1924 Oriental Limited

"An Aristocrat of the Rails"

Prior to the start of service the New Oriental Limited was displayed with the Wm Crooks and two vintage passenger cars


Great Northern Railway Historical Society
Reference Sheet No. 217
June 1994

The Great Northern Railway inaugurated transcontinental passenger service between Seattle and St Paul on June 18, 1893 and continued operations until April 1, 1971 when Amtrak assumed all passenger service. During the intervening 78 years, Great Northern provided first class passenger train service over its routes to the Northwest. During most of this period, there were two first class trains serving the route, although one was always regarded as the premier train.That premier train carried several different names through the years. Between 1893 and 1905 the railway's standard bearer carried the monikers of the Great Northern Flyer, the Oregonian, and the Great Northern Express. Between 1905 and 1929, the Great Northern Railway's crack transcontinental was called the Oriental Limited, named for the Asiatic commerce which had been one of J.J. Hill's motivating objectives in building the railroad itself. From 1929 until the end of passenger service operations, the premier train was known as the Empire Builder, in tribute to Mr. Hill.
Although its name changed, Great Northern continually strived to provide the finest service and equipment available. To that end, major changes were made to the train's equipment and motive power on five occasions in 1909, 1924, 1929, 1947, and 1951. In addition, upgraded equipment was added to the regularly assigned consist in 1922, 1935, 1938 and 1955. This data sheet describes the Oriental Limited which was placed in service June 1, 1924 and operated until March 31, 1931. A train the Great Northern hailed as "An Aristocrat of the Rails"


As a lad in remote Rockwood, Ontario, in the 1850's, James J. Hill devoured books on a variety of subjects. The idol of Jim Hill's boyhood was Marco Polo and his dream was to be a sea captain in Oriental commerce. He noted that among the rich men of 1855 many had made their fortunes in the Orient. When he left home in 1856, at the age of 17, his great scheme was to go to the Orient from New York and to make his own fortune. However, after his arrival in New York, he soon realized that the only way to reach the Orient was as 'an ordinary seaman in front of the mast'. Instead, he went overland and made it as far as St. Paul, Minnesota, where steamships and trade with the Orient continued to be one of his dreams as he built the Great Northern westward. By 1893, the Great Northern had reached Seattle and began operating transcontinental passenger trains in June of that year.

Great Northern sought to promote the image of Seattle as an important West Coast port. Seattle was a port capable of handling all classes of cargo to and from the Far East. It has always been the closest major U.S. port to the Orient, and the G.N. had the shortest route from Seattle to Chicago and the East Coast. Mr. Hill was hoping to build a greater market for American exports, such as steel, wheat and cotton. He was also anxious to establish Great Northern in the lucrative silk and tea trade. In 1896, Great Northern became the first U.S. railroad to serve the Orient when Mr. Hill negotiated an agreement with Nippon Yushen Kaisha, a Japanese steamship line, to serve Seattle. The agreement called for through freight rates over GN and NYK routes between the Midwest and the Orient.

The Oriental Limited Begins
In early 1905, the Great Northern steamships, Minnesota and Dakota were placed in service, with Seattle as their home port. The two huge, 20,000 ton ships plied the trade routes from the Pacific Northwest to the Far East. It was now possible to travel on Great Northern equipment from St. Paul to the distant ports of the Orient. In December 1905, the Oriental Limited was inaugurated as Great Northern's flagship on a 58 hour schedule over the 1,829 miles between the Twin Cities and Puget Sound, replacing the Great Northern Flyer. It was a name which emphasized that the transportation service offered by Great Northern did not end at the Port of Seattle. The Oriental fulfilled Hill's dream of direct rail-water connections between the Middle West and the ports of the Far East.

Less than five years after Hill had driven the G.N. to Seattle, the Klondike Gold Rush began. The Seattle city fathers worked hard to have their city known as the shipping point to Alaska. By 1902, the Klondike rush was winding down. Seattle, with its fine, deep sheltered harbor, was looking for an alternative shipping route so that its rapidly developing port could be kept busy. Trade with the Orient was regarded as the riposte and Seattle civic leaders found a willing ally in James J. Hill. In 1909, Seattle hosted a World Fair called the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition, an event designed to promote trade between the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Far East. Great Northern re-equipped the Oriental for the occasion. The Oriental's equipment was the subject of a perpetual renewal and re-equipping program.

Triumph of Car Architecture

The new Oriental placed in service on May 23, 1909, carried an RPO/Bag, Day Coach, Tourist Sleeper, Diner, 12-1 and 16 section Standard Sleepers, and a Five Compartment Observation. 12-1 sleepers bore the names of Oriental ports such as Tokio (sic), Fujiyama, Yokohama, Manila and Foochuo. The Oriental's Observation Car had mahogany and cocoa finish like an English club and featured a large oval smoker separating the compartments from the lounge. This train was the first Oriental to be equipped with a vacuum cleaner. According to advertisements heralding the train's arrival, it was:

"Luxurious in appointment, well nigh perfect in mechanical construction, complete in every detail from head-end light to rear end platform lantern, this train fulfills every requirement... In all the train is a triumph of car architecture."

Dependable Railway
The Oriental Limited's route was extended over the rails of the CB&Q to Chicago in 1909 and was officially known as Numbers 1 & 2. Over the next decade and a half, trade between Seattle and the Far East flourished and Great Northern began to call itself a 'Dependable Railway' in its advertising. It operated two transcontinental passenger trains to St Paul, the Oriental Limited and the Glacier Park Limited.

