The Challenger

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The Challenger

1935 to 1947; 1954 to 1971

"The Challenger passenger trains, known as "Everybody's Limited," were introduced in the middle of the Depression in an attempt to draw ridership back to the rails. The equipment was spartan and the meal service was advertised as "three meals for under a dollar a day." There was good food and plenty of it, but it wasn't the first-class fare of the streamliners, where one meal might cost $1.25. The introduction of the Challenger also marked the advent of registered-nurse-stewardess service in August 1935. These single women were charged with first-aid service for the entire train, but their main function was to assist women with small children and children traveling alone. They were paid $125 per month plus expenses. The track also featured exclusive coaches for women and children at the head of the train, thus eliminating the need for men to even walk through the cars." (Union Pacific Railroad, description for Heritage Fleet Dome Car "Challenger")

"The Challenger began service on August 21, 1935 as an all-heavyweight train between Chicago and Los Angeles. Between July and November 1937 Pullman-Standard delivered a group of lightweight Chair cars and twin-unit dining cars for this train; some of these units were built for Southern Pacific ownership in-as-much as a San Francisco Challenger had been inaugurated on September 15th of that year. Each twin-unit diner, consisting of a dormitory-kitchen unit articulated to a 68-seat dining room car, was identified by a single number which embraced both units." (Wayner, Car Names Numbers and Consists, 1972, page 148)

"The five twin-unit dormitory-kitchen-dining cars (5100-5104) were withdrawn from CHALLENGER service. Four were assigned to CITY OF LOS ANGELES consists (replacing dining and cafe-lounge cars which had gone to the CITY OF PORTLAND) and the fifth, plus the pair of single-unit diners built in 1937 for the DAYLIGHT, furnished the food service for the two new CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO trains created for the inception of daily operation in September 1947." (Wayner, Car Names Numbers and Consists, 1972, page 160)

When the Challenger was reestablished in late 1954 it included the first of the 7000-series Dome Coach cars, numbered as 7000-7004. When the 9000-series Dome Observation cars were delivered in February and March 1955 (with the last one coming in early April), the five cars numbered as 9010-9014 were assigned to the Challenger train.

Another recently discovered photo, dated April 16, 1955, shows a 9000-series Dome Observation on the tail end of The Challenger train at DeKalb, Illinois. The train's "drumhead" tail sign displayed the neon-lighted "Challenger Domeliner."

The fifteen 9000-series Dome Observation cars were ordered by UP in March 1954 as part of a $10 million order from American Car & Foundry for 35 dome cars that included ten 7000-series Dome Coach cars and ten 8000-series Dome Diner cars. The Challenger train received five Dome Coaches (7000-7004) and five Dome Observation cars (9010-9014).

In May 1955 the five Dome Observation cars assigned to The Challenger were reassigned to the City of St. Louis. The new assignment on this train, and its multiple consist changes along its route, made the shortcoming of the tail-end observation apparent and before the end of 1956 the entire fleet of fifteen cars were pulled out of service and were modified for mid-train service.

David Seidel wrote the following about UP's Challenger trains on October 15, 2008:

On the UP, as a rule, the Pullman (sleeper) section operated first and on the timetable schedule; with the coach section following some 10-30 minutes behind. The UP mainly ran two sections of the COLA in the early 1960s over summer and holidays travel times.

It should be noted that the UP had a streamlined coach Chicago-LA train, the "Challenger" trains 107 & 108. After 1956 the "Challenger" was combined with the COLA which was mainly a Pullman train but did carry a coach or two.   During the summer and holiday travel times of the late 1950s the railroad would just run the "Challenger" as a separate train: technically a different train (as it carried train 107 & 108), but in practice a 2nd "coach" section of the COLA. In the early 1960s the railroad began showing them as 1st and 2nd 103 & 104 trains.

The following comes from Dick Harley, in an email dated February 5, 2009:

Both the LA and SF Challengers had six day turn-around schedules. Both trains often ran in two or more sections - splitting the chair cars and the tourist Pullmans. All sections had diners. After 1937 they were a mix of lightweight and heavyweight equipment.

The five UP articulated Dorm-Kitchen-Diners were assigned only to the LA Challenger. Normally, diners did not continue through to foreign roads, so they had faster turn-around. I can't put my hand on my 1930s UP make-up lists right now, so I can't tell you how long the UP dining car runs were.

More info on these cars and The Challenger trains can be found in:

  • "The Official Pullman Library - Vol.14" by Randall & Anderson
  • "Union Pacific's Challenger" by Dorin
  • The UPHS magazine "The Streamliner" articles by John Carroll in Vol. 9, No. 4 and Vol. 10, No. 1

Dick Harley wrote the following, in an email dated February 8, 2009:

Lightweight equipment built for "The Challenger" trains in the 1930s and 1940s includes:

  • UP 5100-5104 Articulated Dormitory-Kitchen-Diner
  • UP 5200-5211 Women's Chair Car
  • UP 5300-5327 Chair Car
  • UP 5351-5365 Chair Car
  • C&NW 6132-6147 Chair Car
  • C&NW 6160-6166 Women's Chair Car
  • SP 2414/15, 2416/17 Articulated Chair Car
  • SP 2424-2429 Chair Car
  • SP 2489-2491 Chair Car

Timeline (1935-1947)

July 11, 1935
Second section to Los Angeles Limited, Trains 7 and 8

August 21, 1935
Challenger name adopted; still as a second section to Los Angeles Limited, made up of coaches and tourist sleeping cars.

