The Pioneer Zephyr

Burlington Zephyr frame

It was in 1932 that General Motors had perfected a diesel fuel-run engine that was lightweight and strong enough to mount onto a locomotive frame and pull a train.  This innovation coincided perfectly with the railroad industry's search for a streamlined, modern design for their trains, and especially with the desire of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company to modernize their passenger trains, making them look sleeker and perform better. Inspired by the designs seen at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, the design of a new train began to take shape.

Men pulling a Zephyr

The train was built by the E. G. Budd Manufacturing Company, and was powered by a 600-horsepower diesel engine manufactured by General Motors Corp's Electro-Motive Division.  The stainless steel construction and three-car design made the train light enough to be pulled by a small team of E.G. Budd employees in this demonstration.

Burlington Zephyr debut

The train originally called just "The Zephyr" made its debut in Philadelphia in April 1934.  The Philadelphia Record announced its arrival on the front page of its April 18, 1934 issue, remarking that it was "named after the west wind and looking like some Martian visitor."

Century of Progress train display

The Zephyr's first run was April 9, 1934 between Philadelphia and Perkiomen Junction, Pennsylvania. Then from April 18 through November 10 of that year, the Zephyr was exhibited in 222 cities to over 2,000,000 visitors, traveling 30,437 miles.  One of the most publicized runs was a dawn-to-dusk run on May 26 from Denver, Colorado to Chicago: 1,016 miles in 13 hours 5 minutes. It ran at a record-shattering average speed of 77.6 miles per hour.  By comparison, a typical Denver-Chicago run usually took 26 hours. At the end of the run, the Zephyr rolled right onto the grounds of the Century of Progress World's fair, where it became part of the pageant entitle, "Wings of the Century," all about the evolution of transportation in the 20th century.

Burlington Zephyr Logo

The name "Zephyr" was adopted by the CB&Q for two reasons. First, being nearly the last word in the dictionary, it implies that the Zephyr is 'the last word' in modern rail transportation. Second, one definition of Zephyr  (an adaptation of the name of the Greek God Zephyrus) is the West Wind, and as trains on the Burlington Route went "Everywhere West," it was an apt description of the travels one would take on the new trains.

Brochure for the Burlington Zephyr

This original Zephyr train was renamed the Pioneer Zephyr a year later to distinguish it from the growing fleet of Zephyrs that traversed the United States: among these were the Twin Zephyrs (service to the Twin Cities, 1935-1936); the Denver Zephyr (1936), the Sam Houston Zephyr (1936), the Mark Twain Zephyr (1935), and so on.