The Glacier Park Limited ran as Numbers 3 & 4. Initially, it had been called the Oregonian but the name was changed to the Glacier Park Limited in the early twenties. The train ran as the tourist schedule and serviced the principal cities half a day apart from the Oriental. The two trains traded routes in Minnesota and North Dakota. The Oriental traveled through Fargo westbound and New Rockford east bound. The Glacier Park Limited went through Fargo eastbound and New Rockford westbound. Because of their respective schedules, the Glacier Park carried more sleepers westbound and the Oriental handled more eastbound. The Glacier Park carried an observation only between Seattle and Spokane.


Between May 26, 1918 and May 30, 1920, the Oriental Limited was operated by the United States Railway Administration. With the end of government operation and return of control to St. Paul, plans were made to refurbish the Oriental. Pullman operation of sleeping cars on the Oriental was instituted in 1922. It proved so successful that an agreement was signed by which Pullman furnished new equipment for the entire train. Pullman, seeking to acquire all of Great Northern's sleeping car operations, provided its finest equipment for the new Oriental. Within three years, in 1925, Great Northern ended its sleeping car operations.



A new, all-steel Oriental Limited replaced the previous mix of steel headend cars, steel coaches, wooden sleepers and wooden dining cars. Eight sets of equipment were placed in service on June 1, 1924. The new Pullman-built sleepers, diners, and observation cars began arriving in May 1924. Great Northern refurbished and relettered its own RPO/baggage cars and coaches at the St. Paul shops. In the late spring of 1924, before the train was placed in service, it was displayed at the principal cities served. Large crowds turned out at St. Paul, Spokane, Portland and Seattle. GN Mountain 2527 even accompanied the new train for a two day exhibition at Chicago's Union Station.

Great Northern intended the new Oriental Limited to be the finest train operated between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, which at the time was the transportation center of the United States. According to noted railroad chronicler Lucius Beebe.
" Every convenience known to First Class travel in its time was lavished on this splendid flyer by a management which failed to see eye to eye with the founding father's oft quoted dictum that passenger traffic was neither useful nor ornamental".

At the time, the mark of the big city routes were the all- Pullman extra fare Limiteds. The public was pampered on these trains with barbers, maids, valets, showers, bathtubs, manicures and stock market reports.
The latter item was more in demand than any of the others for the great Era of Prosperity was going as fast as the Limiteds and one wanted to follow ones fortunes. 1924 Oriental luxury included all of these amenities and innovations but at no extra fare.
The Oriental theme was carried throughout the train from rugs to paintings, and even to the board games in the observation lounge. Sleepers had permanent headboards with Pullman enamel finish. Interiors were finished in a harmonious light green color scheme with no imitation of wood graining anywhere in the car. According to Durban's Some Classic Trains, "the interiors were painted the color of a beech grove in spring. It was a green-grey with jewel-like designs in black and gold, vermillion and blue." Wood's Great Northern Railway describes the interiors "as painted soft restful tones of grey green and sand." Great Northern diagram books from the period refer to the 'Oriental Limited color'.

Great Northern timetables and other promotional materials proclaimed that the new Oriental had:
" Every modern device for travel comfort and convenience ... among its features: shower baths for men and women, woman's lounge, ladies maid, manicure, hairdresser, and masseuse, men's smoking room and club room, barbershop and valet service, Four o'clock tea, well stocked buffet, magazines, newspaper, telegraphic news bulletins and stock market reports, extra large dressing rooms for women, boards between sections of the standard sleeping cars, individual ventilation devices, new scheme of decoration, handsomely furnished dining cars and many other features."

New Color Scheme
The 1924 Oriental Limited rolled out in a handsome new exterior paint and lettering scheme which was never repeated by Great Northern. All cars were painted in the standard Great Northern scheme of a glossy dark olive green body color with roofs, underbodies and trucks painted black. However, for the Oriental Limited, the letter board was changed to a lighter green. There is some speculation that the shade of green used on the letterboard was the same as used on the locomotive boiler jackets. On the previous trains, the words 'Great Northern' were painted in white on the letterboard. On the new train, all lettering was goldleaf. The name Oriental Limited was painted in the center of the letterboard on each car including the head end cars. The name or number was centered on the side under the window panels. Depending on the car's ownership, a small 'Pullman' or 'Great Northern' appeared at each end of the letterboard. Placing the name of the train on the letterboard, instead of Pullman or the road's name was a distinction reserved for a very elite group of trains. The Oriental Limited was the only train serving the Northwest in 1924 to have its name on the letterboard. The equipment assigned to the Oriental retained its lettering until the train was withdrawn on March 30, 1931.

The Oriental's staid white drumhead with the black words 'Oriental Limited' and a large orange circle was revamped with the mountain goat. This was the first use of the mountain goat on a Great Northern drumhead.
In 1929, when the Empire Builder became the company's premier train, it became Numbers 1 & 2. The Glacier Park Limited was withdrawn and the Oriental assumed Numbers 3 & 4, as well as the slower schedule. The Oriental Limited was downgraded in status though not in quality. Now the Great Northern had two first class modern transcontinental passenger trains to compete for the long haul business.

