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The Chief was one of the named passenger trains of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Its route ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. The Chief was inaugurated as an all-Pullman limited train to supplement the road's California Limited, with a surcharge of USD $10.00 for an end-to-end trip. The heavyweight began its first run from both ends of the line, simultaneously, on November 14, 1926, scheduled 63 hours each way between Chicago and Los Angeles, five hours faster than the California Limited. (The Overland Limited, Los Angeles Limited and Golden State Limited began their extra-fare 63-hour schedules between Chicago and California the same day.)
The Chief was a success, dubbed "Extra Fast-Extra Fine-Extra Fare" though it failed to relieve traffic on the California Limited. The Chief became famous as a "rolling boudoir" for film stars and Hollywood executives. In 1954 the Chief reduced its schedule to equal its cousins, the Super Chief and El Capitan, and would ultimately drop the extra fare requirement as well.
The Chief would have been the "crown jewel" of most railroads' passenger fleets. But it did not survive the national decline in passenger demand and its last run was on May 15, 1968.
- 1926: to supplement the California Limited Santa Fe inaugurates the all-Pullman, extra-fare Chief, running between Chicago and Los Angeles.
- November 14, 1926: The Chief makes its first departure from both ends of the line simultaneously.
- March 1928: Eastward schedule drops to 61-1/4 hours
- June 1929: schedule both ways drops to 58 hours
- 1937: The Santa Fe announces that the Chief will receive streamlined (lightweight) cars to replace the heavyweights and will run on a 50¾-hour schedule.
- February 22, 1938: 10 new streamlined cars are placed into service.
- 1942: Consist expands to 13 cars, and each averages 743 daily miles.
- 1945: The train receives new cars and the schedule is reduced to 45 hours.
- March 27, 1947: sleeping car service direct to San Diego starts.
- January 10, 1954: The 45-hour schedule is cut to 39 hours, 45 minutes eastbound and 39 hours, 30 minutes westbound, with a morning departure from Chicago. The westbound train spends only one night in transit, leaving Chicago in the morning and arriving in Los Angeles late evening of the following day. The fare surcharge is dropped after the Union Pacific introduces its Challenger train.
- 1954: Coaches are added to the Chief; observation cars are removed for the first time since the train's inauguration. The cars are blunt-ended at Pullman's Richmond, California facility and returned to service in the new San Francisco Chief's consists as Pullman lounges.
- January 1954: Santa Fe transfers transcontinental sleeping car service to the Super Chief.
- September 5, 1956: A Santa Fe fireman from the waiting eastward Fast Mail Express throws a switch in front of the speeding Chief near Springer, New Mexico, causing it to enter the siding occupied by the Fast Mail Express and collide head-on. Both engine crews (save for the hapless Fast Mail fireman) are killed; a total of 20 train crew and Chief dining car employees are killed in the collision. Thirty-five passengers and crew members are injured. View additional info.
- 1960: eastward Chief begins running via Topeka.
- 1963-64: westward train does likewise.
- May 15, 1968: The Chief ceases operations; Santa Fe will resurrect the name for a fast "piggyback" freight train in the 1970s.
- Summer 1972: Amtrak revives the Chief for three months using Nos. 19 & 20 and the Chief's morning departure from Chicago.
- October 28, 1984-present: Amtrak institutes the "Southwest Chief" running between Los Angeles and Chicago.
In summer 1926 the fastest schedules between Chicago and San Francisco/Los Angeles were 68 hours. That November four extra-fare ($10) all-Pullman trains started running on 63-hour schedules: the Chief, the Los Angeles Limited via Salt Lake, the Golden State Limited via El Paso, and the Overland Limited to San Francisco. In 1928 the four eastward trains dropped to 61 hours 15 minutes to improve connections at Chicago. In June 1929 the Chief and Overland Limited schedules dropped to 58 hours each way, leaving Chicago at 11:15 AM/11:50 AM and Los Angeles/San Francisco at 9:45 PM/9:40 PM. The standard-fare schedule then became 63 hours westward and 61-1/4 eastward on seven routes from Chicago to the Coast (trains to Seattle now matching the standard-fare California trains). The Los Angeles Limited and Golden State Limited retained their 1928 schedules and so dropped their extra fares.
In 1931 the Overland Limited dropped its extra fare and combined with the 63-hour train on its route; the Chief was the only extra fare transcon train thereafter, until the streamliners. In February 1936 it was scheduled 53 hours 45 minutes to Los Angeles, compared to 61 hours for the Los Angeles Limited, Golden State Ltd, and California Ltd.
In May 1936 Union Pacific opened high speed Chicago - Los Angeles service with its City of Los Angeles Diesel streamliner. In December 1937 the original City of Los Angeles train was replaced by a full-sized 14 car train. The schedule was doubled to 10 times monthly in July 1938.
