“An Aristocrat of the Rails”

See GNRHS Ref. Sheet #217 dated June, 1994 for more detailed article.
A new, all-steel Oriental Limited replaced the previous mix of steel headend cars, steel coaches, wooden sleepers and wooden dining cars. Eight sets of equipment were placed in service on June 1, 1924. The new Pullman-built sleepers, diners, and observation cars began arriving in May 1924. Great Northern intended the new Oriental Limited to be the finest train operated between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, which at the time was the transportation center of the United States.

The New Oriental Limited passes Mount Index in the Cascades


According to noted railroad chronicler Lucius Beebe.

" Every convenience known to First Class travel in its time was lavished on this splendid flyer by a management which failed to see eye to eye with the founding father's oft quoted dictum that passenger traffic was neither useful nor ornamental".

At the time, the mark of the big city routes were the all- Pullman extra fare Limiteds. The public was pampered on these trains with barbers, maids, valets, showers, bathtubs, manicures and stock market reports. The latter item was more in demand than any of the others for the great Era of Prosperity was going as fast as the Limiteds and one wanted to follow ones fortunes. 1924 Oriental luxury included all of these amenities and innovations but at no extra fare.
The Oriental theme was carried throughout the train from rugs to paintings, and even to the board games in the observation lounge. Sleepers had permanent headboards with Pullman enamel finish. Interiors were finished in a harmonious light green color scheme with no imitation of wood graining anywhere in the car. According to Durban's Some Classic Trains, "the interiors were painted the color of a beech grove in spring. It was a green-grey with jewel-like designs in black and gold, vermillion and blue." Wood's Great Northern Railway describes the interiors "as painted soft restful tones of grey green and sand." Great Northern diagram books from the period refer to the 'Oriental Limited color'.

Great Northern timetables and other promotional materials proclaimed that the new Oriental had:

" Every modern device for travel comfort and convenience ... among its features: shower baths for men and women, woman's lounge, ladies maid, manicure, hairdresser, and masseuse, men's smoking room and club room, barbershop and valet service, Four o'clock tea, well stocked buffet, magazines, newspaper, telegraphic news bulletins and stock market reports, extra large dressing rooms for women, boards between sections of the standard sleeping cars, individual ventilation devices, new scheme of decoration, handsomely furnished dining cars and many other features."


A 1924 booklet inviting travelers to take the New Oriental Limited



The 1924 Oriental Limited rolled out in a handsome new exterior paint and lettering scheme which was never repeated by Great Northern. All cars were painted in the standard Great Northern scheme of a glossy dark olive green body color including roofs, underbodies and trucks . However, for the Oriental Limited, the letter board was changed to a lighter green. There is some speculation that the shade of green used on the letterboard was the same as used on the locomotive boiler jackets. On the new train, all lettering was goldleaf. The name Oriental Limited was painted in the center of the letterboard on each car including the head end cars. The name or number was centered on the side under the window panels. Depending on the car's ownership, a small 'Pullman' or 'Great Northern' appeared at each end of the letterboard. The Oriental's staid white drumhead with the black words 'Oriental Limited' and a large orange circle was revamped with the mountain goat. This was the first use of the mountain goat on a Great Northern drumhead.


"As wonderful as the country it serves"

As with other long distance trains of the era, the Oriental Limited had numerous changes of locomotives and sleepers as it traversed its routes. The number of sleeping cars varied with season and direction of travel. Its scheduled times through the major cities meant that more sleepers and were carried eastbound.

Mountains, Pacifics, Ten Wheelers and Atlantics were assigned to the train as it crossed the various divisions in 1924. Over the next five years, Great Northern kept acquiring new locomotives or rebuilding older power for use on the Oriental. Normally, the train was handled without helpers except on the 2.2% ascending grades between Seattle and Wenatchee, the 1.8% grade eastbound on Walton Hill and the 1.6% grade westbound out of St. Paul.
The locomotive most associated with the 1924 Oriental Limited was the P-2 Mountain. Prior to building the new trains, an order was placed with Baldwin for 28 Mountains, which were built and delivered in late 1923.

