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Olympian Hiawatha

Olympian Hiawatha

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The Olympian and its successor, Olympian Hiawatha, was a named passenger train operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad
The Milwaukee Road, officially the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad , was a Class I railroad that operated in the Midwest and Northwest of the United States from 1847 until its merger into the Soo Line Railroad on January 1, 1986. The company went through several official names...

 (The Milwaukee Road) as train Nos. 15 and 16 from 1911 to 1961. Its route traversed the Milwaukee Road main line from Chicago, Illinois west to Seattle
Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the county seat of King County, Washington. With 608,660 residents as of the 2010 Census, Seattle is the largest city in the Northwestern United States. The Seattle metropolitan area of about 3.4 million inhabitants is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the country...

/Tacoma
Tacoma, Washington
Tacoma is a mid-sized urban port city and the county seat of Pierce County, Washington, United States. The city is on Washington's Puget Sound, southwest of Seattle, northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 198,397, according to...

, Washington.

The streamlined Olympian Hiawatha replaced the Milwaukee's heavyweight Olympian train in 1947. The train was designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens
Brooks Stevens
Clifford Brooks Stevens was an American industrial designer of home furnishings, appliances, automobiles and motorcycles — as well as a graphic designer and stylist....

 and included the distinctive glassed-in "Skytop" observation-sleeping cars. In 1952 the Milwaukee Road added full-length "Super Dome" cars to the train.

State-of-the-art Heavyweight Olympian


With the completion of the Milwaukee Road's "Puget Sound extension," a new 2300 miles (3,701.5 km) mainline from South Dakota to Seattle and Tacoma in 1909 that made that railroad the last entry into the transcontinental trade, the Milwaukee ordered the equipment needed for two state-of-the-art steel luxury trains for Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Seattle-Tacoma service on the line. Following a public contest the Milwaukee Road chose the name Olympian for the flagship train and Columbian
Columbian (passenger train)
The Columbian was a named passenger train operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad between Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle/Tacoma, Washington...

 for its slower running mate which traversed the same route. Both trains were inaugurated on May 28, 1911.

In 1915 the Milwaukee completed its initial electrified
Railway electrification system
A railway electrification system supplies electrical energy to railway locomotives and multiple units as well as trams so that they can operate without having an on-board prime mover. There are several different electrification systems in use throughout the world...

 section of rail line, from Harlowton
Harlowton, Montana
Harlowton is a city in and the county seat of Wheatland County, Montana, United States. The population was 1,062 at the 2000 census. The city was once the eastern terminus of electric operations of the Milwaukee Road railroad's "Pacific Extension" route, which went all the way to Avery, Idaho. ...

 to Deer Lodge, Montana
Deer Lodge, Montana
Deer Lodge is a city in and the county seat of Powell County, Montana, United States. The population was 3,421 at the 2000 census. The city is perhaps best known as the home of the Montana State Prison, a major local employer...

, a feat that was advertised to passengers since electrification eliminated the soot normally associated with steam-powered rail travel prior to the era of air-conditioning. Extensions to the electrified network in the 1910s and 1920s resulted in a total of 649 miles (1,044.5 km) of electrified main line, in Montana/Idaho and over the Cascades in Washington. The 440 miles (708.1 km) of electrified line between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho
Avery, Idaho
Avery is a small unincorporated town nestled in the St. Joe River Valley in Shoshone County, Idaho, United States. Avery is located in the middle of the St. Joe District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest...

 was the longest continuous electrified rail line in the world. Besides being cleaner, electrification allowed the road to pull both freight and passenger loads faster, more reliably and more efficiently regardless of season.

In 1926 Milwaukee contracted with Pullman-Standard to replace the original Olympian with new train-sets and the train was again completely re-equipped, the new trains making their first run on August 1, 1927. The plushly appointed steel equipment was painted orange and maroon and was among the first trains to be radio-equipped. The Olympian was the first western transcontinental passenger train to be equipped throughout with roller-bearings. Capitalizing on its soot-free electrification, open observation gondola cars were operated during the summer months. In an effort to increase ridership on the Olympian the Milwaukee Road also opened its first railroad-owned hotel near Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, is a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho...

, the Gallatin Gateway Inn
Gallatin Gateway Inn
The Gallatin Gateway Inn is a Spanish-stucco style railroad hotel at Gallatin Gateway, Montana. The hotel is one of the "Historic Inns of America." The Gallatin Gateway Inn was opened on June 18, 1927. Constructed and operated by The Milwaukee Road The Gallatin Gateway Inn is a Spanish-stucco style...

. Gallatin Gateway was reached from a spur line that connected to the main line at Three Forks, Montana.

Both the Olympian and Columbian operated into 1930. However, as ridership fell during the onset of the great depression, the Columbian was dropped from the schedule and all transcontinental services consolidated into the Olympian.


