This article was published in the September 2005 issue of the Bull Sheet
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Remembering the Broadway Limited
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
As a kid I spent many hours drooling over passenger train timetables. I had system timetables from a number of railroads, but one of my favorites was the Pennsylvania Railroad's offering with its Grif Teller painting of the Horseshoe Curve on its colorful cover. Inside were all the trains the company offered, but one in particular really stood out...
The PRR made no secret about it - the Broadway Limited was its premier train. It was included in the New York to Chicago section along with the other trains serving the line, but the name Broadway Limited was highlighted in bold face type. Moreover, the notes at the bottom advised passengers that the train allowed no discounts - such as those routinely offered on other trains for clergy, military, non-profit groups, etc. Also, there were no coaches. Wow! "This must be some kind of train," I reasoned.
Growing up in Monkton I did get to see some of the varnish plying the Northern Central line - the Liberty Limited being the hallmark train from Washington to Chicago at the time, also the Washington section of the Spirit of St.Louis - but the Broadway Limited I would not get to see. It did not honor its presence by going through Monkton. So I simply imagined.
I did get to see the Broadway's route on occasion - field trips with my railfanning uncle to Harrisburg, and visits with a friend living in Valley Forge - but the timing while trackside always eluded the heralded passage of the Broadway Limited.
I dreamed that some day I could actually get to ride the Broadway Limited - if only the train could retain its premier status and I could save enough money to buy a ticket. Indeed, it finally happened, but not until I was 25.
The date was June 3, 1966, a Friday. Originally three of us were planning to take the trip, but only two of us actually did. Alan Crumbaker, a friend I had met a couple of years earlier who shared the same passion for trains as I, carefully plotted an itinerary with me. And we did not want to short-step the adventure by boarding the train at a close-by mid-point, such as Philadelphia or Harrisburg - we would travel all the way to New York to take the Broadway from beginning to end. Also, in keeping with the train's best tradition, we would book our space in its very finest accommodation.
The Broadway Limited offered six types of sleeping car rooms. Most trains only offered two, or in some instances up to four or five, but it was a rarity that a train would offer six. On the Broadway, these included roomettes, duplex single rooms, double bedrooms, compartments, drawing rooms, and master rooms. These accommodations were contained in equipment of various configurations: cars having 10 roomettes and six double bedrooms; cars having 12 duplex single rooms and four double bedrooms; cars having 11 double bedrooms; a mid-train lounge car with six double bedrooms; cars having four double bedrooms, four compartments and two drawing rooms; and an observation car on the rear with one double bedroom and two master rooms. Passengers could choose their accommodation based upon their specific needs and/or cost preferences. Roomettes and duplex single rooms had space for one passenger; the double bedrooms and compartments had space for two; and the drawing rooms had space for three. By unfolding the walls between a pair of double bedrooms, there would be space for four.
The master room was slightly larger than a drawing room. It contained two single lower beds that folded away when not in use, a spacious lavatory with a shower, and a radio. This was described as the train's 'finest, most spacious accommodation' for up to two people. There were only two master rooms assigned to the train, both in the same car, and each carried the highest room charge of any room available. This is what we wanted!
The railroad then had but two cars with this type of accommodation - namely the Mountain View and the Tower View - which alternated nightly on each set of the Broadway's equipment. We soon learned the rotation schedule, and the car to be assigned on that particular night would be the Mountain View. But just to make sure, the Saturday before our intended trip, Alan and I ventured north to Trenton, New Jersey, to watch that particular set of equipment pass through. The Mountain View should have been assigned, but it was not. Instead, a substitute car (which had no master rooms) was being used. Alarmed by this, we called a friend of ours who worked in Baltimore's passenger sales office a couple of days later, and upon checking he assured us that Mountain View would indeed be assigned to our train - so not to worry!
The magical day arrived, and the two of us - smartly dressed in our finest attire - went to New York. It was our intention to enjoy our ride to the utmost - and to keep a very low profile that we were actually riding in pursuit of our hobby of enjoying trains. But this would shortly change...
We left New York exactly on time. We quickly took seats toward the rear of the observation end of our car, trying our best to appear as though we were 'typical' Broadway Limited clientele, refined, and only passively interested in the railroad sights we were passing. Following our departure from Newark, and being offered selections from the car's tray of hors d'oeuvres (and I enjoyed a couple of Manhattans from the bar), I had to contain myself as we slowly overtook an MU commuter train moving in the same direction as we on the next track over. "Oh, that's interesting!" (or words to that effect) I said quietly to Alan - rather then shouting "Ooh, ooh, would you look at that!" Again, we were trying to keep a dignified, low profile.
