Established as a “cruise train,” the California Zephyr initiated service on March 20, 1949, heading eastbound to Chicago. In the first years, the CZ, as it came to be known, was the main transportation between Chicago and San Francisco, covering the 2,532 miles in just over two days, traveling “the scenic way across America.”
The scheduling of the CZ purposefully put it in the magnificent landscape of the Rocky Mountains and Feather River during daylight hours, much to the delight of passengers. With its breathtaking scenery outside and excellent service inside, the CZ was “the most talked about train in the country.”
The California Zephyr was run as a shared effort between the CB&Q, D&RGW, and Western Pacific railroads, and as such was made up of a mix of cars provided by the three roads, and was pulled by different sets of locomotives through the three main legs of its journey. Shown below is a map of the transition points where the CB&Q, D&RGW, and WP handed the train off, and the common locomotive set up that would be used.