A typical heavyweight consist:
  1. Railway Post Office/Baggage Express 1821
  2. Baggage Express 1038
  3. Baggage Express 1100
  4. Bunkroom Coach 4441
  5. Coach 4401
  6. 14-section Sleeper
  7. 12-section Tourist Sleeper 5719
  8. Diner 5105
  9. 12-section, 1-drawing room sleeper Cascade
  10. 12-section, 1-drawing room sleeper Puget Sound
  11. 10-section, 1-compartment, 1-drawing room sleeper Arrowhead
  12. 10-section, 1-compartment, 1-drawing room sleeper Spring Rock
  13. 8-section, 1-drawing room, 2-compartment sleeper Yellowstone
  14. 6-section, 6-double bedroom sleeper Wooena
  15. Sleeper buffet lounge-observation City-series
  16. Open Air Observation Gondola


On June 19, 1938 a bridge near Saugus, Montana
Saugus, Montana
Saugus is a rural unincorporated community in Prairie County, Montana, United States, along the Yellowstone River. It was the location of the Custer Creek train wreck....

 collapsed beneath the Olympian due to a cloudburst undermining its supports. 47 people were killed and 75 injured.

Post-war Olympian Hiawatha


On June 29, 1947 the Milwaukee Road inaugurated its post-war streamlined flagship, the Olympian Hiawatha on a 43-hour, 30-minute schedule. The Milwaukee advertised the new faster train as a "speedliner".

To meet new streamlined competition from the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, the train was initially launched with both streamlined and heavyweight equipment in its consist. The Milwaukee's insistence on its own radical designs also contributed to delays in delivery. The initial streamlined coaches, Touralux open berth sleepers, dining and lounge cars were home-built by the Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley shops. By 1949 the remaining cars were delivered by Pullman-Standard. The former Olympian heavyweight consists for a time continued to run on the older Olympian schedule as a secondary train, once again named the Columbian.

Designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens
Brooks Stevens
Clifford Brooks Stevens was an American industrial designer of home furnishings, appliances, automobiles and motorcycles — as well as a graphic designer and stylist....

, the Olympian Hiawatha included the Milwaukee Road's signature Skytop solarium observation car. Similar to those designed and built for the Twin Cities Hiawatha's, the Olympian Hiawatha's Skytops had more glass area from the rear forward and sleeping compartments in the forward two-thirds of the car. The Milwaukee Road billed the Skytops as "the perfect ending for a perfect train".

As industrial design, the Skytop observation cars have often been described as the most distinctive railway cars ever built. The Milwaukee Road also ordered several pairs of Fairbanks-Morse diesels to pull the train. These were given a distinctive orange, maroon and stainless steel design treatment by Stevens. The grill/lounge and dining cars were designed with angled seating to allow more interior space and maximize the view for passengers. The stunning Brooks Stevens-designed trains included the Milwaukee's orange and maroon livery and rich green and gold seating and carpets and wood veneer with stainless steel trim interiors. In all, six complete train-sets were ordered to protect the schedule. In 1952 the first full-length dome cars, called "super domes" were also added to the consist. In 1957 the train was repainted into the Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....

’s Armour Yellow colors.

While the Milwaukee Road heavily promoted the Olympian Hiawatha and its highly scenic route through Idaho and Montana's Bitterroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
The Northern and Central Bitterroot Range, collectively the Bitterroot Mountains, is the largest portion of the Bitterroot Range, part of the Rocky Mountains, located in the panhandle of Idaho and westernmost Montana in the Western United States...

 and the Cascade range in Washington, the railroad was faced with a highly competitive market that included the Great Northern Railway's Empire Builder
Empire Builder
The Empire Builder is a passenger train route operated by Amtrak in the Midwestern and Northwestern United States. It is Amtrak's busiest long-distance route and busiest daily train, carrying more than 500,000 travelers annually since 2007. Overall, it is the railroad's 10th-busiest line. Before...

 and the Northern Pacific Railway
Northern Pacific Railway
The Northern Pacific Railway was a railway that operated in the west along the Canadian border of the United States. Construction began in 1870 and the main line opened all the way from the Great Lakes to the Pacific when former president Ulysses S. Grant drove in the final "golden spike" in...

's North Coast Limited
North Coast Limited
The North Coast Limited was a named passenger train operated by the Northern Pacific Railway between Chicago and Seattle via Bismarck, North Dakota...

, and the rapidly growing competition from airlines. The Olympian Hiawatha was never a financial success. On May 22, 1961, the train was discontinued, one of the first of the great named trains to end service in the 1960s.

A sample 1953 consist:
  1. Mail and Express 1208
  2. Baggage Express 1336
  3. Baggage Dormitory 1309
  4. Coach 480
  5. Coach 481
  6. Coach 482
  7. Tap Lounge “Tip Top Grill” 164
  8. Touralux Tourist 14-section sleeper Mt. St. Helens
  9. Touralux Tourist 14-section sleeper Mt. Tacoma
  10. Diner 122
  11. Super Dome Lounge 53
  12. 8-duplex roomette, 6-roomette, 4-double bedroom sleeper Yellowstone River
  13. 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom sleeper Lake Coeur d’Alene
  14. 10-roomette, 6-double bedroom sleeper Lake Pend Oreille
  15. Skytop 8-double bedroom sleeper lounge-observation Gold Creek

Later History


In 1955, the Milwaukee Road assumed operation of the Overland Route
First Transcontinental Railroad
The First Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska The First...

