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Fairbanks Feature: Special Trains and Their Names

James D. Van Trump Library | Frank B. Fairbanks Transportation Archive | Fairbanks Features

Showcasing a variety of materials located in the Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive

No. 13 Presentation

Fairbanks Feature: Special Trains and Their Names



“A private car is not an acquired taste. One takes to it immediately,” quipped Mrs. August Belmont Jr. nearly a century ago; she was the grande dame of New York City’s Belmont banking dynasty.

“From the late 1800s to the 1930s, private cars were the vehicle of choice for bankers, railroad barons and other wealthy Americans”

–– Myron Beckenstein, Smithsonian magazine, September 2004


“Business cars were offices on wheels used by railroad officials while away from their home office. A car might be assigned to one individual or several, depending on their rank(s). They were miniature hotels, economical in the use of space. Each car typically contained a parlor lounge (saloon), dining room, kitchen crew quarters, sleeping accommodations for officer(s) and crew, toilet(s) and an open observation platform. Electric call bells, located at strategic points within the car, rang in the kitchen, where an indicator box showed the location of the summons. Cars were equipped with china and silverware (sometimes specially marked), bedding and kitchen equipment. This basic interior arrangement held sway for a century on the PRR.”

––Chuck Blardone, Pennsylvania Railroad Business & Special Cars, a Publication of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society (Introduction, page 5)


“This seven-car exhibit train was assembled in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s shops at Wilmington, Delaware in 1947. The first car was ex-Santa Fe Railroad baggage car 1896, and carried supplies and equipment. Next came the three cars which displayed the historical documents and memorabilia––these were extensively re-built from Pennsylvania Railroad class P-70 coaches 3465, 3489, and 3510. The Baggage car and the three Exhibit cars were not named. The last three cars in the FREEDOM TRAIN were Pullman sleeping cars, GLEN TEE, CENTRAL PLAINS and KENNETT SQUARE to accommodate Marine Corps guards and other people traveling with the train. The GLEN TEE had 6 compartments and 3 drawing rooms, the CENTRAL PLAINS had 3 compartments, 2 drawing rooms and observation lounge, and the KENNETT SQUARE was apparently a 6 compartment, 3 drawing room car temporarily re-named for Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which is 10 miles northwest of Wilmington, Delaware.”

–– Robert J. Wayner, Car Names and Consists: A Guide to the Fascinating and Beautiful Names Applied to Railroad Passenger and Pullman Cars (page 110, published 1963)

The following five photographs show some of the special trains and names.

1. The Archive has nearly 70 issues (up to and including the most recent issue), of the magazine PRIVATE VARNISH. This magazine, published by The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Inc., is a spectacular publication that highlights the privately owned railroad cars across the country. The magazine is filled with fantastic photos and articles and diagrams of railcar interiors; it also includes a large section of cars for rent, with all specifics needed, and, as an added bonus, gives the history of the car. What a fun trip back into American history of the privileged.

2. Here is an example from Private Varnish (2001 Private Car Charter Guide), page 14, of the F. W. Woolworth family car. Socialite Barbara Hutton often used this car during her courtship with Cary Grant. Dante Stephensen was the owner of this car at the time of his death in 2011.  As a railroad buff and owner of a large nightclub in Atlanta, Stephensen corresponded with Frank Fairbanks in the 1980s. The correspondence is in the Archive.

3. Cover and page examples from Car Names and Consists, by Robert J. Wayner. Published by the author, New York, 1963.

1975-1976: Within the ten display cars, a panorama of 200 years of the American experience was shown. These cars included a variety of images: from quaint sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanac to the bewildering complexities of a Lunar Landing Module; from Washington’s handwritten notes in the margin of a Constitution, to FDR’s war message to Congress.

5. These photos are taken from the book Pennsylvania Railroad Business & Special CarsA Century of Tuscan Red Deluxe, by Chuck Blardone. This book is in the Archive and is a publication of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.

The Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive is open by appointment on Mondays, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Use of the archive is free to PHLF members (one of the benefits!); non-members are assessed a $10 use fee.

The Archive is located on the fourth floor of The Landmarks Building at Station Square, in the offices of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

To schedule an appointment, email the Librarian James Halttunen:

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633