GNRHS Reference Sheet #290 issued December, 2000
provides much more information.

The Great Northern Flyer -
“Carries the Pacific Fast Mail”

the Flyer captured moving at speed at Malta, Montana.


On June 15, 1893, the Great Northern Railway, the nation s newest transcontinental railroad, inaugurated passenger service between St. Paul and Seattle. At the time, the Great Northern was well established with profitable lines in Minnesota and the Red River Valley. West of the Red River, the new transcontinental ran 1,500 miles through wilderness, as the prairies between St Paul and Havre were very desolate and sparsely populated. On the Pacific Extension, between Havre and Puget Sound, lay 815 miles of mostly wild and rugged mountain land that was virtually uninhabited, except for three important traffic producing areas - Kalispell, Bonner s Ferry, and Spokane with a population of 25,000. Four hundred and thirty miles of the new line were in heavy timber, with several stretches of primeval forest where no roads existed, and where not even trails existed for nearly two hundred miles.

The June 1940, Trains magazine contained a story by Victor H. White which illustrates the hardships endured by GN employees as the line was first opened. White recounts the story of William S. Dulmage who worked as a fireman in the Cascades.

In September 1891, at the age of 17, he hired on with GN at Hillyard as an engine wiper. Within a month he was a fireman. He started his firing career on a G-1 Twelve-Wheeler, number 404, that had just been received from Brooks. His first run was from Hillyard to Leavenworth with 34 cars of rail, passing Wenatchee, which consisted of three houses at the time and Leavenworth, the construction headquarters and a wild place filled with saloons and women.

Appleyard, just south of Wenatchee, under construction


They divided the train in half and then took 17 cars to Cascade Tunnel station, located at the eastern end of the switchbacks. After tying up, they climbed one eighth of a mile of wooden steps to a section house for supper. Finishing eating, they returned to their locomotive, where they slept in the cab since there were no beds available. The article goes on to describe the extremely harsh conditions endured by the crews as the switch back line was built over the pass. They were on 24-hour duty, helping any trains which came up the line; there were snow banks up to thirty feet on both sides of the track. The 404 was their home, except for eating meals, from the latter part of October until the following April. They slept in the cab every night. According to Dulmage, the 404 never got entirely cold in the six months and she was never repaired until she limped, wheezing asthmatically, back to Hillyard the following spring.

Great Northern had to compete over its 2,000 mile route against three established rivals, the Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific Railway and the Northern Pacific. All three had been operating trains for several years with a growing population and traffic along their lines. The Union Pacific had an established route from Chicago to Portland via the Oregon Short Line & the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company. The CPR, GN's former partner in transcontinental service, acquired the SOO Line in 1893 and now had a competing route from the midwest to Puget Sound. The Northern Pacific, like the GN, had its eastern terminal at St Paul and the western terminal was at Tacoma, with service to Seattle. By 1893, it had better equipment
and an established route with a growing population and industries along the line. That year, NP was able to slash its transcontinental schedule from 72 to 70 hours, five hours faster than the GN.

The transcontinental service initially offered by GN was more basic than its competitors. The St. PM&M painted its cars yellow until 1883, when the standard livery was changed to maroon. This coincided with the date that agreement was reached with the Canadian Pacific Railway for joint operations. CPR painted its equipment a deep wine red. At the time GN was formed in 1890, the company owned 25 baggage cars, the majority of which had been built during the previous few years. Most were all-wood 50 foot cars with clerestory roofs, a single door on each side, and four wheel trucks. In 1891, GN received five-51 foot baggage cars from Barney & Smith. Most of Great Northern's coaches in the early 1890's consisted of Barney & Smith built-50 foot cars acquired by the St.PM&M.

Thirty had been received from B&S in 1883, followed by thirty more in 1887-8. They were typical of the period, wood sheathed with truss rods, open platform ends, clerestory roofs, rectangular windows and four wheel trucks.

For the Pacific Extension, GN ordered fifteen more 50-foot coaches from B&S in 1891 based on the 1887 design. Four were transferred to the Seattle & Montana for use on the coast line soon after delivery. The other eleven entered service on the St Paul - Spokane when service began in August 1892. Great Northern owned and operated the dining cars and sleepers carried on its trains.

GN Blanket


The Original Great Northern Transcontinental Route

Six months elapsed between the completion of the line and the first regularly scheduled passenger trains between Seattle and St Paul. A few weeks later, ceremonies were held in July at St Paul and Seattle to mark the completion of the line. In June 1893, the Great Northern mainline differed from its route of later
years as the 1827 mile route to Puget Sound ran through a substantial wilderness following ten rivers and crossing three major passes, Marias, Haskell, and Stevens.

