Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Famous Trains

Stacy Conradt
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It was this month in 1900 that Mr. John Luther Jones (that's Casey to you and me) lost his life while manning the Cannonball Express. As you'll see in a second, although he was killed in a train collision, his heroic act saved the lives of all of the passengers and crew aboard, so I think it's fitting that we honor him by talking about famous trains today. Also, I think my dad will like this one because he works for the railroad and has developed an affinity for trains over the years. Hi, dad! Without further ado"¦

casey
casey /
orient
orient /

3. The Hiawatha trains, which ran from Chicago to Minneapolis, first appeared on the tracks in 1935. They were named after Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha." There was the Twin Cities Hiawatha, which ran straight from the Windy City to the Twin Cities; the North Woods Hiawatha, running from the main line through parts of Wisconsin; the Chippewa-Hiawatha, which ran through a different part of Wisconsin; the Midwest Hiawatha from Chicago to Omaha; and the Olympian Hiawatha, which took passengers all the way from Chicago to Seattle. Those have all terminated at this point, but you can still get from Chicago to Milwaukee using the Hiawatha Service, which should get you between the two cities in about 90 minutes.

california limited
california limited /
zephyr
zephyr /

6. The Rock Island Rockets were notable because they were some of the first diesel-powered trains. And they had a line called the Des Moines Rocket, which ran from Chicago to DSM. I like to give the 515 a shout-out whenever I can, so consider my duty fulfilled for the week. Other Rockets ran from Chicago to Peoria, Fort Worth to Houston, Minneapolis to Kansas City, and Kansas City to Denver.

north coast
north coast /

8. The Orange Blossom Special is pretty well known thanks to the Ervin T. Rouse song that was later the name of a 1965 Johnny Cash album (which Johnny covered on the album). It ran from New York to Miami. Ervin T. Rouse and Chubby Wise saw the Orange Blossom when it was in Jacksonville, Florida, and were inspired to write a fiddle tune about it (Chubby was a legendary bluegrass fiddler)"¦ at least, that's the story. Records show that the train they saw was a streamlined train, which wouldn't have been the Orange Blossom, which used heavyweight Pullman sleepers, diners and coaches. If they did indeed see a streamlined train, it was likely the Silver Meteor, a streamlined train with stainless steel coaches.
Here's a double whammy for you: Mr. Cash performing both Casey Jones and Orange Blossom Special (he uses the harmonica instead of the fiddle).

royal blue
royal blue /

10. The Marrakesh Express is a real train, in case that Crosby, Stills & Nash song ever had you wondering. Graham Nash took the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh in 1966 and booked himself a posh first-class seat, but found himself bored and went back to sit with the "ducks and pigs and chickens."

Do you have any memorable train rides to tell of? Tell us all about it in the comments. I'm afraid I have nothing to contribute this time, although I'm suddenly inspired to take a cross-country train trip!

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