"As wonderful as the country it serves" As with other long distance trains of the era, the Oriental Limited had numerous changes of locomotives and sleepers as it traversed its routes. The number of sleeping cars varied with season and direction of travel. Its scheduled times through the major cities meant that more sleepers and were carried eastbound.

Mountains, Pacifics, Ten Wheelers and Atlantics were assigned to the train as it crossed the various divisions in 1924. Over the next five years, Great Northern kept acquiring new locomotives or rebuilding older power for use on the Oriental. Normally, the train was handled without helpers except on the 2.2% ascending grades between Seattle and Wenatchee, the 1.8% grade eastbound on Walton Hill and the 1.6% grade westbound out of St. Paul. The accompanying chart indicates that in 1924, fourteen changes of locomotives, not counting the Electrics through the Cascade Tunnel, were needed for each trip.

The locomotive most associated with the 1924 Oriental Limited was the P-2 Mountain. Prior to building the new trains, a study was made of the motive power requirements, since it was realized the heaviest passenger locomotives then in use would not have the capacity needed to efficiently handle the heavier equipment. After studying the problem, an order was placed with Baldwin for 28 Mountains, which were built and delivered in late 1923.

Initially, the Mountains were limited to a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour and made 4800 miles per month. The engines were single crewed, a standard practice of the time. The 10 which were operated east of Cut Bank were coal burners and the remaining 18 used west of Cut Bank were oil fired. The P-2's were used eastbound on the Oriental through New Rockford but not westbound through Grand Forks. The Mountains could handle 10-12 cars up Walton Hill without a helper at 18 miles per hour. [Reference sheet #122 provides additional information on the P-2 class Mountains.]
East of the Rockies, the H-4 Pacifics, which performed satisfactorily in mainline passenger service continued to be used. The new H-5 proved more successful than the H-4 and more were added to the remunda. Finally, in 1925 a booster was added to the H-5 design and the H-7 was created. The H-7 seems to have protected the Oriental between Spokane and Whitefish from 1925. A picture of an H-7 on the point of the Oriental appears in Wood's Lines West on page 70.
The Class E-14 Ten Wheelers had proven to be speedy and satisfactory locomotives for certain types of passenger service. In 1924, they were assigned Westbound between Devil's Lake and Minot, North Dakota, where the maximum grade was only 0.6%. But, in spite of the wide firebox, they lacked the boiler power needed for the work on the Oriental and were soon withdrawn.
In anticipation of the new train, Great Northern rebuilt the class K-1 Atlantics which were fitted with superheaters and bolsters. The tractive effort was raised from 23,000# to 33,000#. These locomotives were placed in service between Wolf Point and Havre. It is interesting to note on the chart that the K-1's, with the lightest tractive effort, were carded for the fastest time over the eastbound run. Nevertheless, these locomotives were gradually phased out as more H-5's and booster equipped H-7's were built in 1925-26.
The Cascades were the domain of the P-2 Mountains. Initially, the B-B Electrics were coupled on to the Mountains at Tye and Scenic for the trip through the original Cascade Tunnel. This changed in 1927 when the Z and Y class Electrics arrived and assumed the chore of towing the P-2's through the tunnel. Starting in 1929, when the new Cascade Tunnel was placed in service, the Mountains were cut on and off at Wenatchee and Skykomish. A pair of Z-1 Electrics leading the Oriental over the Foss Creek trestle are pictured in Wood's Lines West on page 137.

Building the New Cascade Tunnel meant that a faster schedule would be possible. In anticipation of a new faster transcontinental schedule, Great Northern decided to obtain locomotives of greater capacity. Six Northern types were ordered from Baldwin. The S-1 class Northerns were completed in May 1929 and immediately assigned to the Oriental. The S-1 was better fitted for work on long grades where sustained high power was required. Until 1931, when the Oriental was withdrawn, these locomotives were used exclusively in passenger service between Havre and Whitefish. They handled as many as 18 heavyweight cars in both directions. If there were more than 13 cars a helper was added over Walton Hill.

In March and April 1930, 14 S-2 Northerns were acquired. These fine locomotives were intended for the Oriental Limited, Empire Builder and the Fast Mail. Initially they were assigned to the Spokane - Wenatchee and the Williston - Havre sections of the line. Both divisions featured the long tangents, easy curves, and light grades for which the S-2's 80" drivers were designed. Reference sheet #40 contains additional information on the S-2 class.

Eight sets of equipment consisting of the RPO/baggage, a first and second class coach, a tourist sleeper, a diner, four sleepers, and an observation arrived in 1924. Between 1924 and 1929 one more observation, upgraded coaches, additional sleepers and diners were added to the equipment pool.
In addition, express reefers were carried in season on the eastbound train. These cars, destined for eastern markets, were laden with Northwest fruit and produce. In Summer, car loads of both Puget Sound and Alaskan Salmon, fresh off the Seattle docks, were expedited east on its faster schedule . A picture of several express reefers on the headend of the Oriental appears in Wood's Lines West on page 81. Coincidental to the inauguration of the new Oriental, fifty additional express refrigerator cars were built by Seimens-Stemble in 1924. Additional information on these cars can be found in Reference sheet #165.
The interior of the entire train, from the coaches to the observation, was decorated in the same uniform, harmonious, light green enamel scheme. None of the cars were furnished with air- conditioning and this was the last new train equipped with friction journals, as all subsequent new passenger cars rode on roller bearings. The normal arrangement of the ten car consist was the RPO/Baggage, second class coach, first class coach, tourist, 12-1 Pullman, 12-1 Pullman, diner, 12-1 Pullman, 10-1-2 Pullman, Observation. In 1924, each sleeping car was assigned an alpha designation as its line number. As a convenience to passengers, the car designations were provided in the booklet Oriental Limited Train Directory.

