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You'd think that the rear window looked out into a Florida yard. Actually, it's a just a clever wall picture in the Sun Lounge, "a delightful patio-like club car on Seaboard Railroad's Silver Meteor, between New York and Florida." The Sun Lounge photo & description came from a postcard that dates from about the Fifties.
Just ten years before, a dining car innovation improved the quality of Seaboard's food & drink. The company began to eliminate the use of ice from outside sources. Its onboard kitchens now featured refrigerators that could produce 4,600 ice cubes every 24 hours and maintain temperatures from sub-zero to 36 degrees F. This allowed for cold drinks and permitted the storage of frozen meats, along with the serving of fruits and vegetables out of season. Each refrigerator also utilized an ultraviolet ray apparatus that killed harmful bacteria, according to the Florida Times-Union of May 21, 1946.
Here's a peek behind the scenes in a dining car's kitchen. These ovens kept the passengers happy with hot edibles. The pictures come from an Atlantic Coast Line train in Jacksonville, and they date from June 1948, a time between the Second World War and the Korean Conflict. Most railroad cooks, waiters, porters, and attendants in this country used to be African American males. Just where did the diner personnel sleep at night? On Seaboard Railroad trains, the baggage dormitory cars not only carried luggage but also provided air conditioned quarters for dining staff. This info was obtained from the Florida Times-Union of May 21, 1946.
If these travelers were rolling from New York to Jacksonville, how long did their journey require? In 1941, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad advertised 25 hours between the two points. During the trip, its luxury trains provided radios, dressing rooms, tavern-lounge cars, and two diners that served full-course meals. Seats could be individually reserved, and pillows could be had for 25 cents each (or about $3.10 in today's money). Twenty years later, the Atlantic Coast Line's Florida Special became known for its R & R amenities. It offered such pastimes as games, songfests, fashion shows, and TV programs. To help wile away the hours, for instance, a young, white railroad hostess, who resembled an airline stewardess, might oversee a bingo contest.
Here's a railroad car from July 8, 1937. It belonged to Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL), and it had its photo taken in Jacksonville. Notice how the seats could not be individually adjusted or reclined, as was also the case in two of the other cars on this webpage. In March 1938, however, ACL invited the public to inspect its new "Super Deluxe Coach" at Jacksonville Terminal. The railroad car, with an interior painted in a soothing color scheme, was built for overnight travel. Among other amenities, it offered individually reclining seats, wide overhead baggage racks, air conditioning, hot & cold running water, lino tile floors mounted on cork, a lounge and restroom for women, and a smoking room and restroom for men.
By eliminating its passenger service, FEC proved little different than many other railroad companies during the era. In the years following World War II, American travel had greatly changed. Automobile ownership steadily increased, and interstate highways spread throughout the land, making it much easier for drivers to pick up and go. Commercial airliners also took off in greater & greater numbers. The losers in this situation, though, were trains and ocean liners. Their owners eventually saw a sharp drop in their numbers of passengers. Adding to the FEC's woes was a labor dispute in 1968. Let's change gears now and take a look back at the Florida East Coast in better days, passenger-wise. The FEC could trace to a line founded by Henry Flagler during the late 1800s. His trains opened the state's east coast to development, and the FEC helped make household names of such places as Miami and Palm Beach. The company stayed quite busy, transporting freight, tourists, and new residents. By 1912 (the year the Titanic sank), FEC tracks linked Jacksonville with Key West. Whatever happened to this Keys connection? It lost a bout with Mother Nature. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 demolished the Overseas Railroad. Three years later, however, the Overseas Highway restored the mainland's ties to Key West. The auto route was partly constructed on the railroad's remains.

Passenger Trains

It’s a bad pun, but many rail passengers used to make tracks through Jax via the Jacksonville Terminal. This former railroad station is today’s Prime Osborn Convention Center. Modeled after New York’s Pennsylvania Station, Jacksonville Terminal actually ranked as the South’s largest station when completed in 1919. The facility hummed with activity during the Florida Land Boom of the Twenties, and it once handled as many as 142 trains and 20,000 passengers a day. The switch engines kept busy, dropping, adding, or trading various diners, coaches, and sleeping cars. Part of a passenger train might continue in one direction, while its other sections went elsewhere. Such legends as the Orange Blossom Special made regular stops in Jax. On January 3, 1974, however, the last passenger train finally rolled out of the venerable old station.

AN OLD WAY TO GO — Before the rise of interstates and airlines, a favorite way to travel was by railroad. And one of the most popular passenger trains rolled through Jacksonville. The Silver Meteor first streaked along the Atlantic coast in 1939. This Seaboard Railroad train linked New York with St. Petersburg, Florida. In December 1941, however, America entered into World War II, and railroad companies could build few passenger cars. After the conflict’s conclusion in 1945, these businesses tried to replace rolling stock that was wearing out or becoming obsolete. Seaboard Railroad proved no exception. It ordered new streamliners for its passengers in 1946, according to the Florida Times-Union of May 21 that year. The trains would ply between New York City and both coasts of Florida, with stops in Jacksonville.

Seaboard trumpeted how these streamliners would give the ultimate in comfort and safety. The coaches combined stainless steel exteriors with fluorescent-lit, pastel aluminum interiors that boasted spacious, glare-proof windows. The seats were individual and could be inclined or rotated to four positions, and they also came equipped with adjustable foot rests. Air conditioners would cool the cars, and fans would completely change the air every 30 seconds. For their listening pleasure, passengers could take advantage of radios that could be cut into the public address system, thus offering everything from the “Moonlight Sonata” to the last call for dinner. Each coach would have its own attendant, while the overall train carried a passenger agent and a registered nurse.

Remember in old movies how railroad travelers used to slumber in communal quarters? They were stacked in upper and lower berths, hidden behind curtains. According to the Times-Union, the Seaboard trains would make these arrangements old fashioned. Their new sleeping cars contained “roomettes,” that is, small, individual bedrooms.

Each Seaboard streamliner would feature a sleek dining car. And bringing up the rear of the train would be a living room-like observation car. It offered such amenities as radios, writing desks, and a library. Some of the cars were decorated in blue & gold, while others were decked out in green & gold. The walls were adorned with handcrafted linoleum plaques depicting Southern landscapes, historic shrines, and native industries. Maybe even the sophisticated James Bond would have approved!

Most of the railroad passenger service in America is now handled by Amtrak, a semi-public corporation created by Congress in 1970. Relatively few passenger trains run today, since Amtrak concentrates on the most potentially profitable routes. Nevertheless, the organization’s grave financial woes have given real cause for concern, further clouding the future of rail travel.

~written by Glenn Emery

 

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