East of the Rockies, the H-4 Pacifics, which performed satisfactorily in mainline passenger service continued to be used. The Class E-14 Ten Wheelers had proven to be speedy and satisfactory locomotives for certain types of passenger service. In 1924, they were assigned Westbound between Devil's Lake and Minot, North Dakota, where the maximum grade was only 0.6%. But, in spite of the wide firebox, they lacked the boiler power needed for the work on the Oriental and were soon withdrawn. In anticipation of the new train, Great Northern rebuilt the class K-1 Atlantics which were fitted with superheaters and bolsters. These locomotives were placed in service between Wolf Point and Havre. It is interesting to note that the K-1's, with the lightest tractive effort, were carded for the fastest time over the eastbound run. The Class E-14 Ten Wheelers had proven to be speedy and satisfactory locomotives for certain types of passenger service. In 1924, they were assigned Westbound between Devil's Lake and Minot, North Dakota, where the maximum grade was only 0.6%. But, in spite of the wide firebox, they lacked the boiler power needed for the work on the Oriental and were soon withdrawn. The new H-5 proved more successful than the H-4 and more were added to the remunda. Finally, in 1925 a booster was added to the H-5 design and the H-7 was created. The H-7 seems to have protected the Oriental between Spokane and Whitefish from 1925.

Initially, the B-B Electrics were coupled on to the Mountains at Tye and Scenic for the trip through the original Cascade Tunnel. This changed in 1927 when the Z and Y class Electrics arrived and assumed the chore of towing the P-2's through the tunnel. Starting in 1929, when the new Cascade Tunnel was placed in service, the Mountains were cut on and off at Wenatchee and Skykomish. Starting in 1929, when the new Cascade Tunnel was placed in service, the Mountains were cut on and off at Wenatchee and Skykomish.

In 1927 menu covers introduced the new Z-1 electrics. Note the lettering appears gold on the olive green body.

Another 1924 booklet inviting travelers to take the New Oriental Limited

The S-1 class Northerns were completed in May 1929 and immediately assigned to the Oriental. The S-1 was better fitted for work on long grades where sustained high power was required. Until 1931, when the Oriental was withdrawn, these locomotives were used exclusively in passenger service between Havre and Whitefish. In 1930, 14 S-2 Northerns were acquired. These fine locomotives were intended for the Oriental Limited, Empire Builder and the Fast Mail. Initially they were assigned to the Spokane - Wenatchee and the Williston - Havre sections of the line.

Eight sets of equipment consisting of the RPO/baggage, a first and second class coach, a tourist sleeper, a diner, four sleepers, and an observation arrived in 1924. Between 1924 and 1929 one more observation, upgraded coaches, additional sleepers and diners were added to the equipment pool.
In addition, express reefers were carried in season on the eastbound train. These cars, destined for eastern markets, were laden with Northwest fruit and produce. In Summer, car loads of both Puget Sound and Alaskan Salmon, fresh off the Seattle docks, were expedited east on its faster schedule .
The interior of the entire train, from the coaches to the observation, was decorated in the same uniform, harmonious, light green enamel scheme. None of the cars were furnished with air- conditioning and this was the last new train equipped with friction journals, as all subsequent new passenger cars rode on roller bearings.

The normal arrangement of the ten car consist was the RPO/Baggage, second class coach, first class coach, tourist, 12-1 Pullman, 12-1 Pullman, diner, 12-1 Pullman, 10-1-2 Pullman, Observation. In 1924, each sleeping car was assigned an alpha designation as its line number. As a convenience to passengers, the car designations were provided in the booklet Oriental Limited Train Directory.