Starting at St. Paul's Union Station, the original mainline went northwest through Elk River, St Cloud, Fargo, and Moorehead to Grand Forks, North Dakota where it turned west towards Devils Lake. It followed the high line through Minot, Williston and Havre, Montana to crest the Rockies at Marias Pass. The mainline descended the west slope of the Rocky Mountains to Kalispell in the Flathead Valley.
Proceeding west through the Salish mountains over Haskell Pass it reached the Kootanai River at Jennings. The Kootanai was followed through to the Idaho Panhandle, where the line turned southwest to Newport, Washington. The line then continued southwest to Spokane. The GN operated over a mile of trackage rights over the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern through downtown Spokane. GN shared the SLS&E Union Depot with the Union Pacific. From Spokane the line went west to the Columbia River and Wenatchee. The weakest link in GN's route was the crossing of the Cascades. There, Great Northern had to accept a temporary line with torturous switchbacks until traffic grew to the point that justified the planned tunnel. After crossing the Cascades, the route followed the Skykomish River to NP's Delta Junction, near Everett. Finally it followed the mudslide-prone shores of Puget Sound before arriving at the Seattle and Montana depot on Railroad Ave in Seattle.


The First Through St. Paul - Seattle

Passenger Train

June 15, 1893 - May 4,1895

"Solid Trains to the Northwest"
Great Northern's first transcontinental train departed from St. Paul's Union Station on June 15,1893. The first eastbound train left the Seattle and Montana depot on June 18,1893. This train operated between June 15,1893 and May 5, 1895 without a name, simply known as numbers 3 & 4. Although a name had been used for the Butte train, advertising for the St Paul - Seattle train had been confined to 'magnificent dining cars or vestibuled, solid trains' . Number three's maiden run to Seattle took 77 hours and 45 minutes. Number four's first eastbound run had a time of 75 hours.
At Havre, service to Great Falls, Helena, and Butte was provided by connecting trains 23 & 24. There is a question at to whether the through Palace Sleepers' were really cut in and out of numbers 3 & 4, since only five minutes was scheduled in Havre. 23 & 24's headend equipment, diner and buffet car, day coach, and free colonist car (not a sleeper) shuttled between Havre and Butte.
In June 1893, the trip from Seattle to Spokane took 18 hours. Portland was a 24 hour trip from Spokane via Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. At Spokane, connections were possible for GN passengers to Portland via the OR&N, since both roads shared the same station. The 1893 timetable does not mention connections, although the OR&N had reached Spokane in 1891.

According to the 1893 GN timetables, time changes occurred at Minot between Central and Mountain Time and at Spokane between Mountain and PacificTime. By 1905 the change points had been moved to Williston, North Dakota and Troy, Montana.


Official Guide June 1893    
  Westbound   Eastbound  
  Train #3   Train #4  
(Sun) Lv 7:45 PM St Paul Ar: 1:00 PM (Wed)
(Mon) Ar: 8:35 AM Grand Fork Ar: 11:55 PM (Tues)
(Tues) Ar: 8:20 AM Havre Ar: 11:05 PM (Mon)
(Wed) Ar: 7:40 AM Spokane Ar: 12:15 AM (Mon)
(Wed) Ar 11:30 PM Seattle Lv: 8:00 AM (Sun)
    Running Time    
  77:45 Hrs   75 Hrs  
  Train #23   Train #24  
(Tues) Lv: 8:25 AM Havre Ar: 10:45 PM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar: 12:50 PM Great Falls Ar: 5:50 PM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar: 5:25 PM Helena Ar: 2:00 PM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar: 9:00 PM Butte Lv: 10:25 AM (Mon)

With the opening of the line to the coast, GN received twenty E-7 Ten-Wheelers (4-6-0's) numbers 650-669 from Rogers in April, 1893. Sporting 72" drivers and a tractive effort of 17,730 lbs, they were the first Ten-Wheelers acquired specifically for passenger service. The E-7s were limited to 9 passenger cars and 350 tons. While reliable Eight-Wheelers (4-4-0's) continued to handle the train for the level
parts of the journey, the E-7 would serve as the backbone of the transcontinental passenger power pool until around the turn of the century.

Eight sets of equipment were needed for the 77 hour schedule. Three sets were traveling eastbound and three others westbound. The remaining two were at the east and west terminals being cleaned and readied for departure. The consist of each set was a Baggage/express car, Day Coach, Free Colonist Sleeper, Diner and Buffet car, and a Palace sleeper.

