As the weather really starts to cool down, we thought we’d share the recipe for Old Fashioned Navy Bean Soup from the Denver & Rio Grande Western. Before we share the recipe, we are going to share the history of the soup itself.

Navy Bean Soup, also commonly referred to as Senate Bean Soup, seems to have originated in the 20th century. The recipe calls for navy beans, a white bean indigenous to the Americas. They are called navy beans as they were a staple ration of the United States Navy beginning in the 19th century (containing high protein and fiber while being low cost). Soup was a convenient way to serve these beans, prepared with ham bone or ham stock commonly. The U.S. Navy Cook Book from 1902 calls for a large portion of tomatoes in its version of the soup, which came to be considered the “old fashioned” form of the soup, hence the name of the recipe we are sharing today.

Pile of Navy Beans

Figure 1 Navy beans

The recipe also became a principal fixture in the United States Senate cafeteria starting in the 20th century, though accounts disagree on which senator called for a bean soup recipe, either Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho (a Democrat) or Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota (a Republican). Whichever Senator requested it, Navy Bean Soup has remained on the Senate menu ever since the early 20th century.

Fred Dubois.

Figure 2 Senator Fred Dubois, Idaho senator from 1891-1897, then again from 1901-1907.

Figure 3 Senator Knute Nelson, Minnesota senator from 1895-1923.

Before we share the recipe, let’s discuss the history of the D&RGW. The Denver & Rio Grande Western succeeded the Denver & Rio Grande company beginning in 1921. First organized under the Western Pacific Railroad, the D&RGW reorganized in 1947 after bankruptcy, free of Western Pacific control. The railroad extended west to California through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada and extended south into New Mexico.

D&RGW map

Figure 4 D&RGW Map

One of the more popular passenger trains offered was the California Zephyr which was jointly run by the Chicago Burlington & Quincy, the D&RGW, and the Western Pacific. This train began operation in 1939 under the name Exposition Flyer and then changed to the California Zephyr in 1949. With the change to the California Zephyr, and the years following, the equipment changed from conventional steel passenger cars which were pulled by steam locomotives then pulled by diesel engines, then finally to streamlined passenger cars. Two of the Museum’s locomotives were built in 1955 for service on the California Zephyr; D&RGW Locomotive Nos. 5771 and 5762. These two locomotives matched the sleek look the California Zephyr had established. Though the California Zephyr officially ended its service in March 1970, the D&RGW continued to run its section from Denver to Salt Lake City, Utah under the name Rio Grande Zephyr.

D&RGW Locomotive 5771

Figure 5 Locomotive No. 5771 at the Colorado Railroad Museum

We hope you’ve enjoyed our brief history of the Old Fashioned Navy Bean Soup and the Denver & Rio Grande Western. If you try this recipe, as always, please let us know on our Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or in the comments below.

Recipe for Old Fashioned Navy Bean Soup, Rio Grande Style.




Figure 6 Cover of D&RGW Menu from Museum’s collection


Inside of a D&RGW Menu

Figure 7 Inside of D&RGW Menu featuring Old Fashioned Navy Bean Soup, November 1950.


Figure 8 cover of California Zephyr menu in CRRM collection, 1969.


  1. Scott Snuverink

    Very cool! I love this and the videos y’all do. Look forward to them every week.

    • Matt Isaacks

      Thanks for tuning in Scott!


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