GNRHS Reference Sheet #290 issued December, 2000
provides much more information.
TO First Service
TO THE Limited
The Great Northern Flyer

January 2, 1899 - October 1905

The eastbound Great Northern Flyer pauses at the new Spokane depot in 1902


As Numbers: 3 & 4
Dates of Operation: January 2, 1899 - March 2, 1903
1899 Route: St Paul via Elk River, St Cloud, Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks,
Minot, Havre, Marias Pass, Kalispell, Haskell Pass, Spokane, Cascade Switchbacks,
Seattle. 1823 miles


Official Guide - January 1899

Official Guide June 1893    
  Westbound   Eastbound  
  Train #3   Train #4  
(Sun) Lv 9:00 AM St Paul Ar: 2:00 PM (Wed)
(Sun) Ar: 3:32 PM Fargo Ar: 6:57 AM (Wed)
(Mon) Ar: 10:45 AM Havre Ar: 8:30 AM (Tues)
(Tues) Ar: 7:15 AM Spokane Ar: 8:20 AM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar 10:00 PM Seattle Lv: 4:00 PM (Sun)
  63 hrs Running Time 67:30 Hrs  
  Train #23   Train #24  
(Tues) Lv: 11:05 AM Havre Ar: 8:00 AM (Tues)
(Tues) Ar: 3:35 PM Great Falls Ar: 3:00 AM (Tues)
(Tues) Ar: 7:05 PM Helena Ar: 11:35 PM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar: 10:30 PM Butte Lv: 8:30 PM (Mon)
    OR&N Ry    
(Wed) 8:30 AM Portland Lv: 7:20 AM (Sun)

Eight sets of equipment continued to be needed for the 64 hour schedule. Eastbound, the train left Seattle for St Paul with an RPO, Baggage/express, First Class Coach, Family Tourist, Diner, Palace Sleepers, and Buffet-Library Car. In May 1899, the Official Guide lists a Library- Observation' car on number three, the westbound Flyer, but it is not listed as returning on eastbound number four. GN did not begin painting its passenger equipment the familiar dark olive green (similar to Pullman-Green) until the late 1890's. By 1900, green was in use, however, maroon was still common to see. AFE 3491, dated Feburary 13,1900, indicates that sleepers 214, 216, 223, 224, 915-18 were still in maroon. GN began replacing stoves in its passenger equipment with steam heat in 1902. In early 1903, the oil lamps were being replaced with Acetylene lighting systems. This proved hazardous and the gas tanks were subsequently fitted with pressure relief plugs.

These two post cards demonstrate the two colors of Great Northern passenger equipment.Originally passenger equipment was painted a color GN called maroon, as shown in this picture.
Around the 1900 GN began the switch to an olive green color with gold lettering as shown in this picture.

New locomotives were acquired for the Flyer, when GN took delivery of 10 heavier E-3 Ten-wheelers, received in March 1899. The locomotives, numbered 900-909 had a tractive effort of 18,150 lbs, and rode on 73" drivers. In November 1901, more speedsters were received. The 10 E-8's, numbers 1050-1059, also had 73" drivers and tractive effort was increased to 23,540 lbs. In addition, reference sheet 173 contains a picture of an E-10 exiting Haskell Tunnel in 1901 with a passenger train. As more Ten-Wheelers were acquired, few and fewer Eight-Wheelers were needed. Consolidations (2-8-0's) and Twelve-Wheelers (4-8-0's) had replaced the Mogals in helper assignments.
In November and December 1899, eight 65-foot RPO cars numbers 635-642 were delivered by AC&F for the new transcontinental mail contract. In March 1902, two more, 643-644, came from AC&F. The cars were a longer version of the earlier 50-foot postal cars of 1893. There were five windows between the doors and double windows between the door and end. Similar cars appear in 1920's pictures of silk
trains. Rich Miller's excellent drawings for these cars first appeared in the January 1989, issue of Mainline Modeler and are reprinted in Reference sheet 142.
The Baggage and Express cars were renumbered to the 500 series at the turn of the century. In between March and July 1902, AC&F delivered twenty 65-foot Baggage & Express cars, numbered 569-590. The wood sheathed cars had closed ends, double doors on each side, 6 wheel trucks, gas lights and lettered Great Northern with a square Great Northern Express Company herald on the sides. Reference sheet #32 contains a builder's photo of these cars.
Between the start of the Flyer in 1899 and the Puget Sound Express in 1903, GN acquired 84 modern first class coaches. New coaches came from AC&F in 1899-1900 and were the first to be constructed with vestibules. The 69-foot cars, were a stretched version of the 1891-1893 design. The new cars could accommodate 72 passengers and the windows were now in pairs. The first lot of fourteen, numbers 162-175, arrived in 1899-1900. Barney & Smith built fifty almost identical 69-foot 72 seat coaches, numbered 176-225 in 1901 and 1902. Both batches of 69-foot coaches had 4 wheel trucks. Barney & Smith built twenty longer 81-foot coaches in 1902, numbers 350-369 that seated 86 passengers and rode on six wheel trucks. By the beginning of 1903, GN had a pool of 84 modern coaches to protect both the Flyer and the Expresses.
The 14 section Family Tourist Cars that had served the route since the start of service in 1893, received vestibules in 1900 and were renumbered 805-812 in 1899-1901. AFE 5313, dated December 31, 1901 was issued to equip Tourist cars 805-812 with lamps at the range end of the car. Tourist sleepers were added to the pool in September, 1902. Numbered 829-837, they were 68-feet over the vestibules, had four wheel trucks, men's and women's restrooms and, a small range and a coal heater.

