The Golden Age of Railroading isn’t just remembered, it’s back again!
The introduction of luxury Dome Cars on passenger trains in the late 1950’s was a major innovation. Bringing one of these full length Dome Cars to Duluth on the North Shore Scenic Railroad will be just as transformational as they were for the great passenger trains of the past. The very name of this historic car says it all…Sky View!
Imagine sitting high above the rails, under a dome of curved glass, as the panorama of Lake Superior, Duluth’s pictured hillside and the majestic Northwoods passes all around you. Guest/passengers will see Duluth and the North Shore as never before.
Of the 236 Dome Cars built, only thirty had glass windows that extended the entire length of the coach. One of the few remaining, Sky View, was manufactured by the BUDD Car Company for the Santa Fe Railroad in 1954. It ran on several of the company’s named trains before migrating to Amtrak and then entered into First Class Private Car Service.
This magnificent coach has table seating for sixty guest/passengers under curved glass windows that give an unparalleled, 360-degree view of the passing countryside. Below, on Sky View’s lower level, is a dining lounge with a fully functional galley and two executive washrooms.
The North Shore Scenic Railroad will be using Sky View in First Class Service on its popular Duluth Zephyr and Elegant Dinner Trains later this summer. This will free up the railroad’s Silver Club Dome Car for use on the train to Two Harbors on weekends. Both of the Railroad’s signature excursions will now feature First Class Dome Car Service. Passengers will enjoy their own personal car attendant, complimentary beverages and an individual charcuterie. It is hoped to have this operating and available by July, 2021.
Support the SkyView Domecar with a contribution to its designated fund. A secure checkout is setup sending funds directly into an account just for the ongoing preservation and presentation of the SkyView.
History of Big DomeCar #551 and its name “SkyView”:
The Budd Railcar company built 20 Budd full-length dome cars during the period 1953 to 1955; 14 for the Santa Fe, and six for the Great Northern. Of the 20 full-domes built, only the Great Northern named theirs. The Santa Fe simply referred to them as “Big Domes” and number, in this case “Big Dome #551.”
The 14 Santa Fe Big Domes were built and delivered by Budd in two different lower level configurations. 506-513 had a 28-seat lounge plus bar. 550-555 featured a six-seat lounge plus bar and a crew dormitory. Most currently feature a 22 seat dining room downstairs with full kitchen and full wait station.
Great Northern followed Santa Fe and ordered six of the same type, # 1390-1395. With the exception of ASF Rotobrakes on the Santa Fe domes, and Budd (Wabco) brakes on the GN Great Domes, the two versions of the cars are basically identical. The Santa Fe fluting exists on the GN lower car body under snap-in covers. Even the GN domes have ATSF casting marks on them, and the trucks share sequential serialization across both companies.
Of the 20 built, 17 still exist as follows:
- Royal Gorge Route: 507, 513, 553
- Iowa Pacific et al: 508, 509, 510, 511, 512, 551
- Coastal 1394
- Grand Canyon: 1395, 1392
- BNSF: 506 (currently numbered BNSF 60), 1390 (currently number BNSF 30)
- NS: 552
- Amtrak: 1391
- Scrapped: 550, 555, 1393
Additionally, Pullman Standard built 10 “Superdomes” for the Milwaukee Road. Similar in concept, although they do not feature vestibules.
What’s nice about full domes is that they are equivalent to multiple cars in a single excursion train. They have the capacity of a coach, a dining area sufficient to serve the guests on board, a private bar upstairs, restrooms, and generally enough electrical supply to power surrounding cars.
After years of traveling on the trains of the Santa Fe, namely the SuperChief, Amtrak took over operations of passenger rail, and operated Big Dome #551 until the mid 80’s.
The longest Big Dome #551 carried a name was when it was owned by Holland America Line / Westours, Inc in Alaska. It operated in service as “Kobuk #551” on the McKinley Explorer, named after an Alaskan river. HAL/Westours owned and operated the fleet of heritage domecars longer than any other owner – including GN and ATSF – placing the first ones in service beginning in 1987, adding more into the 90’s, and ultimately running the fleet for 22 years. The last of their heritage domecars were retired after the 2009 season, when they were replaced with newer equipment.
HAL/Westours restored the cars to their original numbers, un-doing the numbering convention applied by Amtrak.
The name Sky View was applied to #551 by Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH) during the period when the rail charter company was busy expanding and placing big domes in service on most of the tourism-based railroads it operated. The convention for domes, clubs, and coaches was to give them x-View, x-Club, and x-Valley names. So a train with Calumet Club, Scenic View, and Gila Valley was a club, a dome, and a coach.
Big Dome #551 “SkyView” was purchased by the North Shore Scenic Railroad in the spring of 2021 for use on the excursion trains in Duluth, Minnesota. The railroad, owned by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum will focus on preserving the car for current, and future use. It will retain the name “SkyView” for the foreseeable future.