Parlor Car on the Alaska Railroad

By Jerome F. Sheldon

Railroad parlor cards of the 1920's and '30's (and later) were a feature popular with many passengers -- open back platforms that enabled them to enjoy the scenery and feel the breezes.

My first parlor-car ride was on the Alaska Railroad in February of 1954 between Seward and Anchorage.  I had arrived at Seward, at the head of Resurrection Bay, aboard the steamer Baranof of the Alaska Steamship Co.  I was en route to Fairbanks to take a job on the Daily News-Miner staff.  The railroad's "boat train" was drawn up on the dock within a few steps of the ship's side.

Most of the Baronof's passengers (there couldn't have been more than 30 in that winter season) gathered in the parlor car for snacks and drinks.  The car's observation platform was well protected by a sturdy rail at the back and on both sides; the side rails included a gate for the use of railroad crew members.

I don't remember the travel time to Anchorage--two-and-a-half hours perhaps.  The route traversed the picturesque Kenai Range and skirted the shore of Turnagain Arm, an extension of Cook Inlet.  During the trip many of the passengers stepped out on the platform to admire ever-changing vistas.

As matters developed, the 1954 season marked the end of the Alaska Railroad's boat trains.  In the autumn, the Alaska Steamship Co. suspended its passenger-liner service and retired the Baranof.

Thereafter, the only regular passenger-rail connection between Anchorage and Seward was a "mixed" train -- a passenger coach attached to a string of freight cards.

For special occasions in Seward, such as the annual Mount Marathon races, the railroad arranged for excursion trains that were popular with the public.

For me, that voyage on the Baranof and subsequent ride on the boat train was my introduction to postwar Alaska.  It was a trip that lives on in my memory.


© 2001 Jerome F. Sheldon