Eight 700 series diners having 24 seats continued to be assigned to the Flyer without any changes. The 1901 public timetable informed that

"Great Northern Dining cars are permanently attached to all transcontinental trains and do away absolutely with all the rush and hurry that too often destroys a meal on other lines. Abundance of time, the smoothest of running and the exquisite service have made the GN diner famous with the experienced traveler."

In March 1900, built AC&F 82-foot 14 section 1-drawing room, called a stateroom
by GN, and a large men's room designated as a smoking room. They were numbered
937-944 and named Idaho, Mt. Baker, Anaconda, Fairhaven, Minnesota, Cascade,
Skykomish, Crookston. In September 1902, B&S built almost identical 82-foot, Palace Sleepers They were numbered 945-952 and named Mount Index, Chelan, Olympic, Puget Sound, Washington,
Everett, Stehekin, Okanagan, Mt Baker (the first Mt. Baker, 938 was destroyed in 1901)

The Flyer continued to carry a Buffet-Library car.
Part of the June 16, 1900 timetable cover crowing about the recently won U.S. Mail contract


Great Northern Wins the Mail Contract
By 1899, the Great Northern Flyer, owned the fastest schedule of any train between Seattle and St. Paul. That year, Great Northern took the mail contract from the Northern Pacific on the Seattle - St Paul route, after stunning the NP with a faster running time between the cities. Part of that trip was recounted in the March, 1950 Trains Magazine by Mr. Frank Ginger, who was a railway postal clerk operating out of Spokane in 1899. He reports that until 1899, the GN was quite content to leave passengers and mail to long established rival, the Northern Pacific. In 1899, GN entered into a competition to win the Seattle-St. Paul mail contract. In November, 1899, he was assigned to the Havre-Spokane run, one of four U.S. Post Office segments on the GN's St Paul-Seattle route. The run was 516 miles long with a running time of 23 hours eastbound and 21 1/4 hours westbound.
On the morning of November 21, 1899, he was to work number four on which GN was carrying the mail used in the competition for the mail contract. That morning, he was informed that number four from Seattle had been annulled due to a rock slide in the Cascades and a substitute number four was being made up at Spokane.

It would leave on time at 8 AM, but without a mail car. The mail car was being held for the mail from number four which was being transferred around the slide to a special train which would hustle it to Spokane. At 4 p.m. the special, consisting of a caboose, a box car, and the 905, a new Brooks E-3 Ten-Wheeler, arrived. It had made a phenomenal run - covering the 197 miles between Leavenworth and Spokane in four hours flat.

