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About the Author

James D. Porterfield is director of the Center for Railway Tourism at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. He is the author of Dining by Rail: The History and Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine and a contributing editor of Railfan & Railroad magazine.

 

The Glory Days of Diner Car Cuisine
by James D. Porterfield

Next time you pause on a rail-trail to sip from your water bottle or snack on a granola bar, picture in your mind's eye what train travelers might have enjoyed on the very same route.

Hearty cream of lima bean soup? Filet mignon, sharing the plate with a stuff ed, twice-baked potato? A hot strawberry sundae? All these delectables were on the menu in dining cars of old. Fine dining was a big attraction in the heyday of rail travel, reaching elaborate proportions as railroads lured travelers eager for tempting scents as well as scenery, taste treats as well as transportation.

For almost a century, American railroads emphasized gourmet dining. They did it mainly to get an edge in the fierce competition for riders. A number of railroads ran first-class trains between New York and Chicago, for example, but only aboard the New York Central could travelers get lobster bisque on toasted cornbread points. Four railroads operated lines between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul, but the Great Big Baked Potato was available exclusively on the Northern Pacific.

Read the complete article by James D. Porterfield:

 The Way We Were (PDF 826KB)

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