In the Spring of 1924, eight steel 70' RPO/Baggage cars from the 52-71 series were repainted and put in shape at the St. Paul shops. The cars had been built in 1918 by American Car and Foundry, (AF&C) and were the most modern headend equipment on the roster. At one end, the cars were equipped with a 30' Railway Post Office apartment. In the middle, separating the two areas, was a 10' fish rack area. Fish racks were duck boards in the floor which permitted melting ice to drain without spoiling the perishable shipments. At the other end, the baggage and express area contained a dynamo generator, safe, desk letter case and toilet facilities for a baggage messenger. The dynamo provided thirty two volt direct current power for the appliances, like the train's vacuum cleaners, hair curling irons, electric toasters and valet's pressing iron. Wood's Lines West on page 84 has a photograph of this car involved in a wreck on March 11, 1928 at Peshastin, WA. Reference sheet #100 provides additional information on these cars.

The smoking car involved a departure from the standard previously used on deluxe trains. It provided space in the forward end for the dining car crew's sleeping accommodations. Four tourist sections were built in the forward end with sufficient locker and toilet facilities for the crew. The space was later expanded to six sections. This arrangement gave additional coach space in the daytime and accommodations for the dining car crew at night. Experience had shown that there were always more passengers using the coaches in the day time than at night. The 70' second class coaches were initially built by AC&C in 1913 as standard coaches and carried the numbers 3700-3707. Steel sheathing and underframe was applied to these cars in 1924 and they were renumbered 643-650 in 1926. As more diners were acquired, more of the 70' coaches in the 3700 series were converted to this configuration. Between 1925-28, all remaining cars in the 3700 series received steel sheathing.

Initially, first class coaches numbers 950-959 were assigned primarily for long distance passengers. These eighty foot all steel cars were built in 1914 by Barney and Smith and had an eighty-six passenger configuration. A change from the standard arrangement was the provision of a woman's lavatory across the aisle from the woman's toilet. If traffic warranted, coaches 960-979 which were almost identical, may have also been assigned.
In 1926, coaches 920-927 replaced the 950-959 series coaches. They had been built by Barney & Smith in 1910 as 86 passenger standard coaches. In 1925 and 1926 they were upgraded for use on the Oriental. Steel sheathing was applied to the exterior and they received an enlarged mens room as a smoker, which resulted in the seating capacity being reduced to 70 passengers. The interiors were painted the Oriental Limited shade of green.

The cars which Pullman built were all steel and represented latest designs and the newest features available. The diners and sleepers contained slightly different features, perhaps owing to the fact that the diners were built for GN, and Pullman would retain ownership of the sleepers. The May 24, 1924 edition of Railway Age provides the following information:
[Diners] "The mechanical specialties used on this car are as follows: Commonwealth cast-steel six-wheel trucks, high equalized type with pedestals cast integral with the frame and a device for locking the trucks to the body of the car; 5-1/2 by 10-in journals; 36-in rolled steel wheels; simplex clasp brakes; miner draft gear, type A-5-P-X; Miner buffer device, type B-10; new York Air brakes, UC-1612 equipment; Woods roller side bearings; Vapor heat and monel metal, used through out the kitchen and pantry."
[Standard Sleepers] "The mechanical specialties on these cars are as follows: Commonwealth cast steel six-wheel trucks, high equalizer type with pedestal frames cast integral and safety locking pins; clasp brakes, and 36 1/2-in rolled steel wheels on axles with 5-in by 9-in journals." Additional information on the heavyweight diners and sleepers can be found in Reference Sheet #110.


In May 1924, eight cars were rebuilt by Pullman from older 12-1 sleepers by converting the former men's room to the valet-barber shop and shower bath. The drawing room was rebuilt for use as a men's smoking area. Although tourist sleepers had been carried on the Oriental since 1905, the eight tourist sleepers were an innovation because of the valet-barber shop. The Tourist cars were divided into two sections and separated by a door in the aisleway.
The forward part consisted of 12 tourist sleeper sections, which had no bulkhead between berths. The women's retiring room and men's smoking room were on either side of the berths in the forward section. The men's and women's rooms were much larger and better appointed than had previously been provided in tourist cars.
At the rear section, the car featured valet service, a barber chair and men's shower bath. This change in the Oriental's design followed a trend found on other important flyers of the Twenties. The mark of big city Limiteds was to place a barbershop, frequently with a smoker/library, in the forward end of the train. The best barbers were recruited from metropolitan areas for this duty. The barber shaved passengers for two bits and cut hair for four bits. Also in his joint capacity as valet, he pressed a three piece suit for six bits and left the sleeves round if you so wished. The barber/valet shop was equipped with a thirty-two volt direct current activated electric pressing iron which was specially manufactured for railroad usage. The train's vacuum cleaners and electric toasters were also thirty two volt appliances. It is believed that the tourist sleepers were numbered 1725-1732 but this has not been confirmed, except for photos which exist of car 1728. The photograph indicates that the car rode on standard Pullman six-wheel trucks, not the commonwealth trucks used on the other Pullman built cars.