The interior of a new diner

Oriental Pattern china used in dining cars

1928 menu

G.N introduced its 'State' series of dining cars on the new train. Each car accommodated 36 patrons at each sitting, and carried a crew of twelve. The interiors were painted in different harmonious shades of green. The adornment of the car consisted of light tones throughout, giving the restful effect of a well decorated room.

Fresh cut flowers from G.N. greenhouses and gardens brightened each table, and presented a pleasant impression on the bright white linens and beside the shining crystal and silverware.


1925 menu marks the first anniversary of the New Train


1927 Menu displays the new Z-1 electrics being place in service

The dinner hour was announced by the traditional melodious chimes. The menu featured Great Northern style chicken pie, baked salmon, Wenatchee apple pie, G.N. beans and smoked ham. The Oriental's menu also invited mothers to send baby's bottle to the dining car to be sterilized and filled. In summer months, the eastbound Oriental slowed each day at Stryker, Montana, so that the telegraph operator could hand up a package of freshly caught mountain trout to dining car personnel, who quickly prepared them for appreciative patrons. Initially, the diners carried both names and numbers.

Not all items in the dining car were politically correct!

Dining car steward's bag

The Oriental carried two sleeper configurations: the 10-1-2 and the standard 12-1. The new Pullman sleepers included the newest features such as draft-free permanent headboards, individual venting devices and a men's smoking and club room. For women, the retiring room featured large mirrors, dressing tables, plenty of chairs, and a host of minor refinements. The sleepers were decorated in the same light green enamel scheme as the rest of the train. Breakfast in bed was available to passengers holding compartment or drawing room space, and was depicted in company photographs and advertising. Though once widely considered a symbol of practically Byzantine luxury, in actual practice, its satisfactions were reported to be no more than minimal. Little could be done, however, even with the best intentions, to glamorize the men's smoking compartments in Pullman Standard. It was proverbially the scene of pre-breakfast chaos, trailing galluses, lathered faces, bad tempers, and untidiness in general. Occupants wearing ties, as depicted in publicity photographs, were purely illusionary.

Eight 10-1-2 LAKE series were built, and one was assigned to each consist. This car was operated exclusively between Chicago and Portland, and provided a compartment and drawing room facilities for Portland passengers comparable to space offered to Seattle passengers in the Observation. The LAKE series were placed immediately ahead of the Observation except Eastbound, when the Helena car was cut in between the two at Havre.
The ubiquitous 12-1 sleepers provided operational flexibility by being added to or set out, of the consist. The three lots built for the Oriental Limited totaled 42 cars. The names for the first lot and proposed names for the third lot were selected for cities along the line and matched the state names on the diners. Names were selected by G.N.and reflect on-line stations. The second batch, which were all 'MC series names', may have been an emergency allocation due to the popularity of the train. The last batch was initially going to be named for stations.

Eight GREAT series observation cars were delivered in 1924 and a ninth car in 1926. The new Pullman observation cars featured higher and wider windows for better viewing of the scenery and were the last to be delivered to the Great Northern with an open platform. The observations were decorated like the other cars except with red carpets and 'Adam' style motif. At the forward end, the car had a buffet, a smoking room for men, and a tastefully decorated women's lounge room with shower bath. The middle contained a Pullman drawing room and two compartments for Seattle passengers. At the rear there was an observation room with seating capacity for 14 people. Finally, the car had a large outside platform with seating capacity for eight passengers.

As aboard all the other trains of transcontinental consequence, a lady's maid was felt to be indispensable aboard the Oriental Limited. Great Northern's management stressed her presence in reassuring publicity photographs. Manicure, massage and hairdressing services were available to lady passengers. The ladies maid-manicurist was located mid-car in the woman's lounge and bath area. Electric curling irons were available in the ladies dressing room.

The observation lounge was a center of activity where, like the diner, fresh cut flowers from G.N. greenhouses were always present. The observation area had a radio, a library featuring books on the west and Glacier Park, a magazine rack, and a writing table.