The mail was quickly transferred to the mail car and the special ran the short distance to Hillyard, where a new engine, this time another new E-3, the 903, took charge. The special was to make no stops with the objective of overtaking the substitute number four, which was eight hours ahead on its way to St. Paul. Near Camden, the road made a sharp curve around the end of a small lake. As they careened around this curve, the conductor, obviously scared stiff, jumped from his chair and grabbed for the air cord. A lurch of the train threw him against the wall and centrifugal force froze him there. Before he could recover, the train had rounded the curve, shot through a tunnel and was on a straight stretch again. The one car train covered the 108 miles to Bonner's Ferry in 2 hours.Next was the Kootenai Canyon, a nightmare of a place in those days - many miles of sharp curves, tunnels and overhanging rocks where disastrous wrecks had occurred. At one point a huge fallen rock stood so close to the rail that the track men were preparing to dynamite it.

However, the train was able to squeeze by with inches to spare. Finally, the division point at Troy was reached. The 141 miles from Spokane had taken three hours.

At Troy there was another engine change, this time to a standard Eight-Wheeler, possibly a B-21 or 22, GN's newest classes of 4-4-0s. She had been loaded with an exceptionally bad batch of Sand Coulee coal. The fireman, despite his best efforts, could not keep her hot. Several times it was necessary to stop to allow the boiler pressure to rise.

At Jennings, the crew waited until they had 150 pounds pressure before ascending the long grade to Haskell Pass. Finally, after several more stops, the summit was reached. The train then tore down the hill, "rocking around the curves at a pace to make one's hair stand".At Kalispell, another engine change was scheduled but none of the available engines were as good as the one which brought the special in. She was taken to the roundhouse for servicing and received a load of higher grade coal. This made a new engine out her. From there, wonderful time was made, chuffing up the stiff grade to Marias summit at a 30-mile clip. Thirteen miles down the eastern slope there was a station called Midvale, and near this place the line crossed Two Medicine Gulch on a trestle celebrated as being the highest wooden structure on the GN. This was a fearsome chasm and the bridge was ten years old and in bad shape. It was highly unsafe when beset by the terrific gales prevalent in this region; the wind would cause it to sway alarmingly and its ancient timbers would emit frightful banshee howls. During bad gales, trains were held until the wind subsided.A red board awaited the train at Midvale. In the office the operator handed the conductor his orders and said " I was just talking with the dispatcher. He wanted to know about the wind at the bridge. I told him there was a full gale down there and the watchman reported she was blowing four feet out of line. He said they were holding number four for you at Blackfoot, but for you and the engineer to use your judgement and not cross if it seems to risky." At the chasm, the wind howled and the bridge creaked and moaned. When the conductor swung his lamp, the Eight-Wheeler and RPO/Baggage combine crept out onto the crazy groaning structure. Midway, all hell broke lose as a terrific blast caught the combine broadside. The car shook and heeled over sickeningly, the transoms and ventilators shrieked, and things reached a climax when a frightened flagman pulled open a door. Instantly the lamps were doused and everything loose in the car took to the air. In pitch darkness, amidst a frightful din, the crew finished the long crawl across. At Blackfoot, number four was awaiting. She had been held two hours. The mail car was cut in and the trip to Havre was completed without further incident. The Special had made up six hours of lost time in its 11 hour run of 361 miles between Spokane and Blackfoot. GN, with a faster time, won the St Paul - Seattle mail contract from the NP.

Tumwater Canyon.

A rock slide at Scotia, a few miles from camden, causes GN to transfer passengers around the slide. C.1900 the time of the story

GN mainline passes Lake Pend'orille near Priest River

GN mainline by the Kootanai River near Troy, Montana.

GN 128 still with link and pin couplers, has the appears as the locomotive in the story would have had.

GN mainline by the Kootanai River near Jennings, Montana.

The fearsome trestle over Two Medicine gluch


It did not take the Northern Pacific long to respond. The railroad set a new standard for luxury travel to and from the Northwest when the North Coast Limited was inaugurated on April 29, 1900. The first electrically lit passenger train in the northwest, it featured wide vestibules, steam heated cars which were richly finished inside in mahogany and leather. At one end of the Pullman-built eight car train was the baggage car with a dynamo supplying power to the two hundred odd Madza lights throughout the train. At the other end was the magnificent 80-foot observation - featuring two card rooms, bathtub, barber shop, buffet, library, women's lounge, and an open observation platform with an electrically lighted drumhead. Its schedule for the 2056 miles from St. Paul to Seattle was 62 ´ hours. The eastbound Great Northern Flyer required an additional 2 hours. Initially intended as summer only train, in 1902 the North Coast Limited became a year round operation. It was a much better train than the GN's train where steam heat was two years away, an observation five years away, and electric lights nine years away.

