The Special Train of a Forgotten Football Powerhouse

By: Aj Villarreal

A Quick History lesson

During the 1940s, the Union Pacific was still in the phase of planning out new routes and further improving their travel times from place to place. During this time, the Union Pacific was evaluating different train cars in order to see which train would be the most efficient and were experimenting. Beginning in the 1930s, Union Pacific railroads introduced the M-10000 Streamliner. The M stood for motor and these trains were powered by a diesel internal combustion turbine engine. This  first streamliner, made of aluminum alloy, was a three-car day train and sleeping cars were added in subsequent models. It had the capacity to board 116 passengers, crew, and baggage and still weighed far less than a conventional steam train.

M-10000 Advertisement as well as stop times

The M10000 only required about 500 horsepower to go 90 mph as opposed to the conventional steam trains that required about 4,500 horsepower in order to reach 90 mph. With the fuel tanks stored in the floor, this allowed the M-10000 to travel 1,200 miles without needing to stop for water or refueling. This was twelve times the distance a conventional train loaded with coal could travel.This became known as “tomorrow’s train today”. 

St. Mary’s College of California and football train cars

The St. Mary’s Gaels football team was an American football team who represented the St Mary’s College of California during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. At the time, the St. Mary’s football team was in a category of their own and were dominating any opponent that came in their way. The success of the St Mary’s Gaels can be attributed to their coach at the time, Edward (slip) Madigan. Before the arrival of their famous coach, Slip Madigan, fewer than 100 students were enrolled in St Mary’s but after the arrival of their coach, it was only the beginning. The St Mary’s Gaels had been known around town for their flashy style which reflected the personality of their crazy coach.

St Mary’s Gaels College football team, (1940)

The Gael’s would travel from game to game using special train cars. As mentioned in the “All Aboard The Tailgate Train” by Justin Nystrom, Football Special trains have been around since the invention of the game itself. These trains consisted of multiple cars that included gym, sleeping, dining and reveling cars. The trips from game to game would take a few days up to a week depending on where the game was taking place. As a result of the travel time, the St Mary’s gym car consisted of rubdown tables, exercise equipment, bucking machines for the linemen’s use and a battery of showers. 

For the purpose of keeping all the members of the football team hydrated and ready, the gym car had its own water supply. This was a commodity that would not be found on any other car of the train. At the time, these special football trains were not only being used to transport players and coaches but it was also used to transport the fans to the games as well. Although the use of these trains would cut the travel time in half, it would still take a few days to get from one location to another for gameday. For example, When the St. Mary’s Gaels would travel from California to New York in order to play Fordham, this would take about 5 days. This meant that food was necessary on board to keep the players, fans, and anyone else of the 200 plus people on the train fed. 

Football fans boarding a football special train, 1940

The Menu on board

When examining the St. Mary’s College Special Football Train menu, I could not help but notice the date on the corner that read October 31, 1940. After doing some further research, during the 1940 football season, The St. Mary’s College Football team played versus Fordham in New York on October 26. Next on their schedule came Portland, which was to be played in Portland on November 3. This meant that the St. Mary’s College football team had to travel from New York to Portland, Oregon in order to play their next opponent.

Although the Union Pacific ran from Chicago to the west coast, It is safe to assume that the team boarded the Pennsylvania railroad to Chicago and then boarded the Union Pacific there. While examining the Menu, one of the first things I noticed off the bat was that there was no alcohol served on this Luncheon menu. At the time, prohibition was no longer an issue in the United States. As so much for the fans and anyone else on the train, one can assume that alcoholic beverages were served as it was a commodity during this time.

Instead drinks offered on the Luncheon menu consist of coffee, tea, and milk. Starting with the appetizers, this luncheon menu offered fresh clam chowder, jellied tomato bouillon, and chilled grapefruit juice. At first glance, chilled grapefruit juice caught me by surprise and after further research I discovered that it had many health benefits. Some of these health benefits include staying hydrated, reducing fatigue, improving heart health and serves as an immune booster.

One can make the assumption that this menu would be offered to the players of the football team as the main courses offered were dishes such as Grilled Lamb chops on toast, Filet of Sole, Pacific Coast Shrimps, and a baked sugar cured ham with an apricot sauce which could be considered a normal athletes diet as it has protein and fish.

baked sugar cured ham

The side dishes such as browned potatoes and green beans, au beurre (a butter sauce) which both have health benefits as well can further show that this could be considered a healthy meal for the average athlete. In terms of the menu layout, it is structured how most menus are today. Starting with the appetizers, followed by entrees, ending with some sweets and drinks at the bottom.

green beans au beurre

Followed by the entrees listed on this luncheon menu, now comes everyone’s favorite part of any meal, dessert. For dessert on board the Union Pacific special football car, there were some interesting selections and for the most part seemed like a healthier side of dessert. Items listed on the menu were fruit salad (with a princess dressing), assorted cold bread, green apple pie with cheese, a chocolate nut sundae topped with sweet wafers, and cream cheese with blackberry jam.


After looking over this menu various times, I came to the conclusion that this menu was offered to the players of the St. Mary’s Gaels football team as it consists of overall a healthy meal that a normal athlete would eat. Sadly after the 1970s football special trains were no longer in style and fell out of use. If football special trains were still around today, you can bet that I would be the first to be on board. Who needs cars when you have football special trains able to take you to games across states while providing meals daily.

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