In keeping with the Oriental theme, a card adaption of the Chinese game, Mah Jongg was available to passengers, as well as cards and bridge score pads containing the Oriental's logo. Stamps were available from the Pullman porter who also provided beverages and snacks from the buffet.


In the days of fountain pens, blotters were available on the Oriental


Every afternoon at four, tea was served in the lounge by a waiter from the diner. Close behind followed a maid with a platter of dainty cakes. A telephone was located in the lounge and was connected at Tacoma, Seattle, St. Paul and Chicago during the station stops. The lounge carried telephone directories for those four cities. News and market reports were telegraphed to stations and placed on board the observation lounge several times a day. The conveniences of the Observation Car, including afternoon tea, were free to standard sleeping car passengers.At the end platform, on the brass railing, hung a new electric tail sign. The field of red sported a mountain goat, the new symbol of the G.N., in white as were the words 'Oriental' above and 'Limited' below. Old Bill, as the goat was called in 1924, stood on a lofty peak and was monarch of all he surveyed in the Northwest. After the Oriental was withdrawn in 1931, these cars were returned to Pullman, where they were repainted and placed in the Pullman pool. There is no evidence that they were ever reassigned to operate on the G.N.


It is interesting to contemplate the extent and scope of the Oriental's transcontinental service. At the same moment as one Oriental departed Chicago's Union Station, a second was speeding westward across North Dakota, a third was winding through the Rockies of Montana at Glacier National Park and a fourth completing its westward run in Tacoma. Meanwhile a fifth, eastbound, was climbing into the Cascade Mountains in the state of Washington, a sixth in the foothills of the Rockies, a seventh entering the Dakota side of the Red River valley, and the eighth lately arriving in Chicago. Each of these trains were identical in equipment and provision and each would make a 5000 mile round trip in seven days to form part of a daily service.

The westbound Oriental passed through St.Cloud and Grand Forks. Eastbound, it went via New Rockford and Willmar. The westbound Glacier Park Limited travelled via Willmar, and took the Surrey Cutoff though New Rockford. Eastbound it went via Grand Forks and St. Cloud. West of Minot, the Oriental Limited followed the mainline directly to Tacoma via Havre, Spokane, Everett, and Seattle.

When the Empire Builder was inaugurated in 1929, it took the shorter route via St. Cloud and New Rockford in both directions. The Oriental, on a slower schedule, went via Willmar and Grand Forks both ways and had an 70 mile longer route.

From California through Adventureland was aimed at a western market

Switching Cars

Great Northern's operation of the Oriental was typical of 1920's long distance trains. Sleeper equipment was added and dropped as the train passed over the line. More switching occurred on the eastbound trip than on the westbound. 1925 was a typical year. Eastbound, the train left Tacoma with the RPO, coaches, a standard sleeper and observation for Seattle. At Seattle, the diner and additional sleepers were added to the consist. The train left Seattle at 8:30 PM with standard sleepers for Chicago, St. Paul, Wenatchee, and Spokane. At 3:15 AM, it arrived in Wenatchee where a standard sleeper was cut out and a sleeper for Spokane was added. Seattle-Wenatchee passengers could remain in the sleeper until 7:30 AM and the Wenatchee-Spokane sleeper was available for occupancy at 9:30 PM in Wenatchee. Arriving in Spokane, at 9 AM, the standard sleepers from Seattle and Wenatchee were cut out and the 10-1-2 sleeper, which had arrived five minutes before, at 8:55 AM, from Portland via the SP&S section of the Oriental was added. During the summer months, a standard sleeper for Chicago was added at East Glacier. At 4:10 PM the train pulled into Havre where the Helena-Chicago sleeper, fresh off train #235, was cut in. Arriving at St. Paul, 10:30 PM on the second day, a standard sleeper from Seattle was cut out before the consist was turned over to the CB&Q for the run to Chicago.The Oriental Limited was part of a larger transportation system. Great Northern scheduled many of its trains to connect with it, and several of the trains carried sleepers to and from it. At major cities such as Chicago, St. Paul, and Seattle, the Limiteds and Express trains operated by other railroads were scheduled to provide convenient connections.
Some of the Great Northern trains which provided connections are the following:

* Everett trains 355/358 International Limited for Vancouver
* Spokane SP&S trains 1 & 2 for Portland (carried sleeper)
* Shelby trains 43/44 Adventureland for Kansas City/Denver/St Louis
* Havre trains 235/236 for Great Falls and Helena (carried sleeper)
* Wenatchee/Oroville
* various prairie branches

"See America First - Glacier National Park"Prior to the First World War, the passenger marketing emphasis shifted from travel to the Orient, to selling Glacier National Park as a vacation destination. Passenger traffic continued to be a dominant factor in railroad economies in the twenties. G.N. maintained posh ticket offices in major cities. Pictures of the Chicago ticket office portray stylishly dressed people perusing richly lithographed company literature in a setting of cut flowers and expensively panelled walls.

The fresh flowers were furnished by G.N.'s green houses in Monroe, Washington. Glacier National Park was prominently mentioned in timetables, pamphlets, and books promoting the services on the Oriental. Louis Hill retained well known painters; Winold Riess, W. L. Kinn and John Fery to portray glories of the west. Their work graced G.N. advertising from playing cards to wall calendars and were distributed through the service area and beyond.
John Fery painting of a GN train in the Cascades


Into many such promotional materials were woven images of local Indians colorfully attired. A visual element which evolved was the Rocky Mountain Goat. 'Old Bill' began adorning the G.N. drumheads, tenders and the sides of freight equipment. Great Northern was also able to make good its advice to "See More of America First" by coupling open top cars to the rear of the Oriental and Glacier Park Limiteds for their spectacular trip through the Montana Rockies.

With the start of new 1924 Oriental Limited, G.N. opened an extensive campaign to sell travel to the Northwest, employing national and local newspapers and magazines, informative timetables, folders, booklets, window displays, color slides, lectures, radio and motion pictures.

The 1924 edition of The Scenic Northwest featured the new Oriental Limited

The purpose was to create new business and to direct travel that was already bound to move somewhere for vacation or business, to G.N. Twenty-one station name changes were made in January and February, 1926 in the vicinity of Glacier National Park. Names like Spotted Robe, Bison, Grizzly, Triple Divide, Citadel, etc, replaced the likes of Nyack, Java, Coram, Fielding, and Midvale. Monuments were dedicated by Louis Hill and Ralph Budd through out the West to commemorate its explorers. It is interesting to note that the last lot of sleeper cars, delivered in 1925, had the names changed from cities to founders of the West, a harbinger of the names which would appear on the Empire Builder's equipment.

The Oriental Limited operated for less than seven years and was the premier Great Northern transcontinental train for a short five years. The Oriental Limited's star had really begun to set in 1927, when the rival Milwaukee Road introduced the more spacious 8-1-2 Pullman floor plan to the Northwest on its upgraded Olympian Hiawatha. The Olympian was now a superior train and Great Northern had to react by updating its train also. In 1929, a new train, the Empire Builder, was introduced on an even faster schedule. The Oriental continued as the second transcontinental train, replacing the Glacier Park Limited.

It is evident from the amount of equipment which was acquired, that Great Northern intended to operate both the Oriental Limited and the Empire Builder on a long term basis. Unfortunately, passenger revenues declined in spite of new equipment, excellent service and advanced advertising techniques. In 1931, not many more than one million passengers travelled G.N. trains compared to 8.5 million in 1920. Revenue dropped from $30.4 million in 1920 to $11 million in 1931. The Oriental became a casualty of the downturn in business caused by the Great Depression. The Oriental was withdrawn in March 30, 1931.

Complete text of published article and black & white photos

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