G.N introduced its 'State' series of dining cars on the new train. The eight new dining cars were completed by Pullman in May 1924. They were the first of an eventual 22 identical cars which would continue to operate in mainline service into the Fifties. Each car accommodated 36 patrons at each sitting, and carried a crew of twelve. The interiors were painted in different harmonious shades of green. The adornment of the car consisted of light tones throughout, giving the restful effect of a well decorated room. Fresh cut flowers from G.N. greenhouses and gardens brightened each table, and presented a pleasant impression on the bright white linens and beside the shining crystal and silverware.
The dinner hour was announced by the traditional melodious chimes. The menu featured Great Northern style chicken pie, baked salmon, Wenatchee apple pie, G.N. beans and smoked ham. The nature of the area served logically influenced the introduction into the dining car menu of such items as Washington apples, clams, salmon and other territorial specialties. The specialties included berries and vegetables from the Northwest, prize winning Minnesota butter, and North Dakota beef. For breakfast, Great Northern Health Griddle Cakes were offered.
Like all railroad diners, the menu advised patrons that employees were forbidden to accept written orders. The Oriental's menu also invited mothers to send baby's bottle to the dining car to be sterilized and filled. In summer months, the eastbound Oriental slowed each day at Stryker, Montana, so that the telegraph operator could hand up a package of freshly caught mountain trout to dining car personnel, who quickly prepared them for appreciative patrons. Diner patrons received a complimentary copy of the recipe book Great Northern Secrets.

The car was built with an especially large and well-arranged kitchen, which even had electric toasters. Monel metal was used through out the kitchen and pantry. From this area, GN crews established the well earned reputation for meal service. Unlike the sleepers, Great Northern continued to own and operate the dining cars which were serviced and supplied from G.N.'s commissaries. They were located at Seattle, Spokane, Great Falls, and St. Paul.

Initially, the diners carried both names and numbers. 7000-7007 were ordered in 1924 and two more, North Dakota and South Dakota were received in 1925. It is believed that these were the only diners lettered for the Oriental Limited. In 1926, the cars were renumbered. However, the diners remained lettered for the Oriental Limited until 1931.

Name Orginal # 1926 #
OREGON 7000 1030
WISCONSIN 7001 1031
MINNESOTA 7002 1032
IOWA 7003 1033
MONTANA 7004 1034
IDAHO 7005 1035
WASHINGTON 7006 1036
ILLINOIS* 7007 1037
NORTH DAKOTA 7008 1038
SOUTH DAKOTA 7009 1039


Additional cars of this series were built in anticipation of the 1929 Empire Builder. The names of the additional cars are contained in Reference Sheet 110.
* Photographic evidence indicates this car was actually numbered 7000

The new Pullman sleepers included the newest features such as draft-free permanent headboards, individual venting devices and a men's smoking and club room. For women, the retiring room featured large mirrors, dressing tables, plenty of chairs, and a host of minor refinements. The sleepers were decorated in the same light green enamel scheme as the rest of the train.
Each car was assigned a Pullman porter, who during the day kept the car neat and tidy, supplied information about the route, and rendered any assistance which was requested. Among the services which they provided to passengers was getting ice and beverages, setting up portable tables and furnishing playing cards. In the evening, they made up the berths. At night, they shined the shoes that the passengers left out and woke up any passenger who was detraining. For passengers obtaining space in the sections, the Pullman practice was to sell the forward-facing seat with the lower berth and the backward-facing seat with the upper. Breakfast in bed was available to passengers holding compartment or drawing room space, and was depicted in company photographs and advertising. Though once widely considered a symbol of practically Byzantine luxury, in actual practice, its satisfactions were reported to be no more than minimal.

Little could be done, however, even with the best intentions, to glamorize the men's smoking compartments in Pullman Standard. It was proverbially the scene of pre-breakfast chaos, trailing galluses, lathered faces, bad tempers, and untidiness in general. Occupants wearing ties, as depicted in publicity photographs, were purely illusionary.

The Oriental Carried two sleeper configurations: the 10-1-2 and the standard 12-1.


Sleeper type 10-1-2, Plan 4770, Lot 3585, Built May/June 1924:
Eight 10-1-2 LAKE series were built, and one was assigned to each consist. This car was operated exclusively between Chicago and Portland, and provided a compartment and drawing room facilities for Portland passengers comparable to space offered to Seattle passengers in the Observation. The LAKE series were placed immediately ahead of the Observation except Eastbound, when the Helena car was cut in between the two at Havre. This type of car last appears in the Spring 1929 timetable, and was dropped from the Oriental's consist when the train assumed the Glacier Park Limited's schedule. Although this plan was never used by Great Northern again in transcontinental service, many of the Lake series names were used again as diners in the 1947 Builder.
Names of the car were:





Standard Sleeper:
The ubiquitous 12-1 sleepers provided operational flexibility by being added to or set out, of the consist. The three lots built for the Oriental Limited totaled 42 cars. The initial lot of 26 cars indicates that three were planned for each consist. In the first year there were 32 cars, or 4 per train. The names for the first lot and proposed names for the third lot were selected for cities along the line and matched the state names on the diners. Names were selected by G.N.and reflect on-line stations. The second batch, which were all 'MC series names', may have been an emergency allocation due to the popularity of the train. The last batch was initially going to be named for stations. The initial 26 cars were built for the train and named for towns and cities along the Great Northern. They were part of a group of 50 cars, the remainder of which carried the MC prefix.

