Pullman Rooms

Crescent Harbor - 1MB - 2DR - Lounge

These pages are primarily devoted to streamlined “lightweight” passenger cars, but we should give due respect to their predecessors, the heavyweight passenger car.

The Heavyweights

The Lake Pearl (above) is considered to be the finest surviving example of the heavyweight sleeping car.  Fitted with 10 Sections, 1 Compartment and 2 Drawing Rooms, the Lake Pearl was part of a huge fleet of sleeping cars owned by the Pullman Company.  In addition, the individual railroads owned their own fleets of heavyweight coaches, diners, baggage cars, railway post offices and business cars.

The heavyweight cars were emblematic of the steam-era passenger train, heavy, durable and usually decorated in muted shades of green. The cars rode like rocks, largely due to the fact that in addition to the heavy steel plate of the car frame and sides, there also was a layer of poured concrete on the floor of the car.  There were, of course, interesting and colorful exceptions to the muted green, but we leave discussion of that to another day.

In any case, the basic interior component of the car was the “section”. By day, each section consisted of two bench seats facing each other.  At night, the benches were folded down and made into a bed (the “lower” berth).  An additional bed could be lowered from the ceiling, creating the “upper”.  Toilet facilities for women and men were located at the ends of the car.

Early in the evening, the Pullman car porter would convert the section into the night time configuration.  Wall panels were drawn out to create privacy between each section and heavy curtains were drawn to create some degree of privacy. It also required a certain level of mutual respect amongst passengers.

In addition to the sections, many Pullman cars had additional accommodations that were called a “drawing room” or a “compartment”.  These were private rooms as opposed to the more public sections, and each had their own toilet (in a small room called an “annex”). Typically, these rooms were able to sleep three people, but were often used by one or two passengers for their privacy.

The heavyweight cars were destined to diminish in their passenger carrying role in part because that heavy weight also meant higher fuel consumption by the powerful locomotives that were needed to pull a long train of these cars.  And so, in the 1930’s experimentation began on newer “lightweight” cars.

The Streamliners

Streamlining became a fad in the 1930’s; even electric bread toasters became superior products when they were “streamlined”.  Much of it was a reaction to the Great Depression, but there also was financial sense behind streamlined trains.  Not only did they look fast, they were fast, too. And more efficient to operate. The first was Union Pacific’s M10000:

The M10000 (above, left) had one sleeping car (with traditional Pullman sections), but it was not used as a sleeper in revenue service.  The Pioneer Zephyr (above right) was strictly a day train. But what a day; it’s maiden journey traveled between Denver and Chicago, 1015 miles, in 13 hours and 5 minutes, for an average speed of 77 miles per hour.  In that sort of excitement, who could sleep?

The streamlined trains would be coming soon enough, and with them came a change in the types of sleeping accommodations.  The section sleeper would fade in prominence, although Canada’s Via Rail still has cars with sleeping sections (both the Manor-series and Chateau-series sleeping cars have three sections, along with other room styles). Indeed, a small number of streamlined section sleepers were built, such as the six 16-section sleepers built for the California Zephyr in 1948; they were eventually converted into other car configurations because popular tastes had moved toward the privacy of other style rooms.

There were several basic room styles, but one of the most common was the roomette.

Roomette

The roomette had it all. A bench seat by day converted into a bed at night.  Each roomette had a toilet, sink & mirror, luggage rack, a selection of lighting and a fan. More importantly, the roomette had both the traditional heavy Pullman curtains along with a door that closed and could be locked. The roomette became an instant hit with railroad passengers.

It should be noted that Pullman was always careful to portray its car rooms being occupied by small people.  The roomette was especially cozy; if you wanted to go to the bathroom while the roomette was in sleeping configuration, you had to open the sliding door to lift the bed upward to access the toilet, thus the heavy curtains.

There were some cars with all roomette configuration, but the more typical accommodation included other room styles.  Most notably the double bedroom.

Double Bedroom

The double bedroom retained the classic Pullman bench seat by day and the upper and lower sleeping accommodations by night, but added a private bathroom and the door which could be closed and locked. 

Very common sleeping cars were built in the 10-5 configuration (10 roomettes, 5 double bedrooms) and 10-6, but there were other cars such as the 14-4 which was not quite as commonly found. Also, two double bedrooms could be combined to form connected bedrooms.

