Twin Cities Hiawatha Fun Facts

Racing passengers from downtown Chicago to the heart of Minneapolis/St. Paul in luxury, no other train defined Milwaukee Road’s passenger service better than the Twin Cities Hiawatha.

Four state-of-the-art, high-speed trains handled the morning and afternoon runs between Chicago and Minneapolis, and by the mid-1950s regularly made the 400 mile trip in just under seven hours – a far faster trip than was possible on the meandering state and federal highways of the era.

Modeling the Twin Cities Hiawatha as it appeared from 1950 to 1971 is easy with limited-run WalthersProto® replicas in HO Scale, available in both iconic orange and maroon and yellow and gray schemes. See below for a few fun FAQs about this great streamliner.

• Although a relatively short route at just 400 miles, from the early-1930s on, the Twin Cities-Chicago corridor became one of the most hotly contested runs in the whole of North American railroading. Traffic was so heavy that three premiere trains competed for the same riders: Milwaukee’s Twin Cities Hiawatha, Burlington’s Twin Cities Zephyr and the Chicago & North Western 400.

• In the months leading up to the new service, proposed names included Flash and A-1 (popular slang for a-ok at the time). Key project engineers and American Locomotive Co. (builder’s of the streamline steam locos to be used on the new train), favored Hiawatha, from Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. The poem mentions “Wenonah” (Winona, Minnesota) and Minnehaha Falls (in Minneapolis), both on the new train’s route. But the line: “Swift of foot was Hiawatha, he could shoot an arrow from him and run forward with such swiftness, that the arrow fell behind him,” really drove home the idea of high-speed service. The name also set the direction for the stylized “Running Indian” logos used on equipment.

• The Milwaukee Road was unique among U.S. railroads in building most of its lightweight passenger cars in its own shops in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley; the only “outside” cars assigned Twin Cities service were the four Super Domes delivered by Pullman-Standard in 1953.

• Tight schedules required equally fast speeds and Hiawatha crews were given leeway to push the speed envelope if the need arose. New riders were often astonished to see “SLOW TO 90 MPH” signs approaching a curve on the Armour estate northwest of Chicago. Similar signs warning STOP – LOOK – TRAINS PASS 100MPH warned tank and truck drivers wherever the Milwaukee tracks passed through Camp (now Fort) McCoy in northwestern Wisconsin.

• To one-up the Burlington Twin Cities Zephyrs that included four or more Budd Vista-Dome cars in each consist, the Milwaukee introduced the very first full-dome cars in America in 1953. Earlier, an employee contest resulted in the name “Super Domes,” which was quite appropriate; at 15′ 6″ tall, they towered over virtually everything, and in working order, weighed 224,080lbs – about double the weight of a standard “lightweight” car. All 68 seats in the dome had footrests but did not recline (a real innovation at the time, reclining seats were a major selling point for many postwar streamliners) for as one official explained, “…it is not anticipated that many passengers will want to sleep in this car.”

• Prior to the arrival of the Milwaukee’s first FP7 locos in 1950, passenger cars wore gray roofs, however the loco’s black roofs not only hid exhaust stains, but made them distinctive, and the road began repainting cars to match!

• The 48-Seat diners served as a break between sections and always faced forward so that first class, extra-fare passengers from the parlor and Skytop observations could enter the dining room directly.

• Increasingly dissatisfied with the CNW as its Chicago connection, Union Pacific trains shifted to the Milwaukee in October 1955. As the 900-pound larger, more powerful railroad, UP insisted all foreign cars be painted to match, and the Milwaukee supplied 40 cars in yellow (the Milwaukee yellow was always a bit lighter than UP’s standard Armour Yellow) and gray for pool service. Finding these colors stayed cleaner and were more durable, most of the Hiawatha fleet was quickly repainted and solid yellow consists were common by 1957.

• As a daytime train, the Twin Cities Hiawatha carried no sleepers, however a drawing room in each Skytop could be converted into a lower section if desired.

• In another break with tradition, the rear-most seats under the Skytop’s glass canopy were fixed and faced forward; traditionally seats in observation cars swiveled or faced backward.

• While the Milwaukee rostered 10 Super Domes, Pullman-Standard actually built 11 cars. The first #50 derailed out west during testing, collapsing the live 3000-volt overhead catenary, and igniting diesel fuel that had spilled from the car. Pullman considered the replacement to be the same car, although only a handful of parts were salvaged, and assigned the number 50 twice!

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