Plan 3410, Lot 4763, Built May/June 1924:


The second lot of six cars were part of a larger group of 225 cars which carried the prefix 'MC'. It is possible that the assignment of these cars was only an interim measure until the third group was built.
Plan 3410, Lot 4764, Built June/August 1924:


The third group of ten cars was built in the following year. Initially they were to also carry the names of towns along the route. However, the intended names were changed to names of men who played a part in the exploration and building of the West, similar to the names used on the 1929 Empire Builder.

Plan 3410, Lot 4845, Built February/May 1925


Eight GREAT series observation cars were delivered in 1924 and Great Northern ordered a ninth car in 1926. The observations were decorated like the other cars except with red carpets and 'Adam' style motif. At the forward end, the car had a buffet, a smoking room for men, and a tastefully decorated women's lounge room with shower bath. The middle contained a Pullman drawing room and two compartments for Seattle passengers.

The new Pullman observation cars featured higher and wider windows for better viewing of the scenery and were the last to be delivered to the Great Northern with an open platform. At the rear there was an observation room with seating capacity for 14 people. Finally, the car had a large outside platform with seating capacity for eight passengers.

As aboard all the other trains of transcontinental consequence, a lady's maid was felt to be indispensable aboard the Oriental Limited. Great Northern's management stressed her presence in reassuring publicity photographs. Maids on the Oriental were given a thorough training course by the Pullman company before they entered regular train service. Manicure, massage and hairdressing services were available to lady passengers. The ladies maid-manicurist was located mid-car in the woman's lounge and bath area. Electric curling irons were available in the ladies dressing room.
The observation lounge was a center of activity where, like the diner, fresh cut flowers from G.N. greenhouses were always present. The observation area had a radio, a library featuring books on the west and Glacier Park, a magazine rack, and a writing table. In keeping with the Oriental theme, a card adaption of the Chinese game, Mah Jongg was available to passengers, as well as cards and bridge score pads containing the Oriental's logo. Stamps were available from the Pullman porter who also provided beverages and snacks from the buffet.
Every afternoon at four, tea was served in the lounge by a waiter from the diner. Close behind followed a maid with a platter of dainty cakes. A telephone was located in the lounge and was connected at Tacoma, Seattle, St. Paul and Chicago during the station stops. The lounge carried telephone directories for those four cities. News and market reports were telegraphed to stations and placed on board the observation lounge several times a day. The conveniences of the Observation Car, including afternoon tea, were free to standard sleeping car passengers.
At the end platform, on the brass railing, hung a new electric tail sign in red and white, replacing the old oil illuminated type. The Oriental's staid white drumhead with the black words 'Oriental Limited' and a large orange circle was replaced by the mountain goat of the G.N. Old Bill, as he was called in 1924, stood on a lofty peak and was monarch of all he surveyed in the Northwest. According to railroad historian William Kratville,
"It was not unusual, after the lounge shut down for the night, to see the brakeman sitting at the rear window with only the lights from his flagging lanterns on the platform and the leaking gleam from the tail sign weakly illuminating the scene. And, every now and then a semaphore would slowly wink back to green in the darkness behind the train."
According to Wood's Great Northern Railway, the observation cars were all named in the Great Circle series referring to the shorter route out of the Northwest ports across the North Pacific to the Orient.

Plan 3953, Lot 4782, Built May 1924

* Name changed to GREAT CHIEF in 1926

Plan 3953A, Lot 4955, Built June 1926


The builder's photograph indicates that unlike the other Observations which rode on Commonwealth trucks, the Great Bear had standard Pullman six wheel trucks.
After the Oriental was withdrawn in 1931, these cars were returned to Pullman, where they were repainted and placed in the Pullman pool. There is no evidence that they were ever reassigned to operate on the G.N.

"A Dependable Railway"

It is interesting to contemplate the extent and scope of the Oriental's transcontinental service. At the same moment as one Oriental departed Chicago's Union Station, a second was speeding westward across North Dakota, a third was winding through the Rockies of Montana at Glacier National Park and a fourth completing its westward run in Tacoma. Meanwhile a fifth, eastbound, was climbing into the Cascade Mountains in the state of Washington, a sixth in the foothills of the Rockies, a seventh entering the Dakota side of the Red River valley, and the eighth lately arriving in Chicago. Each of these trains were identical in equipment and provision and each would make a 5000 mile round trip in seven days to form part of a daily service.