Connected Bedrooms

Typically, the streamlined sleeping cars were fitted with retractable walls between the double bedrooms that allowed the creation of a larger room which was a favorite with families traveling together. Since the configuration consisted of two double bedrooms, there were two private toilet annexes.

Depending upon the car’s floor plan, the double bedrooms had either a bench seat with both beds mounted across the width of the car, or else were “L” shaped.  These double bedrooms had a small seat which folded down at night and a chair which also folded down.  In this configuration, the beds were mounted parallel to the side of the car. Here, a typical 10-6 floor plan:

The six double bedrooms are to the left of the illustration, with the ten roomettes to the right.  In practice, the DB’s were identified by letters “A” through “F”, while the roomettes were numbered from “1” to “10”.

Other cars had floor plans which had double bedrooms and larger rooms called “compartments”.

Compartment

The compartment usually had three beds, but in some cases there was a larger bed and a smaller upper bed.

In addition to these sleeping car rooms, there also were “drawing rooms” and “master bedrooms”. The Southern Railway Crescent-series sleeper pictured at the top of this page had 2 drawing rooms and a master bedroom that included a shower.  The balance of the car was a lounge with comfortable individual chairs and a small serving bar.  Such cars were uncommon; there were four cars in the Crescent-series (Crescent City, Crescent Harbor, Crescent Moon and Crescent Shores).

The Pennsylvania Railroad had two deluxe cars for its Broadway Limited, the “View” series car which had two master rooms, a double bedroom and buffet lounge observation.

Because the Broadway was Pennsy’s premier train, there was another deluxe car in the consist, the Harbor series car. This distinctive car had 3 double bedrooms, a barber shop, shower bath, secretary’s room and buffet lounge.

Of course, not to be outdone, the New York Central had their Island-series observation sleepers and Century-series dormitory, barber shop and buffet lounge cars. Part of the glory of it all was that each railroad had unique cars, with unique features in unique color livery.

The terminology used to describe a particular sleeping car floor plan is also unique to each railroad. To be sure, the 10-6 was typically represented as in the earlier illustration used above, but there were exceptions.  For example, the Southern Pacific had some 10-6’s which had a public toilet room in the center of the car. Just to make it interesting, the Northern Pacific had two similar cars which were used in joint service with the SP, but were decorated in the two-tone green of the NP.

Afterthoughts

Later in the streamlined passenger era, but prior to Amtrak, two different accommodations were added to the mix.  In an effort to address the needs of the “value oriented consumer”, there were some sleeping cars with “duplex roomette”:

Duplex Roomette

Although there were a few all duplex bedroom cars, the duplex roomettes were usually located in a car with other sleeping rooms.  All the elements were there that could be found in the roomette, but there was less space.  These roomettes were available as either an “upper” or a lower”; both were roughly equivalent, but the upper required a step up from the corridor.

Here, a Great Northern 16-4 sleeper:

With thanks to the Great Northern Archive

Slumbercoach

Late in the pre-Amtrak era, Budd built a number of cars called the Slumbercoach.  These 24-single room and 8-double rooms were designed to provide a low cost alternative to the premium prices of the Pullman sleepers.  Prior to 1948, the Pullman had been an operation of the Pullman Company. Afterward a court ordered divestiture, the private railroads assumed ownership of the Pullman passenger fleet, with Pullman personnel continuing operation of the cars.

Starting in 1956, Budd built a total of 28 cars in this new configuration:

The Slumbercoaches were similar to regular Pullmans, but with fewer amenities. They did retain the privacy aspect, so proved to be modestly popular, continuing on into Amtrak.

In all, the subject of sleeping cars is an interesting one.  The terms “roomette” and “bedroom” have continued with Amtrak.  In earlier years, many of Amtrak’s sleepers were hand-me-downs from the private railroads.  These “Heritage” cars were continually refurbished by Amtrak to make them compatible with the balance of their fleet.  In some cases, these cars continue in service, a tribute to Budd’s integrated stainless steel car design. While the cars built by American Car & Foundry, Pullman-Standard and others have fallen by the wayside, the sturdy Budd cars continue on.

Modern Amtrak Sleepers

Viewliner:

Superliner

Photo by Mike Condren

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