaches—a 1946 Chicago North Western luxury car and a 1902 Missouri-Kansas-Texas wooden daycoach–have been remodeled into dining cars, both featuring year-round climate control.
Passengers dine as the train glides through the fertile farmlands of the Smoky Hill River Valley to the neighboring community of Enterprise on a two-hour, 10.4 mile excursion. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are available on the A&SV website (listed above).
The all-volunteer Midland Railway was based in the eastern Kansas town of Baldwin City
They had an impressive collection of equipment and operate a railroad that stretched 11 miles along a former Santa Fe branch line between Ottawa and Baldwin City, Kansas, totaling 22-mile round trips.
This trackage was acquired from the Santa Fe in 1987 and began hosting public excursions shortly thereafter. One of their popular trips was the "Kansas Belle Dinner Train" which utilizes four restored dining cars. The railroad's website notes:
"Our three-hour Saturday night evening runs are more formal and romantic, while the Sunday afternoon dinner run is a more casual outing best suited for families with a slightly shorter run time. You may want to enhance your dinner train experience with an optional murder mystery, WWII USO show, or a melodrama."
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the railroad discontinued its dinner train for the 2020 season and did not resume operations.