The time advantage was short lived, lasting but one summer. The Cascade Tunnel opened on December 20, 1900, eliminating the switchbacks. The scheduled time between Cascade Tunnel Station and Wellington dropped from 1 hr 20 minutes to 10 minutes. As the first scheduled passenger train to use the tunnel, the Flyer's, schedule was cut to 60 hours.

In 1902, Great Northern completed a new Spokane line and moved into its new Havermale Island depot. By leaving the OR&N depot, it was no longer possible to offer through Portland coaches and sleepers. For the next eight years, Portland passengers had to change stations in Spokane.

Spokane Depot opened in 1902, when the Flyer was GN's only through train to the coast.

"Carries the Pacific Fast Mail"

As Numbers: 1 & 2
Dates of Operation: March 3, 1903 October 1905
1904 Route: St Paul, St Cloud, Fergus Falls, Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks, Minot,
Havre, Marias Pass, Whitefish, Rexford, Spokane, Cascade Tunnel, Seattle.
1829 miles

In 1903 the Great Northern Flyer was renumbered as trains 1 & 2, as the new Puget Sound /Eastern Expresses were added to the St. Paul - Seattle as numbers 3 & 4. In 1903, the Flyer offered morning departures from St. Paul and Seattle, and the Expresses sailed in the evening. The Flyer continued to operate via St Cloud, Grand Forks, and Devil's lake. Numbers 3 & 4 connected with trains 153/154 at Havre for the Butte connections. On the east end, the Expresses extended transcontinental service to Breckenridge and Willmar. North of Fargo, the new trains followed the just completed line, between Casselton and Larimore via Mayville. South of Fargo, Great Northern had two routes to St Paul, via either Willmar or St Cloud. The Expresses followed the 19 mile longer Willmar line.

Great Northern now operated two first class transcontinental passenger trains over its routes to the Northwest providing service to the principal cities half a day apart. Lettering for both trains was identical and equipment was interchangeable. The Flyer kept its same basic schedule of departing St. Paul in the morning and Seattle in the evening but with a three hour faster time.


Official Guide - June 1903

Official Guide June 1893    
  Westbound   Eastbound  
  Train #1   Train #2  
(Sun) Lv 10:30 AM St Paul Ar: 10:40 PM (tues)
(Sun) Ar: 8:00 PM Grand Forks Ar: 1:25 APM (Tues)
(Mon) Ar: 12:55 PM Havre Ar: 6:05 AM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar: 7:10 AM Spokane Ar: 9:00 AM (Sun)
(Tues) Ar 8:00 PM Seattle Lv: 8:30 AM (Sun)
  59:30 hrs Running Time 60:10 Hrs  
  Train #23   Train #24  
(Mon) Lv: 1:15 PM Havre Ar: 5:50 PM (Mon)
(Mon) Ar: 5:15 PM Great Falls Ar: 2:25 PM (mon)
(Mon) Ar: 8:36 PM Helena Ar: 11:04 AM (Mon)
(Mon) Ar: 11:45 PM Butte Lv: 8:00 AM (Mon)
    OR&N Ry (Change of Stations)
(Tues) Lv: 4:30 PM Spokane AR: 11:40 AM (Sun)
(Wed) Ar: 11:00 AM Portland Lv: 7:45 PM (Sat)
The Flyer was the first to follow the new route between Columbia Falls and Jennings via Whitefish-Rexford in 1904, eliminating Haskell Pass. That year the Flyer carried numbers one and four and the Puget Sound and Eastern Express numbers two and three.
Eight sets of equipment continued to be needed for the 60 hour schedule. Advertisements announcing the train stated that the both trains had all new equipment. The regularly assigned equipment was a RPO; Baggage/express; Coaches; Family Tourist Cars; Dining Cars; Palace Sleepers; Buffet Smoking Library Car
In February 1904, ten additional E-8 speedsters were acquired. Like the earlier
group, numbers 1060-1069, had 73" drivers and a tractive effort of 23,540 lbs.
As more Ten-Wheelers were acquired, fewer and fewer Eight-Wheelers were needed.
After the Cascade tunnel was completed, the E-10's were assigned to Haskell Pass
and the Seattle- Leavenworth portions of the line.