But then Alan (discreetly) removed a copy of a PRR employees' timetable (graciously provided to him earlier by a friend) from his inside jacket pocket - just to take a brief look... and a fellow seated across from us rather excitedly said: "Yee, gads, where did you get that?"
Oops! He was a railfan, too. He had blown our cover!
His name was Alec Wilder. He lived in New York, and he was a frequent patron of the Broadway Limited who enjoyed the luxury of going to Chicago whenever he wanted - just to 'get out of town.' We quickly became friends.
Our conversations from this point onward were somewhat less low-key with respect to our hobby than we had first intended. Anyway, many of the patrons who had been seated in our area had left for, I suppose, dinner (or at least, I hope they did do so to avoid overhearing railfan banter). Meanwhile, the train zipped through Trenton, and after our brief stop in North Philadelphia, we enjoyed a speedy run through the labyrinth of tracks at Zoo Interlocking and then onto the Main Line toward Paoli.
Our action plan was to go to dinner about the time it got dark, which Alan and I did. Alec agreed to meet with us for breakfast the following morning - to be served in our master room. What a treat that would be!
The spacious twin-unit dining car was only slightly patronized as we entered, and we were seated at a table on the left side by the steward whose name was Kresl. Our waiter was a seasoned veteran to the craft named Carter. We soon learned that Mr. Carter was making his very last trip - he would be retiring the next morning. I believe, too, that we were his last dinner customers.
"Bon Appetite!" said the menu, which I still have. "The Broadway Limited bids you welcome to its table... In this dining car - pride of the Pennsylvania - we are dedicated to making your repast aboard an exquisite dining experience..." For our entrees, I chose (what else!) the Broiled Boneless Sirloin Steak ($6.95), and Alan chose the Roast Prime Ribs of Beef Au Jus ($5.95). Along with the meal came a complimentary glass of Sherry (to which Alan, who does not drink, gave me his). I now had two glasses of Sherry, eventually a third (also complimentary). But the real treat came when the steward offered Alan a second Prime Rib, on the house, which he accepted. (According to Alan, today's prices would be $41.50 for my meal and $35.50 for his.)
We sped through Lancaster without stopping, and we returned to our room by about the time we arrived in Harrisburg. At some point - I cannot remember precisely when - I took a walk through the train. There were about a dozen cars, as I remember, plus an RPO car and a baggage car. Patronage was light.
Our train remained on time as we traveled along the Middle Division, I spending at least a little time tuning the room's radio which was mounted into a panel. Reception was not great, as I recall, but I believe I picked up the faint sounds of a selection by Vivaldi at one point.
As we began our ascent into the mountains west of Altoona, and wishing to see our train go around the Horseshoe Curve, we ventured from our room back to the lounge section. Once again, this was the rear car in the train. All of the other passengers had long since vanished, and our obliging porter extinguished the interior lights to give us a better view. It was awe inspiring; perhaps the epitome of our trip.
Back in our room, we awaited our speedy passage through Johnstown before retiring.
So who says you actually have to sleep if you have the most deluxe accommodation available? Well, I did, but not for long. The excitement of the moment found me up and about somewhere in Ohio, just as it was beginning to get light. I took solitary station in the rear seat in the lounge to watch the landscape disappear back into the distance. It was great! Then we made a stop - not in the schedule - at Lima. As we left, I saw a lady walking toward her vehicle carrying a sack of mail.
As breakfast time approached, Alec Wilder came back to our room to join us. His first order of business was to get a look at the shower room. Indeed, for as many times as he had ridden the Broadway Limited, he had never before examined the master room. He was impressed. Our porter brought us a table, and our respective breakfast selections were brought through the train from the dining car by the waiter responsible for providing room service. The diner, as I recall, was about four or five cars up. Sure, we could have gone to the diner for breakfast... we simply wanted to have breakfast in the room!
Following breakfast, and some more socializing, Alec and I actually did venture forward to the diner. All we had was coffee, but we wanted to be Mr. Carter's very last customers before he retired. We were.
The Broadway Limited covered 907 miles in its overnight run to Chicago. We were due there 16 hours after we left New York - an average speed of about 57 miles per hour. But we arrived 15 minutes early! This, I am told, was the norm, not the exception. The Pennsy really took pride in that train and its punctual performance.
This, then, was my first and only ride on the 'true' Broadway Limited - that is, before the train got downgraded with coaches and a slower schedule. It was quite an experience - one in which its details are so vividly remembered. And the train was every bit as exciting as what I had envisioned while drooling over the PRR timetable as a kid many years before.
Coincidentally, Alec Wilder, our railfan friend we met on the trip, was a rather notable classical and jazz music composer. According to a biography offered on some websites, he often wrote his music while traveling on trains. He died in 1980.