 "Cities" trains between Chicago and Omaha. The Milwaukee Road continued to serve the Pacific northwest through its shared passenger services with the Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....

, particularly the City of Portland. Between 1955 and 1957 the Milwaukee briefly marketed a City of Portland - Olympian Hiawatha “circuit route” at a reduced price with moderate success, but the package was eventually discontinued.

Following the discontinuance of the Olympian Hiawatha, much of the train's equipment was reassigned to the Milwaukee Road-Union Pacific Cities trains. The six sleeper-Skytop observation cars and six of the Milwaukee Road's "Super Domes" briefly saw service on these trains. In 1962 they were sold to the Canadian National Railway
Canadian National Railway
The Canadian National Railway Company is a Canadian Class I railway headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. CN's slogan is "North America's Railroad"....

 where they were placed in service on the Montreal to Halifax trains and the Toronto-Vancouver Super Continental. They were finally retired in 1971.

With the discontinuance of the Olympian Hiawatha in 1961, trains No. 15 and 16 continued to operate as an unnamed passenger service between Minneapolis and Deer Lodge, Montana carrying coaches, a Touralux open-berth sleeper and cafe car. In 1964 this service was cut back to a coach-only service to Aberdeen, South Dakota. It was finally discontinued in 1969.

Between 1971 and 1979 Amtrak
Amtrak
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak , is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. "Amtrak" is a portmanteau of the words "America" and "track". It is headquartered at Union...

 operated the North Coast Hiawatha, a three day a week train that primarily utilized the Milwaukee's Chicago-Milwaukee-Minneapolis mainline and the Northern Pacific's route west of Minneapolis. The trains name was an amalgam of North Coast Limited
North Coast Limited
The North Coast Limited was a named passenger train operated by the Northern Pacific Railway between Chicago and Seattle via Bismarck, North Dakota...

 and Olympian Hiawatha.

Deferred maintenance forced the Milwaukee Road to abandon its electrification in 1974.
Faced with bankruptcy, the Milwaukee Road ultimately abandoned its "Puget Sound extension" in 1980, eliminating much of the route of the Olympian Hiawatha. Several sections of the route have become part of the National Forest and state rails-to-trails programs including the most scenic section through the Bitterroot Mountains.

Major parts of Olympians route were acquired by the Soo Line Railroad
Soo Line Railroad
The Soo Line Railroad is the primary United States railroad subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway , controlled through the Soo Line Corporation, and one of seven U.S. Class I railroads. Although it is named for the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste...

 (now Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian Pacific Railway
The Canadian Pacific Railway , formerly also known as CP Rail between 1968 and 1996, is a historic Canadian Class I railway founded in 1881 and now operated by Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, which began operations as legal owner in a corporate restructuring in 2001...

), and by the Burlington Northern Railroad
Burlington Northern Railroad
The Burlington Northern Railroad was a United States-based railroad company formed from a merger of four major U.S. railroads. Burlington Northern operated between 1970 and 1996....

 (now BNSF Railway
BNSF Railway
The BNSF Railway is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. It is one of seven North American Class I railroads and the second largest freight railroad network in North America, second only to the Union Pacific Railroad, its primary...

). The former Milwaukee Road (now Canadian Pacific) mainline from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota continues to see high passenger ridership on Amtrak
Amtrak
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak , is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. "Amtrak" is a portmanteau of the words "America" and "track". It is headquartered at Union...

's Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and Chicago-Minneapolis-Pacific Northwest Empire Builder.

Several scenic sections of the route of the Olympian Hiawatha have become public trails and park land. These include the "Route of the Hiawatha" in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Iron Horse State Park
Iron Horse State Park
Iron Horse State Park, part of the Washington State Park System, is a state park located in the Cascade Mountains and Yakima River Valley, between Cedar Falls on the west and the Columbia River on the east....

 in Washington's Snoqualmie Pass.

See also

  • Hiawatha
    Hiawatha (passenger train)
    The Hiawathas were named passenger trains operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad , and traveled from Chicago to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. The original train takes its name from The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow...

  • Iron Horse State Park
    Iron Horse State Park
    Iron Horse State Park, part of the Washington State Park System, is a state park located in the Cascade Mountains and Yakima River Valley, between Cedar Falls on the west and the Columbia River on the east....

  • Route of the Hiawatha
    Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area
    Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area is a ski area at Lookout Pass in northern Idaho on the Montana border, 4 miles east of Mullan on Interstate 90. It has a summit elevation of 5650 feet on Runt Mountain with a vertical drop of 1150 feet on the northeast-facing slopes...


External links