By James D. Porterfield
A look back at
the glory days of
dining car cuisine
ext time you pause on a rail-trail to sip
from your water bottle or snack on a
granola bar, picture in your mind’s eye
what train travelers might have enjoyed
on the very same route. Hearty cream of
lima bean soup? Filet mignon, sharing the
plate with a stuffed, twice-baked potato?
A hot strawberry sundae?
All these delectables were on the menu
in dining cars of old. Fine dining was a
big attraction in the heyday of rail travel,
reaching elaborate proportions as rail-
roads lured travelers eager for tempting
scents as well as scenery, taste treats as
well as transportation.
For almost a century, American
railroads emphasized gourmet dining.
They did it mainly to get an edge in the
fierce competition for riders. A number
of railroads ran first-class trains between
New York and Chicago, for example, but
only aboard the New York Central could
travelers get lobster bisque on toasted
cornbread points. Four railroads operated
lines between Chicago and Minneapolis-
St. Paul, but the Great Big Baked Potato
was available exclusively on the Northern
Rivalry for freight and produce
shippers was equally intense. The Great
Northern Railway demonstrated its
commitment to the apple growers of
Washington by offering the Great Big
Baked Apple at all three meals. The Texas