Travel with Luxury in Milwaukee’s Super Dome Cars – 1952

I travel a lot, and so am interested in airplane and train ephemera; however it often makes me sick.  Everyone appears so nice, so well dressed, so existentially happy to be alive when traveling was a joy, and sense of national pride at the progress we’d made.  Now, it’s a grueling experience; people are dressed like slobs (including myself), and are crammed like cattle whose nerves are shot.

But let’s not whine about the decline, and instead enjoy looking back at the golden age of travel.  Here, we have “The Milwaukee Road’s Super Dome Cars: Delightfully new for a wonderful view”.

So, there’s a baby bear climbing a tree, which means the mother is not far behind.  Do you get the foreboding feeling that these Super Dome passengers are about to witness a bear attack?

Here’s the route.  Take note of the 32,776 employees – what happened to those jobs when passenger trains lost popularity?

It’s long, luxurious and all yours. Everyone aboard the Hiawathas is cordially invited to come up into the Super Dome for a brand new outlook over some of our country’s most delightful scenery.

What is your pleasure—a soft drink, a sandwich, a cocktail? Name it and it’s yours in the delightful Cafe Lounge. Placed on the lower deck of the Super Dome car, this room is well below normal floor level.

You’ll note that this train seems to have an endless number of spaces devoted to cocktails and smokes.  I picture the mid-century guys having a quick look out the new “super dome” windows, then hot stepping it to the nearest cocktail lounge.

Extra lookout space in Skytop Lounges

The new Super Dome cars with seats for sixty eight are open to all passengers on the rain. In addition, the Hiawathas will continue to carry the delightful Skytop Lounge cars which were presented in 1948 and ’49, and which are still an exclusive feature of The Milwaukee Road. Almost entirely enclosed in glass, these lounge-smoking rooms offer the same sky-high, horizon-wide scenic views but from a lower level than in the Super Dome.

I love that smoking was so socially acceptable, it was not only permitted in the passenger cars, it’s featured in the promotional material.  Are you going to tell this WWII vet who grew up on hard knocks during the Depression he can’t enjoy his Marlboro reds?  I’m sure he’ll be back over to the lounge for another Highball shortly.

A new outlook on happy travel

Almost entirely enclosed in glass and rising 15% feet above the rails, the Super Dome is a glorious observation point. Here 68 passengers can relax in perfect comfort while their eyes sweep the wide horizons, look down into canyons and deep valleys, look up at cliffs and mountain peaks. Never before has there been a dome as large as this. Never before one arranged like this with access by stairways both at front and rear, and with seats and aisle placed on a single level. Yet one of the most desirable features has nothing to do with the dome itself. It is scenery!

Here is your chair in the sky

Step up the green-carpeted stairway and you emerge in a glassed-in dome almost the full length of the car. Its pale blue ceiling blends with the sky. The walls are sun tan in color, and the seats are up- holstered with a rust mohair carrying an “M” self-pattern suggesting an Indian design. The floor is covered with marbleized rubber tile, dark blue under the seats, cream and light blue in the aisle with a dark blue inlay again repeating the Indian motif. Sit down and relax. The individual chairs are carefully contoured, are padded with soft foam rubber and have footrests. Your window affords intimate close-ups of cities and towns, farms and forests, rivers and mountains. There are built-in ash trays for smokers. Aisle lights for night use enable you to find a seat easily but do not create reflections that would interfere with the view. As you sit there, looking and chatting, a friendly voice coming from concealed loud-speakers periodically informs you of the history and scenic highlights of the country through which you are passing. Station announcements keep you posted on where you are so that you have plenty of time to return to your own car before arrival. One ride, whether for a short distance or across the continent, and you’ll agree that the Super Dome is the perfect Way to see this America of ours.

Loaf awhile in the Cafe Lounge

Featuring the lower deck of the Super Dome car, this delightful room is the place to smoke or chat, get acquainted with other passengers, listen to the radio and enjoy a beverage or a snack. Occupying the center section of the car, the Cafe Lounge is recessed below normal floor level in order to provide extra headroom. Corridors permit you to go right through the car, or to step into the Cafe Lounge. The atmosphere will remind you of a room in the smartest of clubs. The deep-piled carpet shows a gold figured Indian design on a green ground. The walls are surf green accented with carved, gold-tone mirrors on the pilasters and sculptured glass panel. Venetian blinds are citron yellow and the ceiling is sun tan. On one end wall is a hand-Wrought, copper Hiawatha medallion executed by Ianelli; at the opposite end is a full color, illuminated photo mural giving the effect of a picture window. Al.l table tops are covered with smooth For- mica showing the pattern and color of wavy- grained primavera wood. The comfortable settees are padded with foam rubber and are covered with top grain leather, either in green or gold. Interesting use is made of stainless steel, of polished chrome and white brass. The Cafe Lounge is an ideal social center for the Hiawathas.

Intimate… secluded…delightful!

The arrangement of the Cafe Lounge has been carefully planned to promote an atmosphere of restful relaxation. Seating is in booths of varied shapes. There are two settees for five with facing tables; three smaller tables for two, and three booths for four with facing settees and a table between. A total of twenty eight passengers may be seated at one time. A compact, all-electric galley and service bar enable the staff to provide for your luncheon or between-meals wants. Soft drinks, malted milk, cocktails, beer and other beverages are always available. Or you can enjoy coffee, sandwiches- plain or toasted—and cold snacks. If you’re a pantry raider, you can come in before bedtime on the Olympian HIAWATHA and have whatever it takes-—bite or nightcap—to insure a sound and restful sleep. The very low noise level common to all Hiawatha-type cars enables you to enjoy quiet conversations, to hear train announcements and station calls, or to listen to soft radio music and entertainment. Experience on the Hiawathas during many years of operation indicates that a large number of travelers like to have one of their meals in a car of this type, and the others in the diner.

Yet another place to enjoy a cigarette and a martini.  The Super Dome Hiawatha was basically a coal powered cocktail lounge.  Ah, sounds like paradise.


  1. We really do need to go back to rail travel and freight. It was just better. Sure, it’s neat to get a package delivered the very next day (or even, insanely, the same day) like we can today, but few things need to arrived that quickly. We were just fine before. Anticipation is often more enjoyable than the product.

    I’ve only been lucky enough to travel by AmTrack once, back in 1982 for our senior class trip to Colorado. Lots of wired teenagers eventually falling asleep in upright seats, not luxurious sleepers like in “Some Like It Hot” or L&H’s “Berth Marks”. But it was a fantastic experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My wife and I took around-trip Amtrak from Kansas City to Chicago once when I had a conference. They had the sky car in the back, and the cafe was below in that car. Nice way to travel, and less hassle to board than flying. And lots of leg room.


    • Yes, there are still a few such train cars in the US and in Canada. It’s too bad that there’s not a lot more of them though, like there used to be….


  3. These trains never “lost popularity”. They were simply put out of business by cut throat greedy super rich business people . Why would you think that the public didn’t want them anymore? Please don’t make ignorant comments. I’ve seen photos of average American train car interiors from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s that were even nicer / classier than these. Some trains actually had swimming pools !! Also, btw, in Europe there are still lovely pleasant trains like this which are RELAXING to travel on. I experienced them in Norway in the 1990’s. AMTRAK SUCKS, JUST like all European airlines are much better service wise than damn American ones. Have a Great day!


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