Dining On the Railway: The Los Angeles Limited 1948

The Union Pacific Railroad company was part of the first continental railroad project, founded in 1862, and still operates today. Union Pacific was one of the larger Railroad companies during the Golden Age for the railroad industry from the 1900s into the 1940s due to the unique travel destinations that their locomotives would carry passengers to. One of these locations was the world famous Sun Valley ski resort which was established by Union Pacific in 1936, and their flagship locomotive, the Los Angeles Limited would carry these passengers from Los Angeles to Central Idaho where the resort was located.

Part of the experience of traveling on the Los Angeles Limited at this time was the dining experience on the train. While journeying to their destination, passengers were able to order a multitude of meals such as broiled lamb chops, fried chicken with mashed potatoes, or even a broiled sirloin steak. In order to serve these kinds of meals, they had to be able to keep both meat and dairy fresh and cool for the roughly forty five hours that it would take to arrive at the destination.

How Did They Do It?

Before the train would depart, the kitchen would make sure to be stocked up with all of the supplies they thought they might need to make it throughout the trip or until the train was able to stop at a supply terminal because having to stop before reaching the terminal would cost the company. In order to keep all of the food cold and fresh for meals, there were both refrigerators and freezers on the train by 1948. The several ice cream options on the menu indicate that this is the case even though there isn’t much to find about this train in general. Before freezers, there was either a separate car, or a space in the kitchen that would be kept cold from harvesting ice, and it was insulated by stacking hay in between the ice and the walls of the train. 

The Kitchen

There would be a maximum of four people in the kitchen at one time in the dining car; this was due to the size of the kitchen. The kitchen was around a quarter of the size of the entire dining car, as if trying to prepare a meal on a moving train wasn’t enough. The kitchen in a 36 passenger dining car would be somewhere around eight-feet wide and 18-feet long. The size of the kitchen meant that everything from food to utensils and table clothes had to be thoughtfully arranged and put away. In most of these kitchens, the majority of the space running long ways down the train was where the food was prepared, therefore that’s where all of the stoves, ovens, and other counter space was to do all of the cooking. On the side of the kitchen that was closest to the back wall, you would normally find the dishwasher and drying racks for the silverware and dishes. Then, on the other side of the kitchen you would find the refrigerators and the pantry so the food would stay cool away from the heat of the stove and dishwasher.

The Staff/Train Car Design

There would normally be four waiters for each of the dining cars. Their job was simply to serve the passengers. However, sometimes this would be tricky due to the upper seating that the dining cars on some of the flagship Union Pacific Railway locomotives had. There were ten dome cars that were built by the American Car and Foundry company made for the Union Pacific trains. These cars would sit 24 passengers in the upper dome area and would seat 36 passengers in the bottom area. The passengers sitting in the top part of the dome would be able to look out and see the sights as they traveled through the mountains. This was a way to make the journey feel more luxurious to the passengers.

Who Was Riding This Train?

The people who would take this trip were more than likely wealthy families. The items on the menu are able to give a good indication of the socioeconomic status of the people traveling due to how expensive the items on it were. For example, the broiled lamb chops and the sirloin steaks. There is also a fine print at the bottom of the menu that reads, “Parents may share their portions with children with no extra charge.” This gives the impression that the people who are traveling could be wealthy families going on vacation since the train traveled to Sun Valley Ski Resort. Another assumption that can be made is that the passengers in the dining cars buying meals were all white. This menu was from a 1948 train ride, which was before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited the discrimination against race and integrated the United States. While people of color could most likely still ride on the train but in a separate car, the price of the items on the menu and the transportation itself would more than likely be too expensive for many of the people of color during that time period due to the lack of good paying jobs these people were able to find due to the color of their skin.

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