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Union Pacific Sleeping Cars

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This page was last updated on June 24, 2015.

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(First published on the UtahRails.net blog on December 9, 2011)

The people at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California are restoring a Union Pacific passenger car, a sleeper car named "National Scene." In September 2011, they asked me to help them describe their car, by way of a historical plaque that visitors would read as they view the car as it is displayed at the museum. In what seemed like a simple question, I was asked, "How many sleeping cars did UP own over its lifetime?"

How many sleeping cars did UP own over its lifetime? A quick answer would be 55 heavyweight clerestory-roof sleepers, and 191 lightweight sleepers. But a definitive number has two important considerations; the difference between operated, leased, and owned, and the difference between heavyweight and lightweight.

The difference between a heavyweight car and lightweight car is mostly the era it was built, rather than the material it was built from, meaning that cars of an earlier era were built with heavyweight materials, while newer, more modern cars were built using lighter materials. Heavyweight cars were built using riveted carbon steel body-frame construction, and concrete floors. Most were built in the 1910s and 1920s and due to their weight, were equipped with six-wheel truck and wheel assemblies. These have been known as heavyweight cars since the 1940s to distinguish them from the lightweight cars built using either much lighter aluminum or welded alloy steel, or combinations of both. Lightweight cars had non-opening windows, and full-width arch roof. Most were built after 1935 and were equipped with four-wheel truck and wheel assemblies.

Union Pacific did not own any sleeping cars until the government's forced breakup of Pullman in 1944. Until that date, all lightweight sleeper cars used by Union Pacific on their trains were "operated" by UP, but owned by The Pullman Company. After that date, sleeper cars operated on UP trains were either owned by UP, or owned by UP and its SP and C&NW partners; all were leased back to Pullman for operation.

The forced breakup of Pullman came as the result of anti-trust concerns raised by Budd, a Pullman competitor wanting access to the passenger car market. On May 8, 1944 a three-judge federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that Pullman, Inc., "completely and perpetually" separate its railroad-car building business (Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company) from its sleeping-car enterprise (The Pullman Company), effective within 60 days.

It took a while for the arrangements to be made, exceeding the 60-day period originally set. On May 12, 1945 Pullman made the initial move of offering its sleeping car operations to the nation's railroads, and on June 26, 1945, Pullman sent a Notice of Contract Termination to all member railroads. The final effective date was extended until all appeals could be settled, on or about March 31, 1946. Due to contracts already in place, lightweight cars owned by Pullman were sold to the railroads over which the lightweight equipment was operating. These operating contracts stated that Pullman would operate the lightweight cars until "cancellation or termination" of the lightweight car operating contracts.

On October 29, 1945, a group of 22 railroads asked to intervene in the sale of The Pullman Company. They stated that they would honor all existing labor agreements, and that the company would be operated in the joint interest of the nation's railroads. The 22 railroads included: NYC, SP, CB&Q, AT&SF, Southern, UP, NP, Milwaukee Road, C&NW, PRR, IC, GN, L&N, ACL, B&O, N&W, Wabash, Nickel Plate, Rock Island, New Haven, Seaboard, and Western Railway of Alabama. Within a few short months, that number of 22 railroads grew to 43 railroads, and on March 4, 1946, the sale of The Pullman Company to the expanded group of 43 owning railroads was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court by the Department of Justice, which preferred that the sleeping car business be sold to Otis & Company (the elevator company). Both sides argued that the sale to either the Otis Co. or to the consortium of 43 railroads would be trading one monopoly (Pullman) for another (either the railroads or the elevator company).

Although Union Pacific was part of the consortium of owning railroads from the start, the actual number of owning railroads has proven to be a bit confusing to nail down. The New York Times article of March 5, 1946 reported that The Pullman Company was to be sold to 43 railroads (the article also refers to 49 railroads), with controlling interest being held by five railroads. The consortium of owning railroads continued to grow and expand. In June 1947, in a report that put the sale price at $40.2 million, the total number of railroads was put at 53. Later that same month, in a news item about the new railroad-owned Pullman Company, the quantity of owning railroads was reported as being 59 companies.

On June 30, 1947, Pullman, Incorporated, sold its Pullman Company subsidiary to a newly organized company of the same name, owned by a consortium of 57 (or 59) railroad companies. The final bill of sale was dated December 31, 1948, with the railroads taking formal ownership on January 1, 1949. The change would put sleeping car operations on the same basis as each railroad's diners and day coaches, which were already owned, operated and maintained by the railroads. The value of the deal was reported as being $74 million, including $35 million paid by the railroads to Pullman in 1945 for 600 of the company's lightweight sleeping cars.

The New York Times for October 30, 1945 carried a summary of the fleet of sleeper cars The Pullman Company was being forced to liquidate. The article shows that the railroads in 1945 purchased 609 lightweight cars from Pullman with a depreciated value of $34.9 million, and that they had an option to purchase 3,994 heavyweight standard cars, at a depreciated value of $15.8 million. Also, the western railroads had options to purchase 2,209 tourist cars, at a depreciated value of $4.4 million.

For the lightweight cars, the date of the final sale of Pullman's fleet of sleeper cars was December 31, 1945, with an effective date of January 1, 1946, which explains why one sees dates of both 1945 and 1946. Union Pacific purchased 190 of those 609 lightweight cars mentioned in the Times article.

The sale of Pullman cars to Union Pacific in December 1948 included just 55 heavyweight cars for UP. Not counted in this total are six Pullman-owned Dormitory Buffet Lounge cars (Catalina, Meade, Oakland, Otero, Phoenix, Rincon) sold to UP-SP-C&NW joint ownership in January 1942; four were renumbered to UP 2790-2793.

More Information

Named Clerestory-Roof Heavyweight Cars -- A roster listing of all named clerestory-roof heavyweight cars on UP, including named Pullman sleeper cars assigned to UP.

Named Early Streamliner Cars -- A roster listing of all named Streamliner cars, from UP's early Streamliner and City trains of the 1930s and early 1940s; a total of 85 cars.

Named Lightweight Sleeper Cars -- Roster listings of UP's named lightweight sleeper cars, from the earliest "American" series Pullman sleeper cars from 1942 for the non-Streamliner trains, through to the newest "Star" series sleepers from 1956.

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