100 Miles an Hour, Published 15 February 1937Sure enough, it must be my vest I was looking at I must be awake. I had seemingly slowly come from deep slumber to a comatose state, then had uncomatosed myself enough to open my baby blue eyes and discern my vest just down underneath my chin some place. Then suddenly I had a swift, electric-like shock, I remembered I was riding the Zephyr.
Some place after Hastings I had gone asleep, and had awakened to find that dark was giving place to day at least enough day to see my vest with the naked eye. I looked out at the landscape, and it was just as level as what I had last seen in the blackness as I dozed off early in the morning. But if it was daylight then it must be Colorado, and far behind we had left the state of Nebraska. The thin line of gold In the east became something more orange, and then Nature went through all her gorgeous matutinal fireworks program till the sun himself came up, a big warm red ball over near the end of the train but south of the tail lights a bit.
But this was not the first time I had wakened up since I left Omaha. I stirred a bit at Hastings, and looked sleepily out the window. There, silent as a ghost train was the Aristocrat, once the crack train of the Burlington to Denver, now "taking the hole" like any freight to let the Zephyr go by. (When a train proceeding in one direction has to take a siding to let a train from behind pass it, that, in railway parlance, is "taking the hole.") So there was the lordly Aristocrat taking the hole for us at Hastings. Hastings was the scene of William the Conqueror's triumph. At Hastings, too, I was seeing the triumph of the new conqueror the conqueror of time and space, the Zephyr. Yet that train over there ignominiously on the siding that Aristocrat had left Chicago a full seven hours ahead of the Zephyr; it had departed from the Windy City at 10.30 in the morning, while the Zephyr hadn't highballed out of Chicago's Union depot till 5.30 p.m. Now we were side-tracking this nifty train. What is more, we were to be in Denver almost five hours ahead of her.
You remember I told you about the Rock Island's Rocky Mountain Limited, and how it was not to get to Denver till 1.15 that next afternoon now this afternoon. Well both trains, the Aristocrat and the Rocky Mountain Limited, were in the same boat. I looked over at the Pullmans, where passengers were paying three cents a mile and as high as $7.25 for a single berth, while I was paying little better than a cent a mile. Yet the Aristocrat took the siding like the lowliest way freight, while One-Cent-a-Mile Cross was hightailing it through the Corn Belt like a politician ahead of a change of government. There is a moral in this pause at Hastings. It was Alfie Tennyson on the job again, with "the old order changing, giving place to new." The Aristocrat belongs to an age that went out when airplanes started to crash, and the Zephyr was literally and actually a product of the stream-lined age.
* * *
I was soon sitting upright in my seat, as the day broke cloudlessly over Colorado, and I could see that the Zephyr was really going to town. We were already well over the 3,000-foot altitude mark, we had to keep on till we were a mile high, but you'd think it was all downhill to see this baby go to work. You've heard of telegraph poles going by like a picket fence; the wisecrack finally became a homely truth on this bullet. Yet there was no noise, no dust, no nothing, except a soothing sense of exhilaration. The shaving facilities were excellent, and when later I saw the ladies' lounge in the day coach, I thought it about the last word in luxury, it even boasted of an electric clock. It takes women longer to make themselves up for the day than it does a man to scrape of his jowls so I should think it more essential to have a comfortable ladies' lounge. The girls certainly have no kick on that train.
I saw Miss Bratton the hostess again, looking after some milk for a young baby, and sending back to the diner to get just the right formula. She has to be up, dressed, fed and on the job at seven. Then after a few hours in Denver, she goes back to Chicago, and a day or so later, heads up to St. Paul, Minnesota. She travels thousands of miles a week, and probably gets less monotony than any railroader on the continent - except the other hostesses. The jobs are keenly sought, and only the smartest women grab the posts. She is not a registered nurse, for the Burlington prefers the hostess. The opposition, the Union Pacific, makes quite a bleat about having a registered nurse. I believe you can sue the railway if a nurse treats you, and is at fault; if the hostess is aboard, she can make no pretence of medical aid, and the railway is not open to mean and trouble-seeking travellers. I myself like the hostess idea fine, and thought Miss Bratton made a good job of it.
* * *
It so happened that I could have eaten right there in the coach for two bits, and had a fine breakfast, but I went back to the diner to get every possible mental wallop that I could pack into this seven-hour trip. All the stainless steel units are given names. My car was, I think, Silver Plume, but if it wasn't that, it was Silver Lake, and I don't see that it matters so much to you anyway. Our coach accommodated 38, while the forward coach would hold 64. The 64-passenger unit had an ash tray at every seat. Our car was no smoker, but it had a radio, so you can have your smoking and no music, or you can take Orpheus via Denver's KOA and eschew Lady Nicotine. I went up ahead to the cocktail lounge, which is a very enjoyable place, even if you are a temperance worker. You can spend the night up there on the sofas and other restful bits of furniture, and quite a few were rousing themselves as I entered shortly after seven. There's a semi-circular bar with attendant, and you can of course get non-alcoholic drinks. Most important, they serve food there. The bar-keeper has a telephone - yes, I said a telephone and he phones the diner for what he needs in the way of prepared food. Later, I wanted to get a crack at that telephone, and I called up a lady from the dining car, who was in the observation lounge. It was quite a novelty to speak six car-lengths on a train going a mile and two-thirds a minute.
* * *
The dining car is known as Silver Grill, and its opposite on the other Zephyr is the Silver Service. Speaking of names, one cocktail bar is known as Silver Lining. In Silver Grill, the carpets are of henna rust and peach, while the walls are light chocolate with a ceiling of pale grey-green blend. The chairs are upholstered in maroon leather, the drapes are of bright rose, the Venetian blinds are in terra cotta, and an ebony birch buffet supports a peach-tinted mirror. Just add up those colors, and think what consternation would break out in the board room at Windsor Station if some unthinking person were to suggest the C.P.R. diners should be done that way. But just the same, when more than one old-time railroader is planted six feet deep, that's what you're going to see on the railway food carts running past Nepean Point on their way to the Pacific.
* * *
Later I went back to Silver Flash, the the beaver tail observation car. The windows go right out over the rounded end of the train, and you get an excellent view of the flying landscape. You really do see how things are moving back there, and how that baby was going! I looked over the super-sumptuous seats, the other cock-tail lounge, and the beautiful interior decoration, and then moved back to my coach seat. Then looked west. The snow-capped Rockies, far off in the morning sun, were sticking their golden heads inquisitively up over the dun, flat, drab prairie, and I knew it was the beginning of the end. That smudge way down there to the port side, and far ahead, could only be Denver. But still the Zephyr kept going. Brru-up, a station: then brru-up, and another station. Bing, bing that was a town, and its warning bell on the level crossing.
We hit that Denver as I never struck a town before. The prairie gave place to paved streets and blurred rows of buildings. The engineer started easing her up a little. Then a little more. Finally, as quietly and as easily as you please, and with no particular hurry, we slid into Denver Union Station, with the minute hand just beginning to shade the bottom dot on the watch, while the hour hand was between eight and nine. I am trying to say we were four seconds early.
Right now, I am not going to give you a long and serious summing up. But I want to put this on the record I rode the train of tomorrow-today.
See you on the Rio Grande.