Figure 1 Union Pacific diner on the City of Denver, 1950s. Colorado Railroad Museum collection.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! For this month’s segment, we are highlighting the Union Pacific’s dining car service and famous fried chicken recipe. Many wonderful gourmet meals were served aboard Union Pacific diner cars, like Diner No. 4801 here at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Special menus were often created which highlighted seasonal fare, holidays, and special events. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Union Pacific created a Centennial menu in 1969 for use on the City of Denver train. Even the cover artwork was a specially commissioned piece by renowned railroad artist, Howard Fogg (See Figure 5). On that menu, dinner entrees included sautéed mountain trout, broiled lamb chops, and southern fried spring chicken. Union Pacific’s fried chicken was so popular amongst passengers that the UP actually used it in its advertising, through which passengers could request the recipe by mail (See Figure 2).

As you can see in Figure 1, dining aboard the City of Denver was quite an elegant experience.  White tablecloths and specially designed china and hollowware were all part of the presentation that set Union Pacific’s diners apart from other railroads. In 1936 when M-10000 streamlined locomotives first came into being, Union Pacific took that same streamlined design and created a distinctive motif for its china pattern, which is known as “Winged Streamliner” (See Figure 7). Not only was this motif featured on the dining car china, it was also sewn into chair headrests, printed on stationary, stamped onto hollowware, and even printed on paper coasters, thus making it the brand symbol for the Union Pacific. “Winged Streamliner” is still used today on Union Pacific’s private dining cars, making it one of the oldest continuously used china patterns in railroading.

Built in 1949 for use on the City of Los Angeles, the City of Denver, the City of San Francisco, and the City of Portland trains, Diner No. 4801 likely saw thousands of meals during its service life. It ran up until 1971 when it was retired from service.  In 1979, No. 4801 was sold to the Denver & Rio Grande Western where it was used as a spare for the Silver Banquet. Ultimately, the Colorado Railroad Museum acquired Diner No. 4801 in 2011.

No. 4801 was unique because it had several innovative features not previously used in diners. First, its galley was stainless steel from floor to ceiling, which allowed for easy cleaning and a streamlined look.  Second, it was known as a “dry ice diner” because it utilized dry ice technology to cool food in the galley.  Dry ice allowed for nearly 6 times the amount of cooling time as compared to “wet” ice, which enabled foods to remain fresher longer. Lastly, the diner also had a fan system that circulated new air through the galley and passenger area three times per minute, so that the passengers, chefs, stewards, and crew were kept very comfortable, even while frying chicken!

Be sure to scroll down to the recipe for Union Pacific’s famous fried chicken. If you try it at home, please let us know how it turned out via our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts!

Figure 2 A Union Pacific advertisement from 1952.

Figure 3Union Pacific advertisement, 1950s.

Figure 4 Union Pacific Diner No. 4801 at the Colorado Railroad Museum. Photo by Stephanie Gilmore.

Figure 5 City of Denver Centennial menu, front cover. Artwork on the cover is by famed railroad painter, Howard Fogg, who lived in Boulder, CO. Colorado Railroad Museum Collection.

Figure 6 City of Denver Centennial menu, inside. Colorado Railroad Museum Collection.

Figure 7 Union Pacific “Winged Streamliner” dinner plate. Colorado Railroad Museum collection. M. C. Isaacks photo.

Figure 8 Union Pacific Fried Spring Chicken recipe. From Union Pacific Dining Car Cook Book and Service Instructions, mid-20th century. Colorado Railroad Museum Collection.


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