A typical heavyweight Chief consist in Winter, 1937:
- 4-6-4 "Hudson"-type Steam Locomotive #3451
- Express Mail #2041
- Railway Post Office #63
- Baggage-Club-Lounge #1304 Chief Manakaja
- Lounge General Carr (10 sections, likely utilized as crew Dormitory space)
- Fred Harvey Company Diner #1472
- Sleeper Glen Ewen (6 compartments, 3 drawing rooms)
- Sleeper Laurel Wood (8 sections, 2 compartments, 1 drawing room)
- Sleeper-Observation-Lounge Crystal Bay (3 compartments, 2 drawing rooms)
A typical "mixed" Chief consist as of January 31, 1938 (the Chief regularly included heavyweight head-end cars in its consist, even into the late 1940s):
- 4-6-4 "Hudson"-type Steam Locomotive #3460 (also known as the "Blue Goose")
- Railway Post Office #79 (heavyweight)
- Baggage #1894 (heavyweight)
- Baggage-Buffet-Lounge #1380 San Miguel (also included a barber shop)
- Sleeper Otowi (17 roomettes)
- Sleeper Ganado (14 sections)
- Sleeper Toreva (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Mankoweap (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 Dbl. Bdrm.)
- Dormitory-Club-Lounge #1373 Tesuque
- Fred Harvey Company Diner #1477
- Sleeper Mohave (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Sinyala (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper-Observation-Lounge Betahtakin (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)
Transcontinental Sleeping Car Service was inaugurated in Spring 1946, and the Chief began regularly carrying three such cars in its consist: two originating in New York City, and the other in Washington, DC (most often these were smooth-sided cars painted two-tone Pullman grey). By the following summer, the Chief had retired all of its steam-driven motive power and was usually pulled behind A-B-B-A sets of EMD FT locomotives or A-B-A sets of the new ALCO PAs).
The following is a typical all-lightweight Chief consist as of late 1947:
- ALCO PA Locomotive #53L
- ALCO PB Locomotive #53A
- ALCO PA Locomotive #53B
- Baggage #3452
- Railway Post Office #88
- Baggage #3438
- Baggage-Buffet-Lounge #1381 San Marcial (also included a barber shop)
- Sleeper Maito (17 roomettes)
- Sleeper Verde Valley (6 sections, 6 roomettes, 4 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Imperial Park (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Tapacipa (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
- Dormitory-Club-Lounge #1372 Picuris
- Fred Harvey Company Diner #1497
- Sleeper Kayenta (4 compartments, 2 drawing rooms, 4 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Sinyala (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Tolani (8 sections, 2 compartments, 2 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper-Observation-Lounge Biltabito (4 drawing rooms, 1 double bedroom)
A typical Chief consist in the mid-1950s (note the absence of an observation car, which was eliminated as per Santa Fe policy):
- EMD F7A Locomotive #46C
- EMD F7B Locomotive #46B
- EMD F3B Locomotive #19B
- EMD F7B Locomotive #301A
- EMD F7A Locomotive #301L
- Baggage #3657
- Baggage #3442
- Baggage-Dormitory #1381
- "Chair" car / Coach (44 "leg-rest" seats) #2938
- "Chair" car / Coach (44 "leg-rest" seats) #2883
- "Chair" car / Coach (44 "leg-rest" seats) #2909
- Lunch Counter-Diner #1568
- "Chair" car / Coach (44 "leg-rest" seats) #2848
- "Chair" car / Coach (44 "leg-rest" seats) #2831
- "Big Dome"-Lounge #509
- Fred Harvey Company Diner #1491
- Sleeper Blue Island (10 roomettes, 2 compartments, 3 double bedrooms)*
- Sleeper Pine Dale (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Palm Star (10 roomettes, 6 double bedrooms)
- Sleeper Citrus Valley (6 sections, 6 roomettes, 4 double bedrooms) (ran from Chicago, Illinois — Denver, Colorado; switched out at La Junta, Colorado).
- Sleeper Estancia Valley (6 sections, 6 roomettes, 4 double bedrooms) (ran from Denver, Colorado — Los Angeles, California; switched in at La Junta, Colorado).
- *NOTE: The nineteen "10-2-3" sleepers in the Blue series had a floorplan configuration unique to the Santa Fe.
- Passenger train service on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
- Frailey (1998), p. 56
- Duke, Donald and Stan Kistler (1963). Santa Fe...Steel Rails through California. Golden West Books, San Marino, CA.
- Duke, Donald (1997). Santa Fe: The Railroad Gateway to the American West, Volume Two. Golden West Books, San Marino, CA. ISBN 0-87095-110-6.
- Frailey, Fred W. (1998). Twilight of the Great Trains. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 0 89024 178 3.
- Frailey, Fred W. (1974). A Quarter Century of Santa Fe Consists. RPC Publications, Godfrey, IL.
- Strein, Robert; et al. (2001). Santa Fe: The Chief Way. New Mexico Magazine. ISBN 0-937206-71-7.
- Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972). Car Names, Numbers and Consists. New York: Wayner Publications. OCLC 8848690.
- Zimmermann, Karl R. (1987). Santa Fe Streamliners: The Chiefs and their Tribesmen. New York: Quadrant Press. ISBN 0915276410. OCLC 19005401.