The equipment was typical of the period, illuminated at night with oil lamps and heated by stoves which had round metal chimneys prominently showing on the roofs. The all wood cars for the most part were built with truss rods, open platform ends, clerestory roofs, single rectangular windows and many of them rode on four wheel trucks. The exterior body was a 2" grooved wood sheathing, painted maroon with
gold lettering. The roof, underbody and trucks were painted black. Great Northern operated its own diners and sleepers rather than contracting with Pullman. New equipment went to major trains and displaced stock was down-graded to secondary service. Arched windows, so characteristic of early GN passenger cars, started with the new equipment delivered for the Oriental Limited in 1905.

Headend cars were lettered for the Great Northern and also had a square Great Northern Express Company herald for the subsidiary that had been formed on July 1, 1892. From the start of service until the USRA era when the Great Northern Express Co was dissolved, approximately 15-20% of passenger revenues were derived from headend business. A dozen cars were built by B&S for the Pacific Extension in June and July 1893. These cars were 63-foot long over the buffers, with double doors ten feet apart on
each side and grooved side sheathing. The cars had six wheel trucks and were numbered 307,328, 358-368. The interior was lit with oil lamps. One end contained duck boards in the floor which permitted melting ice to drain without spoiling the perishable shipments such as northwest salmon and soft fruits. These were referred to as Fish Racks on car diagrams. At the other end, the baggage and express area
contained a safe, desk letter case, a coal-fired heater stove and a toilet and sink for a baggage messenger.

Reference Sheet 32 contains a builder's picture of later car, built in 1906, which had a very similar appearance.

GN ordered twenty more passenger cars from Barney & Smith in 1893. The cars were a bit more than a foot longer but basically identical 58 seat fifteen 50-foot first class coaches to the 1891 order from Barney & Smith. These two series formed the Day Coach pool.

The 450-457 series immigrant sleeping cars had been built in 1888 and had been assigned to both the Manitoba-Pacific service operated jointly with the CPR and the Montana Express, operated with the Montana Central. Immigrant Cars were an unusual type of sleeping car which provided settlers with minimal sleeping accommodations, but no bedding or linen, as were furnished on tourist or second
class sleeping cars. The wooden Immigrant Sleeping cars were built with open platforms, truss rods grooved sheathing and four wheel trucks. They were 50 feet long over framing and were 56 feet long over the buffers. Each contained fourteen rather primitive sections made out of wood slats. At one end were a single saloon (toilet) and heater stove, and at other end, a range and sink. In November and December 1893, the class was converted to 14 section tourist cars. The rebuilt cars kept their stoves, and now had
separate men's and women's rooms.

Great Northern owned and operated its own dining cars. The first dining cars on the GN was a lot of six, numbered 500-505, built by Barney and Smith in 1888. In 1892-93, an additional six identical cars were ordered from B&S. When the second lot was received, all cars were numbered in the 700 series, (700-711). When delivered, the cars where 63' over the framing and had open vestibules. Each car
accommodated 24 passengers, and carried a crew of nine. The following information was found in a 1894 GN Public Timetable:

"Great Northern dining cars are permanently attached to all transcontinental trains and do away absolutely with all the rush and hurry that too often destroys a meal on the other lines. Abundance of time, the smoothest of running and the exquisite service have made the GN diner famous with the experienced traveler."

The new Palace Sleepers that Great Northern ordered for service on the Pacific Extension from Barney & Smith were not delivered until September 1893. For the initial service, eight sleepers drawn from two earlier orders. Both series were built by Barney & Smith and rode on six wheel trucks. The cars were 70' long and contained 10 sections, 2 staterooms and a smoking room. Numbers 225 - 230 were delivered in 1888 - Buford, Benton, St. Vincent, Boulder, Neche, Assiniboine. The cars were 68' long over the framing and contained 14 sections. Numbers 231- 234 were delivered in 1891 - Kalispell, Kootanai, Snohomish, Seattle.
Reference Sheet 238 contains additional information on these and other sleepers
mentioned in this article.

The transcontinental passenger trains required 14 changes of locomotives to traverse its route. Division Points were established at the following locations: St. Paul, Barnesville, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Minot, Williston, Havre, Blackfoot, Kalispell, Troy, Spokane, Wilson Creek, Leavenworth, and Seattle

The Eastern end of the line between St Paul and Havre had been in service for several years. Eight-Wheelers had proven satisfactory for pulling the small wooden open platform cars. In 1891-92, Mogals (2-6-0's) Twelve-Wheelers & Consolidations (2-8-0's) joined the remunda to handle trains over Marias, Haskell and Stevens Passes. This heavier power was used when passenger service between Havre and Spokane was established in August 1892. The westbound route over Marias Pass did not exceed a grade of 1% and helpers were not normally required for passenger trains. Eastbound, the maximum grade was held to .8%, except for the 14 miles from Java to the Summit where the grade was 1.8%. This resulted in a 14.5 mile helper district between Essex and the summit. The Mogals were augmented as helpers by recently acquired F class Consolidation and G class Twelve-Wheelers. The approaches to Haskell Pass had 1-1/2% ruling grades both eastbound and westbound. At the summit there was a curved 1,412 foot tunnel. Both F-1 and F-2 class Consolidations were used as helpers. Helper engines were added at Kalispell for westbounds and at Jennings for eastbounds. The helpers were cut out of eastbound passenger trains at a stub track just west of the tunnel and for westbound trains at the siding of Haskell Pass located just east of the tunnel.

