Travel Journal

Train Travel: A lost luxury


Photo courtesy of Museum of the Rockies

The stunningly scenic train route of the Olympian Hiawatha along the Milwaukee Road rail line was, perhaps enough to lure passengers aboard the luxury streamliner. The Olympian Hiawatha journeyed through some of the most scenic and recognizable landscapes in America winding through the Rockies and Cascade Mountains. The post war streamliner was efficient, luxurious and offered its sophisticated passengers something no other luxury train could in its time: a fascinating look out dome.

Passengers, with luxury bags in tow, boarded the liner and settled in for the journey eager to explore the different cars the train boasted. The route of the Olympian Hiawatha was breathtakingly picturesque, offering passengers landscape views that were often not accessible by car. With the ease of traveling on a sophisticated liner with world class dining cars that boasting high-class linens and elegant place settings, passengers were awarded incredible views for the nearly forty-hour passage from Chicago to Seattle. 40 hours: That’s a long time to be in a train, right? Well back then, people weren’t in as much of a rush. They enjoyed the journey as much as the destination. Additionally, train travel was a way to see and be seen as passengers sported stylish clothes and women flaunted flashy upscale handbags. It’s too bad Satchel & Page didn’t get started until 2011, because the Austin Messenger or Alegna purse would have caused quite a stir!

Not only were passengers awarded comfortable cars for socializing and sleeping, but they were allowed to take it all in through the world class glass dome car. The glass dome car, offering panoramic views of the picturesque landscape, enhanced extravagant train travel and added to the overall lavishness for passengers.  Entirely glass and air-conditioned, the observation car was the epitome of the glory days of train travel. The glass-roof car allowed passengers to mingle and socialize with the excitement of meeting other passengers. People sipped martinis (actually probably stuff your grandmother drinks (like a Manhattan) while chatting the room. Today, what is referred to as vintage train travel will always be associated with mystique and glamor.