history of the el > dining car operations
The Railroad Dining Car
Before railroads had dining cars, passengers on long trips either brought along their own food or dined at restaurants at our near station stops. The food at these stops was rarely of good quality or much variety, and passengers had only minutes in which to eat. In the 1870s, dining cars were developed first for wealthy passengers. The Chicago & Alton Railroad was the first to adopt the dining car for regular passenger service. In order to compete, other Chicago railroads did likewise. Eventually, dining cars became a competitive necessity on all railroads, no matter how high an expense was incurred through their manufacture and operation.
The Pullman Company built the first dining car, naming it the "Delmonico," after the world-famous restaurant in New York City. This diner featured two dining rooms with a kitchen between the two rooms. By the early 1880s, the design configuration of the dining car had changed, putting the kitchen at one end of the car and the dining room, seating 36 people, at the other end. A dining car required a staff of at least seven and sometimes as many as 16 cooks, busboys, and waiters. Tables were set with fine linen, silver, and china, all made especially for the railroad and emblazoned with its logo. The cars themselves were generally carpeted, occasionally furnished with fine draperies and light fixtures. Menus might offer as many as 80 different dishes, featuring fresh meats, fish, poultry, baked goods, fruits, and vegetables.
Dining on the Erie Lackawanna
From the late 1800s until 1970, the Erie, DL&W and finally the Erie Lackawanna provided some of the best meals in the country in its fleet of dining cars. These meals were no mere “tray service” or sandwiches—the finest ingredients were freshly prepared onboard the dining car, then served on heavy china at a table with the finest linens, polished silver and elegant glassware. The chefs, waiters and steward were well-versed in providing the highest level of service possible.
The Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society was formed to restore and recreate an original Erie Lackawanna passenger train, with a fully operational dining car as the centerpiece. Not only will our train look authentic on the outside, but the experience of riding inside our train will also be authentic to the late 1950s and early 1960s.
ELDCPS owns four passenger cars; Diner 741 was built in 1925 by the Pullman Company, and was sold to the Erie Railroad in 1929. Diners 469 and 770 were built in 1949 by Budd for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western. All three cars continued to operate on the Erie Lackawanna following the 1960 merger of the Erie and the DL&W. Our fourth car, sleeper City of Lima, was built by Pullman in 1950 for the Nickel Plate Road, and operated on DL&W and later Erie Lackawanna passenger trains between 1950 and 1963.