Letter from a Mark Twain Zephyr Passenger, 1937

On June 8, 1937, the Rev. Dr. Richard D. Leonard, then of Chicago, wrote to his mother, Julia Day Leonard of Newtonville, Massachusetts. The letter is part of a collection she saved, which is now in the possession of Dr. Richard C. Leonard of Hamilton, Illinois. In the letter the elder Dr. Leonard describes his rail trip over the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy at the end of May 1937, which took him to a weekend preaching assignment at a church at Bluff Hall near Quincy, Illinois. Part of his travel was via the Mark Twain Zephyr from Burlington, Iowa, through Keokuk to Quincy. In his letter he describes the train's equipment and his impression upon riding in it.

I don't think I told you about my trip week before last, except that I was going. I left here at 10:30 (CST) on the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad on the Denver train called "The Aristocrat." It is a mighty fine train. The Burlington is one of the best roads in the country and they have huge and powerful engines and they go very fast and have heavy, luxurious trains. We had 12 cars and got to Burlington, Iowa, at 3:00, 4½ hours for 206 miles, an average of almost 46 miles an hour with 7 stops. They run about 60 miles an hour when in the open country.

At Burlington I transferred to the waiting "Mark Twain Zephyr," a four-car stainless steel streamliner diesel powered. This comes up from St. Louis and returns each day. The cars are named for Mark Twain's characters. I think I rode in "Huckleberry Finn." The first unit (the trucks are between the units, one end of each car resting on it so there are only 5 trucks for the four-car train) contains the power and mail, the second express and baggage, the third a kitchen in the front end, then four dining tables, and some 18 coach seats which are really more like parlor chairs, and the last unit has coach seats in the front end and a lounge in the rear which is rounded like the back of a boat. The thing has remarkably quick acceleration and glides along so smoothly that you hardly know you are moving. It was a wonderful two-hour ride from Burlington down the Iowa-Missouri side of the Father of Waters to Quincy. The Zephyr did not seem to go very fast and made all local stops but it was the most comfortable ride I ever had.

I returned Sunday the more direct way to Galesburg since there was a connection, leaving Quincy at 12:55 on a motor-hauled train and arriving Galesburg at 4:00. This train consisted of a motor car with baggage, mail, express, etc., which hauled a regular passenger coach. It was hot here last weekend so the windows of the coach were open, and since there was no soot or cinders and a rock-ballasted roadbed, it was a nice open-air ride. At Galesburg I got into a special air-conditioned car that was hitched on the eastbound "Aristocrat" and got back to Chicago at 7:50 PM. I forgot to say that going out I rode in a reclining-seat chair car, air-conditioned of course. You don't need to ride in a parlor car on the western railroads as their coaches are almost like them. Indeed, they don't run many parlor cars.