Route and Schedule
The east and west bound Oriental Limited followed different routes because the Oriental Limited and the Glacier Park Limited alternated routes through Minnesota and North Dakota. The Oriental left Chicago on the rails of the CB&Q and crossed northern Illinois to the Mississippi River. It followed the Mississippi to St. Paul, where Great Northern received it. Great Northern had two transcontinental routes through both Minnesota and North Dakota. In Minnesota, the separate routes went via Willmar or St. Cloud, and rejoined westbound at Fargo, N.D. The Willmar route was 19 miles longer. Westbound from Fargo, the original mainline went through Grand Forks and Devil's Lake, while the newer Surrey Cutoff went via New Rockford. The routes rejoined westbound just east of Minot, North Dakota. The Surrey Cutoff was 51 miles shorter. To balance the distance, Great Northern combined the longer Willmar route with the shorter Surrey Cutoff as one routing, and combined the St. Cloud line with the Grand Forks leg for the other route. The net difference was 32 miles longer if the train went via Grand Forks.
The westbound Oriental passed through St.Cloud and Grand Forks. Eastbound, it went via New Rockford and Willmar. The westbound Glacier Park Limited travelled via Willmar, and took the Surrey Cutoff though New Rockford. Eastbound it went via Grand Forks and St. Cloud. West of Minot, the Oriental Limited followed the mainline directly to Tacoma via Havre, Spokane, Everett, and Seattle.
When the Empire Builder was inaugurated in 1929, it took the shorter route via St. Cloud and New Rockford in both directions. The Oriental, on a slower schedule, went via Willmar and Grand Forks both ways and had an 70 mile longer route. The normal consist for trains 1 & 2 was a ten car train which weighed 767 tons. The more powerful P-2 class Mountains, which were acquired for the Oriental, permitted the schedule to be cut to 70 hours, even with this heavier train.
Great Northern advertising from the period stressed the Oriental's unequalled on-time performance record. While the schedule was speeded up by four hours eastbound and two hours westbound, the train over the long run was not that much faster in 1924 than it had been in 1922. The train covered the 2,258 miles from Chicago to Seattle in 70 hours, which represented an average speed, including stops, of 32.26 miles per hour. There was not any dramatic need to speed up the service. Highways were primitive, and autos and busses offered little competition. Service and comfort were more important than speed. In addition, the three Northwest transcontinentals, the Northern Pacific, the Milwaukee, and the Great Northern had an understanding to offer approximately the same schedule between Chicago and Seattle.
Eight sets of equipment were needed for the 70 hour schedule. During most of the day, one set was laying over being serviced at Tacoma and Chicago. Three sets were traveling eastbound and three others westbound. Assuming that all trains were on time, an eastbound Oriental would meet its westbound counterparts at seven locations:

1) On the first evening at 7 PM at Seattle, WA
2) At 7:40 AM, the second morning at Lyons, WA (15 miles west of Spokane)
3) At Marias Summit at 8:55 PM on the second evening
4) At 7:55 AM Lohmiller, MT (7 miles west of Wolf Point, MT.)
5) Passed on alternating routes the third evening between Fargo and Minot, ND
6) 9 AM on the third morning at Pepin, WI
7) 1:55 PM arrive at Chicago, IL where the eighth set was being readied for its 11 PM departure

Switching Cars
Great Northern's operation of the Oriental was typical of 1920's long distance trains. Sleeper equipment was added and dropped as the train passed over the line. The Oriental Limited was part of a larger transportation system. Great Northern scheduled many of its trains to connect with it, and several of the trains carried sleepers to and from it. At major cities such as Chicago, St. Paul, and Seattle, the Limiteds and Express trains operated by other railroads were scheduled to provide convenient connections. Some of the Great Northern trains which provided connections are the following:

* Everett trains 355/358 International Limited for Vancouver
* Spokane SP&S trains 1 & 2 for Portland (carried sleeper)
* Shelby trains 43/44 Adventureland for Kansas City/Denver/St Louis
* Havre trains 235/236 for Great Falls and Helena (carried sleeper)
* Wenatchee/Oroville
* various prairie branches

More switching occurred on the eastbound trip than on the westbound. 1925 was a typical year. Eastbound, the train left Tacoma with the RPO, coaches, a standard sleeper and observation for Seattle. At Seattle, the diner and additional sleepers were added to the consist. The train left Seattle at 8:30 PM with standard sleepers for Chicago, St. Paul, Wenatchee, and Spokane. At 3:15 AM, it arrived in Wenatchee where a standard sleeper was cut out and a sleeper for Spokane was added. Seattle-Wenatchee passengers could remain in the sleeper until 7:30 AM and the Wenatchee-Spokane sleeper was available for occupancy at 9:30 PM in Wenatchee.
Arriving in Spokane, at 9 AM, the standard sleepers from Seattle and Wenatchee were cut out and the 10-1-2 sleeper, which had arrived five minutes before, at 8:55 AM, from Portland via the SP&C section of the Oriental was added. During the summer months, a standard sleeper for Chicago was added at East Glacier. At 4:10 PM the train pulled into Havre where the Helena-Chicago sleeper, fresh off train #235, was cut in. Arriving at St. Paul, 10:30 PM on the second day, a standard sleeper from Seattle was cut out before the consist was turned over to the CB&Q for the run to

Marathon, Mountain 2517, departs St Paul Union Station with the New Oriental Limited.

Great Northern placed the name Marathon on the side of the locomotive's tender after a non-stop record breaking run with a silk train in 1924.

"See America First - Glacier National Park"