In November 1904, six additional 65-foot RPO cars numbers 645-650 were delivered
by AC&F. They were essentially the same as the 1899 and 1902 lots.
In November 1904, ten 75' foot Baggage Mail & Express cars (BM&E) numbers
613-22 were delivered by AC&F. The wood sheathed cars had closed ends, 6 wheel
trucks, gas lights and lettered Great Northern with a square Great Northern Express
Company herald on the sides. At one end the cars had 30-foot RPO apartments. At
the other end, the baggage and express area contained a safe, desk letter case and
toilet facilities for a baggage messenger as well as fish racks for perishable shipments.
In April 1905, Barney & Smith built Great Northern's first Express Refrigerator cars
to transport fruit and other perishable cargos on its passenger trains. The eight 63-foot Express Refrigerator and Ventilator cars, numbers 681-687, were essentially
baggage cars with three ice bunkers, two at either end and the third between the
door. There were three hatches on the roof to service the bunkers. A further
description and photograph of these cars is found in Reference Sheet 165.
The remainder of the equipment was unchanged. A pool of 84 modern coaches
protected both the Flyer and the Expresses. The pool consisted of the 64 shorter 72
seat coaches, numbers 176-225, and 20 larger 86 seat coaches numbers 350-369.
A pool of 35 14 section Tourist cars, 805-812 converted in 1893, 813-827 built in
1898 for Eastern Ry of Minn and 829-837 built in 1902. The 24 seat 700 series
continued to be assigned along with the sixteen 14 section -1 drawing room Palace
Sleepers numbers 937-952. The Flyer continued to carry the 60' Buffet-Library cars,
numbers 751-758, instead of an observation. The cars offered first class passengers a
comfortable place to gather with wicker chairs, wrought iron trim, design woodwork,
colorful curtains and ornamental lamps.

Excepts from the June 1900 timetable picturing the Flyer's interior.

Line Changes
The St. Paul - Seattle running time was slashed from 75 hours in 1893, to 60 hours in 1905 for the new Oriental Limited because of line improvements. The significant changes in the first twelve years, that allowed Great Northern to shave the running time by 15 hours included eliminating the hazardous switchbacks over Stevens Pass with the original 2.6 mile Cascade Tunnel in 1900. The tunnel eliminated eight and one half miles of track and reduced maximum elevation to 3,383 feet. Sixty-nine miles of mainline was relocated between Columbia Falls and Jennings, Montana in
1904, eliminating the 1.5% grades of the abandoned Haskell Pass line. Although the new line was 16 miles longer, the running time was slightly shorten. Trackage was improved in the western cities in several ways: the Everett tunnel was completed in 1901 eliminating the loop around the city over NP trackage; the line was changed through Spokane in 1902 for the new Havermale Island passenger depot; and the Seattle tunnel was completed in 1905, permitting the opening of King Street Station in 1906.

Great Northern Limited,

October 1905 - December 5, 1905

For a brief three month transitional period, numbers one and two were called The Great Northern Limited, before the Oriental Limited was adopted in December1905. The schedule was similar to that of the Oriental Limited's, and except for the new compartment observation cars, the Great Northern Limited's equipment was the same as carried on the Oriental Limited.

Route: St Paul, St Cloud, Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks, Minot, Havre, Whitefish,
Rexford, Spokane, Cascade Tunnel, Seattle. 1829 miles
Consist: RPO, Baggage/express car, Coaches, Smoking Cars, Tourist Sleeping Cars,
Dining Car, Palace Sleeping Cars, Buffet-Library St-Paul - Seattle.
Reclining Chair Cars, & Pullman Palace Buffet Sleepers
Spokane - Portland via OR&N (Change of stations)


Official Guide September 1905    
  Westbound   Eastbound  
  Train #1   Train #2  
(Sun) Lv 10:30 AM St Paul Ar: 2:45 PM (Wed)
(Sun) Ar: 8:00 PM Grand Forks Ar: 4:40 AM (Wed)
(Mon) Ar: 1:15 PM Havre Ar: 7:10 AM (Tues)
(Tues) Ar: 7:10 AM Spokane Ar: 9:15 AM (Mon)
(Tues) Ar 8:50 PM Seattle Lv: 8:00 PM (Sun)
  60:20 hrs Running Time 64:45 Hrs  

March 1905 timetable - Steamships and Mountains.

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