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The "General Pershing Zephyr"

Published: December 1, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The General Pershing Zephyr was a streamlined passenger train operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy between Kansas City and St. Louis.

It was named after General John J. Pershing and was the ninth of the railroad's Zephyr streamliners. The train was inaugurated on April 30, 1939, and renowned for its speed and luxury, featuring a unique shovel-nosed, stainless steel power car and accompanying streamlined cars.

The train's lead locomotive was #9908, named the Silver Charger, was the Burlington's final shovel-nose variant prior to its acquisition of E5s from Electro-Motive.

Interestingly, this car survives today; after its stint leading the General Pershing Zephyr it bounced around in local service for several years until the CB&Q finally retired the locomotive in 1966.   It was subsequently donated to the St. Louis Museum of Transportation where it resides outdoors on display today.

Photos

09283472147236528735728689389787.jpgBurlington power car #9908, named the "Silver Charger," is seen here in Lincoln, Nebraska, circa 1960. The car, which also featured a baggage compartment, was the final pre-E unit constructed for the CB&Q. It featured a 12-cylinder model 567 prime mover - capable of producing 1,000 horsepower - and led the "General Pershing Zephyr" from 1939 until the start of World War II. In later years it carried many different assignments and was finally retired in 1966. Today, the car is on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis. American-Rails.com collection.

General John J. Pershing

The General Pershing Zephyr is one the Burlington's more interesting - but often forgotten - elements of its Zephyr fleet. The short-lived train was named after the prominent World War I general, John J. Pershing, and was inaugurated on April 30, 1939.

By the date of its launch, the Burlington had already dazzled the public with several gleaming Zephyr streamliners.  These trains promised a new era of high-speed transportation, featuring cutting-edge designs and new levels of passenger comfort.

In their book, "Streamliners: History Of A Railroad Icon," authors Mike Schafer and Joe Welsh note the four-car trainset included power/baggage car #9908 Silver Charger, coaches Silver Leaf and Silver Eagle, and diner-observation Silver Star.

Finally, the General Pershing Zephyr was non-articulated, a relatively new concept in streamlining at the time when most other early trainsets were semi-permanently coupled.  It offered a new level of redundancy by allowing the power car and equipment to be swapped out as-needed, especially when down for maintenance.

Alton Railroad

The trainset was equally unique for not even operating over Burlington rails.  In a joint agreement with the Alton Railroad, the train operated over the latter between Kansas City-St. Louis.  In recognition, the CB&Q adorned the nose with a unique "Alton Burlington" herald instead of the standard "Burlington Route" emblem typically found on equipment.

For its passengers, the train promised a remarkable experience. The streamlined passenger cars offered luxurious seating, fine dining, and excellent sleeping accommodations. In-service stewards ensured every guest's comfort, turning each journey into an enjoyable, memorable experience. 

The book, "Burlington Route: A Histoiry Of The Burlington Lines" by Richard Overton, points out the train was notable for being the first to introduce disc brakes and flourescent lighting to trains.

Bear in mind, the naming of this iconic locomotive was in honor of the much-celebrated General John J. Pershing. His leadership during World War I earned him widespread recognition and respect, making his name a fitting honorific for this remarkable vehicle that would lead the way forward in American rail transportation.

The General Pershing Zephyr spanned an exact mileage of 279 on its daily orbit between St. Louis and Kansas City. This reliable service contributed immensely to the robust passenger travel framework between these two bustling Midwestern cities. 

It continued on this assignment until U.S. entered World War II, at which time the CB&Q utilized the train in various local services as needed.

Silver Charger

The power car was unique in that it was as much a Budd-built design as an Electro-Motive product.  It featured a single 12-cylinder, model 567 prime mover capable of producing 1,000 horsepower. 

In addition, it was equipped with Martin Blomberg's new A1A truck (two powered outside axles with an unpowered center axle) at the head-end and an unpowered trailing truck giving it a unique A1A-2 wheel arrangement.

The name Silver Charger carried its own tribute to Pershing: "Silver" was typically always the first word used by the CB&Q in naming its early streamlined equipment while "Charger" honored Pershing's horse.

Timetable (1940)

9823487235278368926978388.jpg

Later Years

After discontinuation, the General Pershing Zephyr and its faithful partner, power car 9908, found themselves serving on a myriad of local assignments. This remarkable piece of American history continued its journey until its well-deserved retirement in 1966.

Despite retiring from active service, the General Pershing Zephyr continued to inspire rail enthusiasts and historians. In a fitting testament to its iconic status, it was generously donated to the St. Louis Museum of Transportation (now National Museum of Transportation) for preservation.

At the museum, the train inspires visitors of all ages, painting a rich picture of the golden age of the American rail industry. It provides a tangible, real-life glimpse into a time when rail was king and trains like the General Pershing Zephyr reigned supreme.

Recognizably, the train's architectural aesthetic embodies the innocence and the energy of the time it represented. Its sleek and bold design communicates a sense of motion and speed, undoubtedly an iconic symbol of American progress in the mid-20th century.

In addition to power car #9908, diner-lounge-observation Silver Star also survives.  In 1974 it was sold to Amax Iron Ore Corporation for use on the Mount Newman Railway in Western Australia and renamed Sundowner.  Today, the car has been restored ans is part of the Silver Star Cafe in Port Hedland, WA.

Legacy

In a historical context, trains like the General Pershing Zephyr have forever transformed our conception of transportation. Streamlined trainsets promoted efficiency, luxury, and speed in an era when such qualities were newly sought after.

Comprehending the train's legacy naturally calls for an appreciation of its namesake, General John J. Pershing. His sterling leadership and indomitable spirit resonate in the stalwart presence and service of the train.

Thinking of the train today, one cannot help but marvel at the foresight of the men and women of that era who dared to envision a sleek, streamlined future for rail transportation, setting a benchmark that remains unchallenged to this day.

The Zephyr's thoughtful design, fascinating history, and enduring contribution to American rail transportation make it a must-see artifact at the National Museum of Transportation. Pilgrimage to its static display is a journey into the heart of American railroad history.

Encapsulating an era of phenomenal innovation, the General Pershing Zephyr reminds us of a time when rail was not only a primary mode of transportation but a reflection of national aspiration and industry.

As we delve into the General Pershing Zephyr's technical specifications and design elements, we get a glimpse into the ambitious vision that underpinned the train's creation and the subsequent evolution of train travel in America.


Consist (1940)

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Strike a chord with the life of General John J. Pershing and think beyond. His commendable service and leadership in World War I resulted in an influential legacy reflected in the phenomenal rail icon - the General Pershing Zephyr.

The history, design, and enduring legacy of the General Pershing Zephyr are sure to captivate anyone interested in railway history and the evolution of transportation. As we explore further, it remains an incredible testament to American ingenuity and industrial prowess in the 20th century.

Sources

  • Overton, Richard. Burlington Route: A History Of The Burlington Lines. New York:  Alfred A Knopf, Inc. 1965.
  • Schafer, Mike. Classic American Railroads. Osceola: MBI Publishing, 1996.
  • Schafer, Mike and Welsh, Joe. Streamliners, History of a Railroad Icon. St. Paul: MBI Publishing, 2003.

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