Typical consist was:

May 12, 1936
Assigned separate train numbers, No. 717 and 818

July 21, 1936
Due to their popularity, the Challenger trains began operating in two separate sections.

September 15, 1937
San Francisco Challenger established, Trains 87 and 88; Trains 717 and 818 became Los Angeles Challenger.

In 1937 the Challenger trains were equipped with twin-unit dining cars. One car of the articulated pair was the kitchen and dormitory space for crew members, and the other car was the dining space. The twin-unit diners were capable of serving 700 to 800 meals per day.

February 4, 1941
The Challenger trains were operated regularly as a combination train with the Pony Express. There were three Challenger trains: San Francisco Challenger, Los Angeles Challenger, Portland Rose Challenger.

January 25, 1942
Los Angeles Challenger changed to Trains 7 and 8; Los Angeles Limited became Trains 37 and 38

April 8, 1944
SP diners on both sections of trains 87-88 (The Challenger) changed to operate to Ogden only instead of to Green River

On May 11, 1946, the following cars were to be used as regularly assigned, or as helper cars in Challenger service, and were to be marked as such:

June 2, 1946
San Francisco Challenger changed to Trains 23 and 24

May 14, 1947
Los Angeles Challenger withdrawn

October 1, 1947
San Francisco Challenger withdrawn; Trains 23 and 24 changed to Gold Coast

"During the War and until November 1, and May 14, 1947 respectively, the San Francisco and Los Angeles Challengers had operated with a mixture of light and heavyweight equipment and steam power. On January 10, 1954 the Los Angeles Challenger was re-established between Chicago and Los Angeles with streamlined equipment and diesel power. Its schedule was also 20-1/2 hrs. to a respectable 39 hrs. 45 min. It replaced the Los Angeles Limited which had operated since December 17, 1905 between Los Angeles and Chicago." (Ranks and Kratville, Union Pacific Streamliners, page 327)

"The five Union Pacific-owned twin-unit dining cars built in 1937 for CHALLENGER service (each with one number for both dormitory-kitchen and dining room units) were assigned to the CHALLENGER STREAMLINER in 1954 with dining room capacity reduced to 52 seats." (Wayner, Car Names Numbers and Consists, 1972, page 164)

Timeline (1954-1971)

January 10, 1954
The Challenger Streamliner service established; Chicago to Los Angeles; Chicago to San Francisco; Trains 107 and 108

December 1954
Changed to The Challenger Domeliner; included addition of 7000-series Dome Chair cars

When they were delivered in December 1954, Dome chair cars 7000-7004 were assigned to CHALLENGER STREAMLINER service, and 7005-7009 were assigned to CITY OF PORTLAND service. (Wayner, Car Names Numbers and Consists, 1972, page 164)

February-March 1955
When the 9000-series Dome Observation cars were delivered in February and March 1955 (with the last one coming in early April), the five cars numbered as 9010-9014 were assigned to the Challenger train.

May 1955
The five Dome Observation cars (9010-9014) were re-assigned from The Challenger to the City of St. Louis.

April 29, 1956
The Challenger Domeliner combined with City of Los Angeles as all-coach second section during summer

"In June 1956 it was announced that the Los Angeles Challenger would henceforth operate as an all-coach train during the summer months and that the COLA would be an all-Pullman train during the same period. The balance of the year, the two trains would be combined as No. 103-104, the COLA." (Ranks and Kratville, Union Pacific Streamliners, 1974, page 328)

September 10, 1960
The Challenger Domeliner permanently combined with City of Los Angeles; still designated Trains 107 and 108

April 30, 1971
The Challenger Domeliner service canceled; not included in Amtrak schedules

The Challenger trains continued to operate until the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

More Information

See also: John Carroll's two-part article in The Streamliner, published by the Union Pacific Historical Society in 1994-1995

"The Challenger" Part I, The Train, in Volume 9, Number 4
"The Challenger" Part II, The Equipment, in Volume 10, Number 1

The Challenger on Wikipedia

Union Pacific's Challenger, An Unusual Passenger Train - 1935-1971, by Patrick C. Dorin, TLC Publishing, 2001

"Everybody's Limited" by Charles F. A. Mann, Colliers, Volume 98, Number 5, August 1, 1936

UP Passenger Trains, 1946-1959 -- An incomplete list of Union Pacific passenger trains in the post-war period, taken from a very small sampling of public timetables.