First Course
It all started in 1867.
Just three years after
George Pullman intro-
duced the modern
American sleeping car,
he modified one of the
cars, adding a small
kitchen and an appa-
ratus between facing
seats to allow a table
to be anchored to the
car’s wall. He called
the design a “hotel
car” and christened
this first model “President.” A year later,
he introduced the first full dining car,
naming it “Delmonico,” in honor of the
famous New York restaurant.
Pullman’s dining cars evolved over
the years to comprise a 7-by-18-foot
kitchen where four cooks prepared and
plated food; a 7-by-8-foot pantry where
six waiters prepared salads, beverages and
desserts; and an 11-by-40-foot dining
room that seated 36 passengers. Seating
capacity later increased to 42. A steward
oversaw the car, which served three meals
a day to as many as 300 passengers.
Popular as the Pullman dining cars
were, with an 11-member crew they rare-
ly were profitable. (There was
one exception: The New York,
New Haven and Hartford
Railroad, running first-class
trains between Boston and
New York, derived 72 percent
of its dining car revenue from
alcohol, a highly profitable
menu item.) Thus, while the
Pullman Company routinely
leased sleeping cars to the rail-
roads, at one time becoming
America’s largest hotel chain,
it got out of the dining car business with-
in a few years.
What followed was a remarkable
burst of creativity, as competing railroads
sought to distinguish their own dining
cars and menus. Between the 1920s and
s, railroad dining cars were among
the best restaurants in the country. The
and Pacific Railway showed allegiance
to melon growers in Arkansas by offer-
ing cantaloupe pie. Some railroads went
so far as to establish test kitchens to
develop recipes using ingredients their
lines carried, from Idaho’s potatoes on the
Union Pacific to California’s rice on the
Southern Pacific.
railroads often entered
their most skilled chefs
in culinary competi-
tions to vie against
chefs from major
hotels, resorts and
country clubs. It was
not uncommon for
the railroads to win
some, if not all, of
the ribbons. The rail-
roads publicized these
culinary kudos widely
along their routes.
First Class
The Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail and
Heritage Rail Trail County Park between
Cockeysville, Md., and York, Pa., occu-
pies the bucolic 41-mile route of one of
America’s oldest railroads, the Northern
Central Railway. Chartered in 1828 to
connect Baltimore with Lake Ontario,
the Northern Central came under the
control of the Pennsylvania Railroad
and saw heavy passenger traffic featuring
important first-class trains—including
the Liberty Limited and the Red Arrow—
between Washington, D.C., or Baltimore
and Harrisburg, Pa. In the first half of
the 20th century, as many as 23 first-class
passenger trains raced along the route
each day.
To feed the many people on board,
chefs in the dining cars had to work
quickly. The key to success was to use
everyday ingredients and a minimum
of preparation steps. Passengers might