In the darkest days of the Depression, the Milwaukee made one of its best-known steps—introduction of the famous 100-mile-an-hour Hiawatha trains.
The company had been experimenting with high speed passenger trains for some time. One important speed test was on July 20, 1934, involving a five-car steel train with roller bearing cars. Pulling it was locomotive 6402, a four-year old engine regularly used on the Chicago-Milwaukee run.
On that day, the special train left Chicago’s Union Station, gathered speed, was hitting 87 miles an hour by Morton Grove, reached up to 90 and then 92 at Northbrook, then 97 and 100 mph. A little later, the train was clocked at 103 mph at Oakwood, Wis. This run established a new world’s sustained speed record for passenger train travel, averaging 92.62 miles an hour for a distance of 61.4 miles between Edge-brook, Ill., and Oakwood, Wis. Average speed for the full 85.7-mile Chicago-Milwaukee trip was 76.07 mph.
As this test was underway, the Milwaukee was planning and then building the completely new cars, with the company’s own design ideas, that were to be used in the Hiawathas. In September of that year, the Milwaukee placed orders with the American Locomotive Company (Alco) for locomotives to be built at that company’s Schenectady shops.
Following trial runs and tests, Hiawatha service began on May 29, 1935, on a regular 6˝ hour schedule covering 410 miles, Chicago-St. Paul. The Hiawatha routinely made the 85-mile Chicago-Milwaukee run in 75 minutes, attaining the permitted 100 mph speeds at points en route.
Looking back, it may be hard for younger people to realize how much attention these new streamlined trains received both nationally and internationally. In an age of supersonic jets and of rockets, 100 mph may not seem like much. But in the 30’s, when propellor-driven planes were still being developed and when 60-miles-an-hour seemed pretty fast speed in autos of that time, a 100-mile-an-hour train was really something. The Hiawathas were talked about all over the country and the world. Long after their introduction, the Hiawathas had daily audiences of people who lined the tracks to watch the orange, maroon and silver streamliners flash past.
Other Hiawathas were to come. The first Hiawathas were so successful that service was expanded in January, 1939 into a Morning Hiawatha and an Afternoon Hiawatha. The Midwest Hiawatha was put in operation on December 11, 1940, operating between Chicago and Omaha, Sioux City and Sioux Falls.
In 1947 came the Olympian Hiawathas, the Chicago - Seattle service.
To give you an idea of the success of the first Hiawathas, on August 31, 1935, a Hiawatha train carried 1,632 revenue passengers on one trip. In that month, 25,000 people rode the Hiawathas.
The Hiawathas !
- No. 6402
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