For the new Puget Sound service, operations over the Cascade line had to be developed and these would prove to be the most difficult. On both the eastern and western approaches to Steven Pass, the grade never exceeded 2.2% except for the final twelve miles over the top. That line was held to a maximum grade of 4% and required eight switchbacks. In the Cascades, the Mogals could handle two or three
cars over the 4% grades and switchbacks between Wellington and Cascade Tunnel station. Photographs from the period indicate that three locomotives were required to get a seven car train over the switchbacks of the Cascade summit. Initially, the three locomotives required 1-1/2 - 2 hours to cross the switchbacks. The first GN schedule optimistically carded the Cascade crossing in one hour 20 minutes.

Official Guide July 1893    
  Train #3   Train #4
  11:01 AM Cascade Tunnel 1:34 PM
  11:30 AM Cascade Summit 1:05 PM
  12:21 PM Wellington 12:21 PM
  1 hr 20 min   1 hr 13 min

Reference sheet 213 is a reprint of an article by D.W. McLaughlin on the GN's conquering the Cascades that was published in the November and December 1960 issues of Trains magazine. The article provides a magnificent description of operations over the line.
Shortly after starting service the running time between St Paul and Seattle was cut to 72 hours and GN arranged for its Palace sleeping cars to run through to Chicago on the Milwaukee Road.


Official Guide July 1893    
  Westbound   Eastbound  
  Train #3   Train #4  
(Sun) Lv 7:45 PM St Paul Ar: 1:00 PM (Wed)
(Wed) Ar: 5:47 AM Seattle Lv: 8:00 AM (Sun)
  72:02 Hrs. Running Time 73:15 Hrs  

In 1893, new head-end equipment, coaches, buffets, and sleepers, arrived and were the best available. The coaches and sleepers were finished in polished oak. Shortly after the beginning of service in 1893, the consist began to change as new equipment was acquired.
In 1893, Barney & Smith delivered eight 60' foot Buffet-Library cars, numbered 751-758. The Buffet-Library featured wicker chairs, design woodwork with wrought iron trim, colorful curtains and ornamental lamps, all in contemporary Victorian fashion. Its book lovers library won praise from many travelers including Adlai Stevenson who wrote that

"The car is one on the greatest conveniences to tourists in making long journeys. It is a comfortable thing to find a library of books ... daily newspapers, writing materials, easy chairs, abathroom, a barbershop and smoking room.... It is a club life carried through out the journey."
These cars were reportedly acquired for service on the Pacific Extension, however, they do not appear in the consist advertised in the Official Guide, until February 1894, when it was announced that numbers three and four would carry buffet-library cars from April until November. It appears that these cars were operated summer only for the first few years on the St Paul - Seattle train. Between 1896 and 1905,
the Limited and Flyer carried a buffet-library car year round. The cars were also called buffet-smoker cars. The May 1899, Official Guide lists a Library Observation car on number three, the westbound Flyer but it is not listed as returning on number
The Buffet Smoking lounge car was reserved for men only.
In September, 1893, Barney & Smith had delivered six additional sleepers, intended for the Pacific Extension. The grooved wood sheathed cars, containing 10 sections and 2 staterooms, were named Wenatchee, Spokane, Flathead, Marias, Columbia, and Peshastin. Photographs indicate these cars were delivered with open platforms.

In October 1893, a series of eight 50-foot full postal cars were built by Barney & Smith and numbered 369-376. GN did not have the St Paul - Seattle mail contract, but did deliver mail to post offices along its route. Pictures of these cars are not available. Diagrams indicate they were similar to the 1906 AC&F cars with four windows between the mail doors, but only having one window at each end rather than two. They were wood sheathed with 2" grooves, truss-rods and four wheel trucks. Two were wrecked in 1895 and three converted to baggage cars in 1900. The other three remained in postal service until 1914 when they were sold to the ICC. Pictures and diagrams of the similar 1906 AC&F cars are in Reference Sheets 32 & 142.

In November and December 1893, the Immigrant cars, listed as Free Colonists Sleepers were converted to 14 section Tourist Cars. The rebuilt cars kept their stoves, and now had separate men's and women's rooms and were designated Family Tourist Cars. Thus, the free colonist's car disappeared from the timetables, to be replaced by the new' Family Tourist Car.


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