Some time shortly after the Oriental was placed in service, the passenger marketing emphasis shifted from travel to the Orient, to selling Glacier National Park as a vacation destination. Passenger traffic was a dominant factor in railroad economies in the twenties and G.N. maintained posh ticket offices in major cities. Pictures of the Chicago ticket office portray stylishly dressed people perusing richly lithographed company literature in a setting of cut flowers and expensively panelled walls. The fresh flowers were furnished by G.N.'s green houses in Monroe, Washington. Glacier National Park was prominently mentioned in timetables, pamphlets, and books promoting the services on the Oriental.
Glacier National Park had been created in 1910. The West was still perceived as a high adventure by the eastern vacationer. G.N. did everything possible to make the park accessible to tourists and to provide accommodations at the Park. G.N. spent $1,000,000 building the Many Glacier and East Glacier Park hotels. To increase passenger traffic on the Oriental, G.N. distributed pamphlets on vacations in the Northwest and Glacier National Park. Travellers going to or from California or Alaska were invited to stop off at Glacier.
G.N. opened an extensive campaign to sell travel to the Northwest, employing national and local newspapers and magazines, informative timetables, folders, booklets, window displays, color slides, lectures, radio and motion pictures. The purpose was to create new business and to direct travel that was already bound to move somewhere for vacation or business, to G.N. Twenty-one station name changes were made in January and February, 1926 in the vicinity of Glacier National Park. Names like Spotted Robe, Bison, Grizzly, Triple Divide, Citadel, etc, replaced the likes of Nyack, Java, Coram, Fielding, and Midvale. Monuments were dedicated by Louis Hill and Ralph Budd through out the West to commemorate its explorers. It is interesting to note that the last lot of sleeper cars, delivered in 1925, had the names changed from cities to founders of the West, a harbinger of the names which would appear on the Empire Builder's equipment.
For another promotional campaign, Louis Hill retained well known painters; Winold Riess, W. L. Kinn and John Fery to portray glories of the west. Their work graced G.N. advertising from playing cards to wall calendars and were distributed through the service area and beyond. Into many such promotional materials were woven images of local Indians colorfully attired. A visual element which evolved was the Rocky Mountain Goat. 'Old Bill' began adorning the G.N. drumheads, tenders and the sides of freight equipment.
Great Northern was also able to make good its advice to "See More of America First" by coupling open top cars to the rear of the Oriental and Glacier Park Limiteds for their spectacular trip through the Montana Rockies. Pictures of these cars appear on page 319 of Wood's Great Northern Railway and pg 180 of HIDY's Great Northern Railway.


The Oriental Limited operated for less than seven years and was the premier Great Northern transcontinental train for a short five years. The Oriental Limited's star had really begun to set in 1927, when the rival Milwaukee Road introduced the more spacious 8-1-2 Pullman floor plan to the Northwest on its upgraded Olympian Hiawatha. The Olympian was now a superior train and Great Northern had to react by updating its train also. In 1929, a new train, the Empire Builder, was introduced on an even faster schedule. The Oriental continued as the second transcontinental train, replacing the Glacier Park Limited.
Great Northern's new train featured a modern solarium observation, spacious 8-1-2 Pullmans and more tourist sections which had proven so popular on the Oriental. With a faster schedule made possible by the new tunnel, a solarium observation made sense for the Builder. Great Northern abandoned the handsome two tone green exterior color scheme, and returned to the somber dark wood tudor styling for the observation's interior. All sleeping accommodations were removed from the observation, perhaps in response to complaints from passengers who had their night's sleep interrupted by switching operations as Pullmans were cut in and out of the train. The valet/barber shop and men's shower were moved to the observation, permitting 16 section tourist cars instead of the 12 section tourist cars that had been carried on the Oriental.
It is interesting to note several similarities between the 1924 Oriental and the 1947 Empire Builder. Both lost their premier status after four or five years but continued as the second train. Both trains introduced sleeping car configurations which were not repeated, the 10-1-2 on the Oriental and the 4-8-4 on the Builder. Many names of the Lake series sleeping cars were recycled in the 1947 Builder consist. The final similarity is the sleeping accommodations in the observation car. As noted above, passenger sleeping space was eliminated from the Founder Series Observation car carried on the 1929 Builder. The 1947 Empire Builder's design reintroduced sleeping accommodations in the Observation Car. When the train was upgraded in 1951, sleeping space was removed from the newer Observation Cars except the two roomettes that were dedicated as crew space.
It is evident from the amount of equipment which was acquired, that Great Northern intended to operate both the Oriental Limited and the Empire Builder on a long term basis. Unfortunately, passenger revenues declined in spite of new equipment, excellent service and advanced advertising techniques. In 1931, not many more than one million passengers travelled G.N. trains compared to 8.5 million in 1920. Revenue dropped from $30.4 million in 1920 to $11 million in 1931. The Oriental became a casualty of the downturn in business caused by the Great Depression. The Oriental was withdrawn in March 30, 1931.


Durban's Some Classic Trains

Beebe & Clegg's The Trains we Rode
Kratville's Steam, Steel & Limiteds
Wood's Lines West, and Great Northern Railway
Martin's Locomotives of the Empire Builder
Dorn's Lines EAST
Heidi & Hilder's Great Northern Railway
Martin Albro's J.J.Hill, Opening of the Northwest
John H. White American Railroad Passenger Car
Rudel Trains of Discovery
Waynor's Pullman Car Roster
Railway Age, May 31, 1924
Baldwin Locomotive Works Magazine; Jan 1925, 2/1939
GNRHS Data Sheets # 40, 100, 110, & 165

ORIENTAL LIMITED Train Directory, 1924

Timetables (various 1909-1931)
1924 & 31 editions of "From the Car Window"
Glacier National Park, 1920
Glacier National Park, 1924
Glacier National Park, 1927
Scenic Northwest 1924
The Great Northern Goat (various)


The author would like to extend special thanks to David Letourneau, Manager of The Burlington Northern Archives, and to the following GNRHS members who generously shared information for the preparation of this article: Dale Bratvold,Mike Denuty, Pete Ellis, Donald Halffield, Harold Hall, Connie Hoffman, and Stuart Holmquist.

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